Inheriting items can reveal secrets that shed light on who your ancestors were. They are priceless treasures since the items inside often can no longer be bought. They also may reveal something about history.
When a German woman inherited her great aunt’s property, it was riddled with hidden gems. One of the most prevailing items was a large, rusty safe. It begged to be opened, and that’s just what the woman did. Read on for more on this tale of profound discovery.
A Mysterious Inheritance
Inheritances can be surprising, and this one was no exception. A German woman had no idea what could be inside of this rusted chest that her great aunt had left for her. The large hunk of metal seemed suspect.
The woman had no idea why someone would need such a heavy and secure box, least of all her great aunt. Based on its condition, it was obvious that the chest had been around for quite some time.
Living Through A World War
While the woman knew nothing about the safe– other than it’s poor condition and the fact she had inherited it– she did know a thing or two about her great aunt’s past. The late woman had fled Russia back in the 1940s.
She settled in Hamburg, Germany in the same decade that World War II was going on. It seemed like a wild move to make, but she could no longer ask her great aunt why she’d made it.
The Key To Her Past
If the woman had any hope of unlocking her great aunt’s past, she needed to unlock the chest first. The chest alone appeared impossible to break into. Considering how much it had rusted over the years, it may as well have been cemented closed.
Clearly, her great aunt believed that whatever was inside needed careful protecting. Still, she had entrusted her great-niece with a key. Even so, there was no guarantee that the key would work on such an old box.
Nothing Appeared To Be Inside
The woman tinkered with the key, attempting to unlock this mysterious safe. Though the safe appeared to be decades old, the key still fit. Even more miraculous, she was able to budge the thing open.
Her curiosity continued when she saw that there appeared to be nothing inside. Instead, there was just a shallow tray that was void of any belongings. For all the woman knew, her great aunt could have left her an antique safe with nothing in it.
Though the tray appeared to be empty, the woman couldn’t help but look more closely at the safe. It seemed illogical that her aunt would have something so durable, and yet wouldn’t put anything in it.
Sure enough, as the woman inspected it more closely, she noticed a trap door. The tray lifted to reveal a compartment deeper down in the safe. At first glance, it appeared to be some odd-ball items. The woman brought them out for further investigation.
As the woman began to dig through the items in the chest, she discovered there were more family secrets in there than she’d first realized. Boxes and packages revealed heapings of family photographs that dated back decades.
There were also postcards with still-legible messages. Between the pictures and the writings, the woman could possibly piece together more information about her late ancestors than she previously knew. Additionally, there were a few books that might offer some clues.
A Classic Novel
One of the items she found was the classic novel, Rob Roy. Written by Sir Walter Scott back in 1817, the historical work is based on a real person who has been considered the Scottish Robin Hood.
The tale of rebellion and courage was clearly one that her great aunt had valued since she had it locked away in a safe. Judging by the book’s appearance, it could be a vintage edition that might be worth something.
Another Piece Of History
Another piece of literature that the woman found was Leipzig by Bernhard Tauchnitz. Bernhard was a German publisher who founded his firm in 1837. His company put out various texts such as classics and dictionaries.
Known for accuracy, the Tauchnitz books would often be used as a reference. Leipzig is a city in Germany where Tauchnitz ran his business. There would likely be some valuable information about the historical town in this book, which was published in 1846.
A Classic Tale
One book she found that is still relevant today is a classic edition of Lady and the Tramp. Many of the Disney tales we’ve come to love were adaptations of stories written years prior by someone else.
Alice in Wonderland, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and countless other Disney films were originally tales that came from various authors throughout history. The original Lady and the Tramp was ultimately discontinued.
Things That The Classic Reveals
The 1953 Lady and the Tramp that the woman found in her great aunt’s safe is quite different from Disney’s version. Written by Ward Greene, the tale makes Lady far more spoiled, then more noticeably neglected when the baby comes into the picture.
Tramp’s street character is also more pronounced and poor Trusty dies. While it is less kid-friendly, it’s an amazing find. Her edition was also in German, which may make it all the rarer.
A Family Photo
This photograph that the woman found she believed to be her great-grandparents with her grandmother. The family’s straight faces were characteristic long ago, before “say cheese” was the norm.
Seeing that the pictures were hidden away in a safe, this could have been the first time the woman had seen some of her older relatives. It’s incredible just to see a picture of people from that long ago, but especially when those people are related to you.
Grandpa On A Motorcycle
This photograph is of the woman’s grandfather riding a motorcycle along a rural road. The image gives a sense of how long ago this was to be seeing cows grazing in the background next to a man on a bike.
