Beware Of Old Safes

The owner of a north Colorado Springs antiques marketplace opening later this month caused a scare Thursday when he called police and asked what he should do with the nitroglycerin in an old safe.

It turned out the liquid wasn’t an explosive, just a safecracker’s worst nightmare.

Mike Underwood, owner of Willowstone Antiques at 1710 Dublin Blvd., had bought the safe years ago and planned to display it in his new business.

A locksmith found the liquid-filled glass cylinders mounted to a cast-iron frame attached to the inside of the safe’s door when he rekeyed the tumblers and told Underwood it could be nitroglycerin.

Underwood had never put much stock in the locksmith’s opinion since the safe had been shipped across country and moved several times without blowing up, but he didn’t want to take chances.

Neither did the police. The bomb squad arrived Thursday morning and took the cylinders away for chemical testing.

The result: chloropicrin, a powerful tear gas commonly used in the late 1800s and early 1900s as a deterrent to anyone entertaining thoughts of breaking into a safe.

“What it was designed to do is if someone banged hard enough on the safe or drilled into the door by the tumblers it would break the glass, dropping tear gas,” said Steve Rogers, of American Lock & Key on West Uintah Street.

“Have you ever been tear-gassed? Rogers asked. “It’s a pretty effective deterrent. The safecracker would be lucky to see the cash, much less be able to grab it and run.”

Underwood said police returned the cylinders to him and he’s contacted a company that disposes of hazardous materials.

Rogers said he’s seen the booby trap in lots of old safes and advises anyone who finds liquid-filled cylinders to contact the fire department for instructions on how to dispose of it safely.