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Home » Case Studies » HIDDEN TREASURES


People seem fascinated by stories of hidden treasures. In my life, my occupation is to hide away people’s treasures.  

Back some 40 years ago, my brother Terry and I began a very special vault company. Not some little safes, but room-sized to massive-sized vaults.

Some of the greatest collections belong to individuals who developed a fascination with a certain collection of artifacts. Over our lifespan, we never stop being surprised by the unique collections that exist around the world.

In a special hosted by Geraldo Rivera many years ago, he sought to open the lost hidden vault of Al Capone. It was opened only to reveal an empty chamber. Geraldo, like many seeking treasures, found that it often leads to disappointment. But in our case, people in possession of treasures seek out FIRELOCK® to provide the ultimate protection.

Music to My Ears—A Joy to the Eyes

A vault that I feel is amazing is the vault that protects one of the world’s largest collections of Stradivarius violins and cellos. This collection is unique, with violins so famous for their perfection that they have their own names (e.g., 1715 Ex-Marsick Stradivarius, known for the Belgian virtuoso that played this particular instrument.).

The world’s great violinists and cellists are drawn to this Stradivarius collection to experience the unique genius that is built into each great instrument. A richness of sound that has little to do with the enormous intrinsic value of each instrument but everything to do with the individual sound that each classic Stradivarius instrument creates.

Antonio Stradivari died in 1737 but his unique skill for designing classic violins and cellos lives on. No one can point to any reason for this special clarity of sound, other than Stradavari’s genius and artistry.

Another vault project that I found exciting stored the work of another type of genius. These vaults protect the collected original works of famous cartoonist and author Charles Schulz of “Peanuts” fame. These collections allow visitors to see the complete works—the development of this unique artistry and creativity over a lifetime. He was a man of committed purpose, a creative genius, an author, and a cartoonist that could weave meaning and philosophy into his comic creations. What a gift his art conveyed, displaying a slice of philosophy from 1950 to the current day. Many of us took comfort in Charlie Brown’s attempts to deal with misfortune. “Good Grief” will always be associated with our friend Charlie. And if we could not handle the grief, then we could model Snoopy and his make-believe world that overcame any and all setbacks.

America’s History Runs Through It. Draw your finger across a map of New England and the history of the nation arises from each town hall along the way.

In our project files, we have a vault that holds the primary document on which all land ownership in the Cape Cod Peninsula resides—yet another categorizes our ancestors in the American version of the Domesday Census Books out of England. In the early town halls, they called these census records “Grant Books.” This story begins when the Earl of Warwick in 1631 established Saybrook, CT. This area was then named after Lyme Bay, which runs along the English Channel. Time and time again, settlers named their towns after their homeland. Lyme’s history goes back to 1086 and is described in the original Domesday Book. The Domesday book was established by King William (known as William the Conqueror) and became the first and most descriptive census of the English population at that time. When these settlers in Lyme established their local government, they continued to collect this census data in their grant books. These books still exist in town halls within the State of Connecticut Archive. (Reference: 1.0 – Lyme Case Study – Town Hall Planning)

The Domesday (Doomsday) census books originally drew their name from the fact that these tax judgements did not allow appeal of valuation, and as such were comparable to The Last Judgement. This is often referred to as the “oldest public record” in England. Lyme, Connecticut, carried on this tradition of recording the land, livestock, and census data of the area. This wealth of data can reveal a great deal about our early American heritage.

Connecticut was a colonial leader, and their “Code of 1650” required children be taught English, catechism, and a knowledge of the law. Their laws resulted in a whole new culture, and the law was always a basic tenet of the colonial citizen. As such, these town hall vaults are a valuable archive of American history and the role of government in the settlers’ lives.

In the Massachusetts State Library, vaults house “Of Plymouth Plantation,” more commonly known as the “Bradford Manuscript,” which offers a handwritten history of Plymouth Colony. This details the Mayflower voyage, as well as the history of the first permanent European colony in New England. One can trace the land development and the culture of Plymouth through the deed books and records that reside in Plymouth town hall vaults. “Plimoth Patuxet” Museum and the State Library have published a facsimile of Bradford’s history of this time in his own hand.

The Demonstration of Religious Beliefs, Land Ownership, and Love of Country, and the Earliest Native American Relationships

Whately, CT, also reveals much about the history of the settlers. It provides real-world examples of relations with Native American tribes, the settlers’ attachment and love for the land, and even another example of capitalism versus socialism in the early American culture.

In the case of Whately, it began as a part of Hatfield, (1672) Massachusetts, and stayed a part thereof for one hundred years. Whately officially came into existence in 1771 and was named for Thomas Whately at the request of Thomas Hutchinson, the governor of Massachusetts. Whately was a member of Parliament and has been credited with authorship of “Present State of the Nation” and “The Controversy between Great Britain and her Colonies.”