It must have been especially insightful for the woman to see an older relative looking so young and free. Pictures like this can serve to connect generations by acting as a reminder that everyone was young once.
Damage From The War
This photograph shows a house that was destroyed in WWII. The woman’s great aunt could have kept it as a reminder of what she’d been through. She could have known the person who lived in that home.
Whatever the reason, the great aunt found this image to be of importance. At the very least, it conveys to younger generations what a world war really means. It’s not a pretty sight, but it’s a reality that our ancestors had to face.
A World War I Postcard
The woman also found many postcards in the safe. This one is from 1916 and shows a soldier kissing his love. The woman’s great aunt may have lived to see both World Wars, or she may have inherited this card from one of her relatives.
Either way, it evokes the importance of keeping things in the family. The message written on the back of this card was probably loaded with information about who sent this and why.
Another Telling Postcard
Another, similar postcard, was also found in the safe and shows a soldier and a nurse. It’s possible that these postcards were written to and from the same people. Like chapters of a book, each item in the safe reveals more to the story.
Perhaps the woman’s great aunt participated in one or both World Wars as a nurse. Only the woman knows what was written on these cards, if they are still legible, that is.
Nivea Dates Way Back
These old Nivea Creme cans are more revealing than you may first think. It’s no surprise that they are written in German since they were likely bought near the great aunt’s residence, but it is significant.
That’s because Nivea was first founded in Germany back in 1882! Though nowadays the brand seems commonplace, it is one that has probably outlived many of the other products in most people’s cabinets. It goes to show that you don’t know what small items you have laying around will become treasures later on.
Secrets In The Attic
The senior man in the orange sweater is Rudy. When he was a young boy, he and his family fled from Czechoslovakia during WWII. 70-years-later, he discovered hidden treasures in his attic.
The items were carefully stored by his father. Rudy knew that there was more to be seen, so he got in touch with experts in the area. Representatives from a nearby museum and even the mayor all joined in as Rudy made his great discovery.
Discovering A Trap Door
Though many people had been in the attic over the decades, only Rudy had noticed a small but vital detail. There was a string emerging from one of the wooden boards. He pulled on it until two boards became loose enough to remove them.
Now that the boards were gone, Rudy could see that there was a hideout on the other side. The secret spot was full of items that had been tucked away for many years.
Skillfully Hidden Items
It was a good thing that Rudy had a team with him because there were far too many items for one man to tackle alone. Altogether, there were a whopping 70 packages hidden in his father’s secret compartment in the attic.
So many packages couldn’t just be shoved into a hole in the wall. Instead, they were carefully placed in a vault in the skylight. There still wasn’t very much room, but Rudy’s father somehow managed to jigsaw all of the items just so.
Opening The Packages
Rudy was correct that his father had left behind many secret items, but what was inside was still unknown. The team began opening up the packages and discovered a plethora of WWII-era items.
The dolls pictured here were among the many items discovered. While most of them were wrapped in paper, some items were left out in the open. They found numerous everyday items such as hats, clothes hangers, and newspapers.
More items in the packages included paperweights, umbrellas, school tables, badges, books, sewing kits, and much more. It seems odd that someone would hide such mundane items, but it isn’t so out of the question during a World War.
Experts took each and every item seriously. They inspected everything to evaluate its condition. Since the items were not touched for so many years, they were not rundown the way you’d expect something of that age to be.
These rare findings are considered highly valuable since they were essentially kept in a time capsule. They are of historical significance and can tell us something about the past.
In this photograph, two individuals who participated in Rudy’s discovery hold up an exquisite painting that was recovered. It looks like something you could find in an art gallery today. Rudy’s father clearly handled the items with great care, and they will continue to be taken care of.
Where They’ll Go Now
The items will go to a Czech museum in a town called Usti Nad Labem. Since the items are German property, the state has the legal right to keep what was left behind after the war.
To the left are two boxes with the dates “1939” and “1940” written on them, placing them in the direct timeline of WWII. The museum will be able to properly restore the items so that people can catch a glimpse of the old world.
An Ordinary Real Estate Transaction
John Sims wasn’t expecting anything out of the ordinary when he bought his new home located in a midtown neighborhood of Tucson, Arizona. But buying the home turned into one of the most astonishing events of his life, thanks to a disturbing rumor about the house and a curiosity about it that just wouldn’t quit.
There was supposedly something buried in the backyard, according to the home’s previous owner. John just couldn’t rest knowing that there could be a secret buried somewhere out there, and he set out to find it. Read on to learn more about John’s quest to unearth a decades-old mystery.
Handing Over The Keys
The house that John Sims bought was formerly owned by someone who was a friend. John felt secure in his purchase knowing that this friend had already lived there and would have told him if there was anything wrong with the house.
