If timing is everything, we could wind up with nothing. But let’s give it a shot.
I need a safecracker.
One of the best safecrackers in the world grew up right here. That would be Skip Eckert, who graduated from Manchester High and Baldwin-Wallace College and settled in Medina.
He became so adept at his craft that he broke into the Guinness Book of World Records as “Fastest Safecracker.” He once was rushed by police to a small town in Pennsylvania to save the life of a toddler who had been locked in a bank vault accidentally. A Saudi prince summoned Eckert after forgetting the combination to a palace safe.
I heard about him a few years ago and hoped to track him down and write about him. Right now would have been the perfect time. But I waited too long.
Eckert died in his sleep in October at the relatively tender age of 62.
The man was an international legend who worked for the FBI, Scotland Yard and Quantico. He could have completed my project with one hand tied behind his back. Maybe two.
We will never find another Skip Eckert. But I’m hoping to locate an area resident who knows his or her way around the dial — and is willing to contribute a bit of pro bono work.
• Assignment: Open a large wall safe that once belonged to John S. Knight, the legendary Beacon Journal publisher who transformed a struggling newspaper into a media group that eventually grew to 32 papers, half a dozen TV stations and $3.2 billion in annual sales.
• Location: Second floor of an ancient art deco building at 140 E. Market St. in Akron.
• Date: Whenever. I’m easy — especially when someone is willing to work for nothing.
The combination to JSK’s safe apparently has been lost to the ages.
The ABJ built and moved into the three-story, 55,000-square-foot Market Street structure in 1927 — with incredible fanfare.
On Nov. 10, President Calvin Coolidge used a telegraph key in the White House to start the new presses. A three-day housewarming drew 20,000 people, and the paper published a special edition that weighed in at a whopping 162 pages.
Knight moved the Beacon to its present location in 1938. And bought a new safe.
The Akron Public Library purchased the old building in 1940 and used it as the main branch until 1969. Small manufacturing companies occupied it until 1976, when its was bought by its current owner, Summit County.
At various times, the county has leased it to the Historical Society, the MRDD board, the Akron Work Center and, for the past 12 years, Summit Artspace, a nonprofit group that is using it for a gallery, studios and offices.
The county hasn’t opened the safe since taking ownership 38 years ago and has no idea what is the combination.
Don Parsisson, building manager for Summit Artspace, certainly doesn’t have the combo, either. In fact, he initiated this.
Parsisson thought it would be fun to see what’s inside after reading a story by our Mark Price about a rumored “secret letter” from 1914 Akron Mayor Frank Rockwell to his successor 100 years in the future — a letter that probably never existed.
“Is Mayor Rockwell’s letter in our safe?” Parsisson joked.
No, but who knows what might be?
The built-in safe is hidden behind an oak-paneled door on the northwest corner of the building. That location, formerly reached by private staircase, housed the offices (with private bathrooms) of John S. Knight and his brother, James. A large conference room between the offices still exists.
The front of the chest-high safe is metal but was painted to match the dark oak paneling on the office walls. That paint is cracked and flaking.
Manufactured by Yale, the safe has a brass handle and a dial that ranges from zero to 99. Parsisson suspects the combo is only three numbers.
Can you handle it? Know anyone who could?
If not, I’ll do a little name-dropping — actually, some group-dropping — in the hope that someone with a Google Alert will read this.
Eckert was a longtime member of the Safe & Vault Technicians Association, aka SAVTA, and served as president for six years. He also was involved with Associated Locksmiths of America, or ALOA.
There. That oughta do it.
Let’s just hope the phrase “Geraldo’s Vault” doesn’t come into play.
If you’re under the age of 30 or so, you may not remember when television hotshot Geraldo Rivera unleashed a live, two-hour special called The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vaults.
The legendary gangster (Capone, not Rivera) had created an elaborate fortress beneath a Chicago hotel that included a shooting range, tunnels to taverns and brothels and a huge vault to store his filthy lucre. The secret complex was discovered in the 1980s, when the hotel was being renovated.
After weeks of publicity and nearly two hours of precious prime-time air, the vault was finally opened, and Geraldo found ... absolutely nothing but junk.
Now hear this: If the same thing happens here, we shall forevermore refer to this as “Parsisson’s Safe,” not “Dyer’s Safe.”
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or firstname.lastname@example.org.