Cracking open a safe - and a new downtown

IT BECAME SOMETHING OF an event when city officials opened a long-abandoned safe unearthed earlier this month downtown.

There was an air of mystery about it – what was in the safe, how did it wind up buried a foot-anda half deep in the area between Mill Street and the Mullet River, who buried it there and when, and more.

At first blush, the opening may have been to some a disappointment, as there was no great stash of cash, jewels or other valuables contained in the five-foot tall vault.

But it was an intriguing and captivating trip into a colorful piece of local history, as it appeared the safe belonged to the legendary George “Dynamite Bill” Gardner.

Dynamite Bill – who died in 1966, apparently just a few years after the mystery safe was buried, judging by its contents – is one of those throwback characters whose like will never be seen again.

He was a blasting expert, utilizing his skills with dynamite to remove stumps, excavate basements, bring down silos and more. Stories of his prowess and skill abound, and the discovery of the safe he apparently left behind brought those back to the fore.

As just one example, there is the story of two neighboring farmers near Elkhart Lake who had a large tree stump right on the boundary line between their two properties.

According to the legend – and many legends are factual – one farmer wanted the stump removed, the other didn’t. They called on Gardner, who came to their farms and parked his trailer next to the stump on the land of the farmer who wanted the stump gone. Gardner planted his charge, set it off and the stump neatly split in half, with the half he removed shooting up in the air and landing smack on his trailer nearby.

Apocryphal or not – and more likely than not, it’s true – that’s the kind of stuff that legends are made and the kind of thing not seen any more.

Reconnecting to that piece of Plymouth’s past was more valuable, in some ways, than any cash, jewels, stocks or other valuables.

But the event also served as a nice symbol for what lies ahead for the area where the safe was unearthed.

It was dug up as part of the first steps in the process of reinvigorating and upgrading the riverfront area in downtown Plymouth.

That plan calls for upgrading the Stayer Junior Park area – with the Plymouth Lions Club taking the lead in developing what should be a stunning inclusive and accessible playground area. There will also be an amphitheater structure to serve as a centerpiece for downtown events, improved landscaping and more.

All of this will be coming in the next few years and it promises to help make downtown Plymouth even more viable and attractive to both locals and visitors.

We’ll never know why old Dynamite Bill decided to bury that safe where he did, but its discovery and opening serves as a perfect metaphor for the unearthing and opening of great new potential for downtown Plymouth.

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