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We Now Know What Was In The Netherland Plaza Hotel Safe

Updated: July 25, 11:15 a.m.

The tale of what was inside the mysterious safe at the Hilton Netherland Plaza Hotel came to an anti-climatic end Wednesday as staff discovered the only things inside were two boxes of old master key cards dated 2002.

Safe cracker Chuck Woods had worked for about 12 hours over three days to open it, and needed just a few minutes in front of the multiple cameras present before he turned the handle.

Upon seeing only the boxes of key cards, General Manager Jason Tyson wanted to know if there was a secret compartment containing more valuable goods. There wasn't.

The hotel has a lot of history, and the safe sat unused and nearly forgotten in the bowels of the hotel.

Tyson originally said an employee who's been there since 1996 couldn't remember ever seeing the safe open or used, even though the key cards eventually discovered inside were dated back just 16 years.

Tyson first called a local locksmith who offered two ways to get inside. "One was drilling it, which obviously could cause some damage to the safe," he says. "It's something we would like to use for the future. Or they have a high-tech device they can attach to the dial. It reads the combination [and] figures out what the combination is."

Tyson says the locksmith told them the device should have taken between 18 and 24 hours to work. 

It didn't work for several reasons. On the first night, the device intercepted a wifi signal and interrupted work to download an update. After that, it was stopped when hotel staff received a tip on a possible combination, which didn't pan out. And then, Woods told them it was a Mosler safe with a Yale lock, which meant it dialed in the opposite direction, and the autodialer couldn't have found the combination anyway.

The safe itself is big, according to Tyson. He estimates it weighs around a ton. "The storage room that it's sitting in was actually built out around the safe," he says. 

Though he hasn't been able to pin down the age of the safe, Tyson estimates it could date back to the 1940s. "There's been some other pieces of equipment that we found that were sold to Thomas Emery and Sons from the late 1940s to early 1950s," he says. "The Emery family, they're the ones that actually developed Carew Tower and the hotel and operated the hotel for many years."

Recent work at the Cincinnati Museum Center uncovered a safe, too.

Before the safe was opened, Tyson speculated about what could be inside.

"There might not be anything in it," he said previously, pointing to Geraldo Rivera's opening of a vault that belonged to Al Capone. "I'm a hotel nerd. I'm hoping there's at least some old accounting forms, or some registers, or petty cash slips or just something that would give us a little peek into operations during that time frame." 

He's been collecting Netherland Plaza memorabilia and putting some on display in the hotel.

The Netherland also held a contest on Facebook, where people could guess what the three-digit combination was, and the closest guess would win a dinner at the hotel's dining room. 

Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.
Bill Rinehart started his radio career as a disc jockey in 1990. In 1994, he made the jump into journalism and has been reporting and delivering news on the radio ever since.