CONCORD, N.H. – Civil War bonds, travel posters and other paperwork spanning a century of state history were among the long-forgotten artifacts found Monday in a mysterious Statehouse vault.
The 6-by-10-foot space is at the top of a narrow spiral staircase in a room that served as the state treasury in the 1800s and later as the Department of Motor Vehicles.
The room is currently assigned to the Senate Finance Committee, and Senate President Chuck Morse couldn't resist having a bit of fun with the opening of the vault Monday. He wasn't in attendance, but when House Speaker Shawn Jasper entered the vault, he laughed and emerged with a large photo of Morse.
"Somebody's been in here!" Jasper said.
Two centuries old, the New Hampshire Statehouse is home to numerous vaults installed as fireproof safes in the 1870s. Most are now used for storage, but the one in Room 103 had been locked for decades. House Chief of Staff Terry Pfaff said former Speaker Gene Chandler began looking for someone to open it in 2001, but it was Jasper's keen interest in history that propelled the project forward.
Officials originally thought it hadn't been open since the 1950s, but some of the boxes in the vault were labeled as being from the early 1970s.
"It worked out great, we had it opened up for free, and we get to experience all the artifacts that are in there," Pfaff said. "Some of the handwritten ledgers are just amazing when you get up there and look at them."
Marty Russo, a Nashua locksmith, opened the vault ahead of Monday's public viewing. He had a to drill a hole and use a video scope to line up the parts of the lock that had slipped out of place, most likely because someone had tried to save time by setting the first two numbers of the combination as the same number.
"This one in particular had two things: It was mounted backwards, the door swings in the opposite direction from normal, and the wheel pack was not in fact working properly," he said. "And so, all efforts to dial it open normally without having to drill a hole in it failed."
Jasper said he found the Civil War bonds the most interesting find, but said the entire experience was gratifying.
"Wow, there is something here!" he said.
As for the Morse portrait, Jasper said, "I wasn't totally surprised, but that was funny."