But after John closed on the property, his friend said something unexpected. He told John that there were weird rumors about the house, rumors that involved a mystery surrounding something that was supposedly buried in the backyard years earlier.
What To Do With This Knowledge?
John’s friend, who had previously owned the house John just purchased, had told him an exciting, yet creepy, hint about the property. But it turns out that the friend had never invested the time to find out whether the rumors were true.
As John set about unpacking and the other routine tasks of settling into a new house, he couldn’t stop thinking about his friend’s words. He just had to find out for himself what was going on in his backyard.
The Mystery Was His To Discover
Now that he had become a bit obsessed with the hint of a mystery surrounding his new home, John realized that he was going to do whatever it took to get to the bottom of things. In fact, he’d been so intrigued when the friend first mentioned the home’s secret that he’d jokingly asked to borrow a shovel.
Soon he’d realize that it would take more equipment than a single shovel. And although John had no idea what exactly he was looking for, he decided to investigate.
No Idea Where To Start
John enjoyed thinking about the mystery encased in his backyard. What could it be? He knew it was possible that there was nothing to the rumor and that he might not find anything. But he also knew that he could end up finding something amazing.
Not able to stand the uncertainty anymore, John thought about what he was going to do next. He could fill in any holes and repair his lawn later. The task at hand was more important than his yard’s appearance. So he got out a shovel and started to dig.
A Triple-Digit Threat
John was so determined to get to the bottom of these rumors that he was willing to overcome a lot of difficulties. Tucson, Arizona gets hot in the summer – as in triple digit hot. Those kind of conditions are dangerous to work in.
Many people would have given up at this point. But undeterred, John continued on with his mission. With his shovel in hand, he dug. And dug. He hoped this hard labor would pay off.
Holes Dotted The Yard
John had no plans in place when he began his laborious digging. He just starting digging hole after hole in his backyard. After he had excavated four different holes, pretty much ruining his yard, John still hadn’t found anything.
He started to worry that if there was in fact something to find out there, that he might have destroyed it with his digging. Disappointment set in and John temporarily gave up hope of finding his yard’s hidden mystery.
John’s temporary discouragement and break from digging led him to think about his situation in a different light. He had a new idea, one that could finally help him locate his home’s mysterious treasure.
He tracked down Tucson’s municipal records and reviewed page after page until he located information about his own home. John was rewarded in a big way for all this intensive research. He received some more clues about what might be lurking under his lawn.
The Tucson municipal records provided John with information he already knew, like the year his home had been built. But thanks to a rough sketch in the documents, John learned something new.
According to the records, a company called Whitaker Pools had applied for a permit to work at the property back in 1961 – more than 50 years earlier. But John’s home didn’t have a pool. So what exactly had the pool company done there in 1961? The answer to that question surprised everyone.
The Mystery Deepens
Now that he had a sketch and more detailed information, John knew he had to go about his search in a more careful way. No more careless digging with his shovel based on his instincts alone! No, it was time to get serious.
So John hired a team of consultants, who arrived armed with all the proper tools including metal detectors. Hopefully, they were going to get to the bottom of this mystery once and for all.
Would The Metal Detectors Find Anything?
As the search turned more measured and focused, John hoped that he would soon learn whether those old, mysterious rumors about his new house were true. But as the team of consultants worked over different areas of his backyard, the metal detectors remained silent.
The tension mounted as it appeared that the consultants would also come up empty-handed in their search. But then the detectors began to go off. The sound was music to John’s ears.
Multiple Sites To Explore Further
John was overjoyed to hear the experts’ metal detectors pinging in the hot Arizona air. And in further good news, the machines located not just one spot of interest, but two! After carefully marking both the locations in his backyard, John was able to briefly rest as he planned the next step of his search.
Now John’s efforts would be focused and he wouldn’t have to expend his efforts haphazardly. He could barely wait to discover what it was under his backyard.
The Shovel Comes Out Again
John grabbed his shovel and got back to the hot and difficult task of digging. This time, however, he knew exactly where to focus his efforts. With anticipation, he began to dig at the two spots that the metal detectors had located.
His work paid off quickly at the second site pinpointed by the consultants. It wasn’t long at all before he felt his shovel hit something hard, and he heard the tell-tale scrape of metal against metal. John was so close to solving his backyard mystery.
Three Feet Down
John had been digging about three feet down into the earth when he first felt his shovel hit the metal object. While he was glad to finally discover something, he began to worry that it was a septic tank that he’d found.
Not only would a septic tank be a disappointing find after all this time and work, but it also meant that John had to be extra careful when he continued to dig around it. Damaging a septic tank or breaking a pipe would be very bad news, indeed.
More Questions To Answer
John had finally determined that the thing buried under his new home’s backyard wasn’t a septic tank. But now that he had uncovered a substantial part of the structure and could visually examine it, there seemed to be even more questions to answer than when he started his journey.
The concrete form that John had unearthed appeared to be something resembling an entryway. But where did it lead, and how did you get into it?
Closer To Getting In
John was astonished to see that his backyard contained an entryway or portal of some sort, buried deep under the ground. He was so close to getting to the bottom of the mystery!
He continued to clear the area of earth and discovered that the entry had a hatch with a lid. He carefully pried the lid off, but his work as a fire department captain had taught him that it wasn’t safe to enter the opening just yet.
A Long Day Of Waiting
You can probably imagine how excited John was to finally get some answers about his backyard’s hidden secret. But waiting a day was necessary. His fire department training had taught him about the dangers of confined spaces.
The area could be filled with mold that could be very harmful to inhale, or toxic fumes. John also knew that he needed to have several people around when he finally went underground, to assist if the structure collapsed or if he became trapped somehow.
The Moment Of Truth Had Arrived For John
After a wait that must have felt excruciating, it was finally time for John to enter the hidden space beyond the hatch. The moment of truth had arrived for this backyard explorer – he was going to learn what exactly was down there.
John got down and cautiously looked into the hole framed by the metal hatch. The sight that met his curious eyes was completely unexpected! So what was it?
What Is It?
When John first looked down through the hatch, he was completely astonished at what he saw. It appeared to be an arrangement of sharp metal blades. What could their purpose be?
It wasn’t long before his eyes adjusted and he was able to make out what it was that he was really looking at. The seemingly random metal blades were actually part of a spiral staircase, leading even deeper down into the earth under John’s property.
A Risky Proposition
In his anticipation, John might have rushed right down the spiral staircase that he’d just uncovered in his backyard. After all, the truth behind the mystery was so close he could almost touch it.
But he did not. It was both his training as a fire captain and his good common sense that stopped John from entering the underground space that he’d found right on his own property. There were just too many risks involved.
What were the risks of simply walking down the spiral steps leading down into the earth? Well, for starters the structure just wasn’t stable. It had been built more than 50 years before John uncovered it, and he had no idea what condition it might be in.
And second, John knew it was best if there were people with him when he finally went down the hatch. They could help him out if he became trapped or if the structure collapsed. So he assembled a team of friends to help him make the structure safe to enter.
A Plan Comes Together
John was playing it safe with his backyard find. Even though he was filled with excitement at the prospect of finally solving the mystery, he knew that his safety was more important than immediate gratification.
Along with his trusted friends, John came up with a strategy to proceed into the underground space safely. Their patient planning was soon going to pay off in a very big and unexpected way. And luckily they documented the discovery along the way to share the details of their findings.
Preparing The Passageway
John had no earthly idea what condition the structure might be in, after sitting unused for decades. So he knew that he and his friends needed to reinforce the entire concrete entrance and repair it where necessary.
The spiral staircase leading down into the underground space also needed some serious attention. The metal steps were almost completely rusted through and not safe to stand on yet. They could even collapse if someone tried to use them in their current condition.
Solid As A Rock
John Sims and his friends widened and reinforced the entryway around the stairs with new rebar and multiple layers of concrete. To ensure entrants’ safety, this step was absolutely necessary. The risk of a structural collapse was too great otherwise.
Their curiosity and excitement kept them going as they poured layer after layer of concrete. And their task was made all the more unbearable in the Arizona heat. They put up a tent to help block the sun and keep the temperature relatively cool.
Still A Couple Of Tasks Ahead
John is obviously the type of person who thinks ahead. He knew that when he was finally, at long last, able to enter the mystery structure in his backyard he needed to be able to see. Many people would just rush ahead with a flashlight, but not John.
So he installed an electrical line that would allow for the space to be illuminated. He and his friends could also use power tools down there if necessary, once the electrical line was complete.
A Breath Of Fresh Air
As we’ve read, John’s work as a firefighter made him very aware of the danger of tight, enclosed spaces. Mold and gas leaks were a major concern in the 50-year-old structure he was about to enter.
John and his friends placed a pipe in the entryway. It would funnel fresh air down into the space, making things that much safer when they finally got to go in. It was almost time for everyone to see the secret that had long been hidden in John’s backyard.
One Last Step
Unfortunately, John and his friends weren’t able to repair that rusty spiral staircase yet – they’d have to be fixed from within the space. It was too risky to put any weight on the steps, since no one knew how sturdy they might be. So how would people descend into the space safely?
John had the solution. He got a tall ladder and securely placed it in the entryway. He was finally going to learn what was down there.
The Wait Was Over
At long last, John got to uncover the secret that he’d heard his friend talk about. He’d been nearly obsessed with learning the truth behind the rumor and had worked very hard to get to this moment.
He was about to climb down the ladder and into the mysterious hole in his backyard — the first person in 50 years to do so! As John descended, his imagination ran wild. Just what was he about to see?
Stepping Down Into Space
John lowered himself down the ladder, rung by rung, as his excitement grew. He stepped off the ladder and was finally rewarded for all his hard work.
He was shocked to learn that there was a vast room deep underneath his backyard! And it was in good shape, complete with a solid floor. But that wasn’t all. In fact, there was an entire system of tunnels forming a complex down there!
The Rumors Had Been True
John’s friend, the former owner of the house John recently purchased, had told him about the existence of a secret buried deep in the backyard. Through research, John had learned that the structure in question had been built by a company called Whitaker Pools.
But this underground cavern was clearly not a pool. The year it was constructed, 1961, was a huge clue to the structure’s intended purpose. And John knew what that purpose was as soon as he laid eyes on the space.
The Years Had Taken Their Toll
Although the structure seemed to be in pretty good shape given its age, one thing was a giveaway to John that he still had some work to make the space safe. The clue was in the fiberglass ceiling.
Fiberglass can be extremely toxic to people if they breathe it in, and is an irritant to bare skin. And the fiberglass in the ceiling was coming apart – not a good thing at all. But it was something that could be repaired, fortunately. And John wasn’t ready to give up on his new find anyway, after all the work he had put in.
A Relic Of The Cold War
The structure below John Sims’ house, although huge, was empty of furnishings or any other décor. It became obvious immediately that the underground bunker was built as a nuclear fallout shelter.
Many people had grown fearful, even paranoid, during the period of Cold War hostilities between the Soviet Union and the U.S., and had built backyard bomb shelters as a result. But why had a company called Whitaker Pools built a nuclear bunker?
Doing Double Work
It turns out that Whitaker Pools had responded to consumer demand during the Cold War and had added building backyard bomb shelters to its list of services. In fact, this was pretty common across the country.
As pool builders realized that building fallout shelters wasn’t all that different from building inground pool shells, many of them expanded their operations accordingly. By 1961, one Los Angeles company called Catalina Pools had built 500 shelters!
A New Underground Opportunity
What would you do if you discovered that you had an enormous maze of rooms buried right in your own backyard? How would you use the space? John’s friends had some fun ideas for him, including a cigar bar, wine cellar, or “man cave.”
Other people around the world have converted old bunkers into beautiful modern homes, hotels, art galleries, and recording studios. But John had something different in mind for his backyard treasure.
John Connected To Others With Backyard Bomb Shelters
After posting about his bomb shelter online, John Sims learned that he was in good company. His post on Reddit went viral, and he began connecting to others who have backyard fallout shelters.
His interest in these shelters, and the Cold War era, has grown. In fact, he has special plans to turn his own historical bunker into a museum of sorts – meaning he has a lot of work ahead of him. So what was the next step for John?
It Started With A GoFundMe Page
John’s next step in restoring his bunker to its former glory was setting up a GoFundMe page. He wrote, “Hi, I’m John and I need some help restoring a vintage Fallout Shelter that I have uncovered in my back yard.”
He was specifically looking for assistance in reconstructing the shelter’s entryway, since that needed to be done before he could start making repairs and improvements downstairs. He elaborated, “the upper entry needs a large concrete pour to secure the entry and the metal circular staircase needs to be replaced.” John estimated that the project would cost around $2,000.
The Stairway Is Complete!
Although John’s GoFundMe campaign was widely shared and he received several hundred dollars in donations, the goal of raising $2,000 for the stairway rebuild ultimately fell short. Of course, that didn’t stop John from proceeding with his plans! He even took time off from his job to work on the all-important staircase.
After sharing a series of updates on the project, John reported that the entry area was finally done: “Stairs are finished! Now it’s easy and safe to climb in and out.” He also posted a photo of the completed stairs, which are painted an appealing shade of blue.
Now That The Stairs Are Complete
On his GoFundMe page, John shared further details for his shelter now that the staircase and entryway are done. “My plans are to clean up the interior, repaint it and turn it into a really cool man cave, HAM shack,and Civil Defense Museum.”
He continued, “Once I started this project I researched a bunch about the Cold War period and how the civilian fears prompted many people to build these shelters.” Discovering this bunker has clearly made a big impact on John’s life!