But Thomas Whately is better known for his authorship of “Observation on Modern Gardening,” with illustrations that provided a comprehensive understanding of the theory and practice of English landscape gardening. Thomas Jefferson displayed Whately’s book in his library at Monticello, and it was this book that provided Jefferson guidance in planning his gardens at Monticello, because it was a precise guide to the English garden of the day.

The unique history of Whately was a result of a religious split between churches of the day. Many of the early settlers to this area came as a result of a split in church doctrine—in this case, no agreement could be reached with regard to infant baptism. One group held that infants that died unbaptized“were lost forever.

The second group, the more liberal membership, believed if a child dies prior to reaching an age of moral accountability and was in an unbaptized state, it would still be saved.

This argument was not unique to this area but was ubiquitous across New England. As such, this led to migrations of church-goers seeking to worship with similar congregations. Hadley, Hatfield, and consequently Whatley, were opponents of the more liberal approach to baptism beliefs. These rifts can be seen more distinctly in studying the First Congregational Church (1771) and the Second Congregational Church of 1842. In the earliest days, the opposition was due to the liberal versus traditional tenants of the same basic religion.

The early inhabitants of Whately were given 8 acres for families and 4 acres for young single men. The early settlers were tied to this land, and this premise was the bedrock of America’s success.

Ownership of land was permanently granted with absolute tenure of the estate, with the freedom to dispose of it at will (a freehold tenure) in perpetuity. Each new inhabitant was equal in stature and a vital part of the fabric of the community. The land itself granted independence to the early settlers.

It is easy to see why this land ownership was so vital to the early founders. The ownership granted each member of society independence, a source of capital, and a say in how their community was governed. The land was, in fact, the grantor of equality to its settlers. This real property could not be separated from the owner unless it was his or her decision to do so.

This property provided the means to raise and educate a family and worship as they determined by their own beliefs. It is no wonder Americans loved their land, because all of their rights emanated from this property.

Consequently, the town hall and the vital records protection of these deeds, birth, death, and marriage records, and associated property ownership, were the most valuable of all governing programs in the earliest days. This is still very true today.

Similar to today, certain property owners grew weary of agriculture and hard living, and some sold their land and used their proceeds to move west, starting the westward migration. Those who remained faithful to the land acquired departing settlers’ land and more hard work, and this began a progression to larger landholdings and wealth. This became the model of the hardworking individual staying fastened to the land while others with wanderlust moved west with more liberal and carefree mindsets. These were the hunters—the frontiersmen. Their zest for exploration was the impetus for the continued expansion of America. Thus each group played its unique role in America’s development.

The earliest desire of our founders was the ability to read because freedom of the press is useless without a literate audience. Early Americans had a strong interest in the ability to read, having a 60% literacy rate. This was also critical for signing legal documents, and this relates back to land ownership and proof of ownership in public records. So long as these land records existed, no man could be deprived of his rightful ownership of his land. The link between the town clerk and their vault was critical to a civil society.

Next time you pass a sleepy little town in the New England area, you might want to take a history break. A look at their earliest deed books, their history of the earliest veterans, and other hard-copy records, will give you a glimpse into America’s history.

(Reference: 2.0 -The Town of Whateley – A tradition of Records – Town Hall Planning) 

Tribal History—The Native Americans

On the opposing page of history to that of the Pilgrims and colonial settlers were the native tribes that populated certain regions. FIRELOCK® has worked with various Native American tribes, such as the Mashantucket-Pequot Museum, the Gila Bend Native American Museum, and the Choctaw Indian Heritage Center. These fascinating collections reveal much about the lore, artifacts, and culture of the various tribal groups across America. Native Americans learned from the settlers how important it was to document history so their culture could live on.

Technology and Science Discoveries—Windows to Scientific Development 

Being a fan of Alexander Graham Bell, it was inspiring for me to build a vault to house Mr. Bell’s diary exclaiming “Watson come here I want you!” as proof of his patent granted just three days prior to this conversation. This diary resides in an AT&T FIRELOCK® vault in New Jersey, and there is a complete history of the development of communication from the first phone system to the first transistors and the Transatlantic Cable that made global communication a reality.

Vaults for storing vital technological developments span from the Phelps-Dodge mining company, with their vaults storing the complete history of the early days of mining, to the latest developments. Few things could exist in our society without mining. Some of the most amazing archaeological gemstones, geodes, and crystals from America’s efforts to take advantage of more and more sophisticated methods for mining can also be found. Mining technology continues today to provide the components for sophisticated batteries for electric vehicles. One must not forget the role these corporate archives played in documenting the advancing technology that makes America so unique.

FIRELOCK® vaults protect records at Oak Ridge National Laboratories in Tennessee, where the first research on nuclear weapons (Manhattan Project) reside, Ford Aerospace and space travel; and the “Star Wars” or Strategic Air Defense vault that protects the highest-speed servers in the world. These computers track—and allow America’s defense systems to shoot down—incoming nuclear missiles. These were the forerunners of systems like “Iron Dome” in Israel. These high-technology vaults exist in many foreign countries as well. Samsung in South Korea stores its technology secrets for cutting-edge products in our vaults. FIRELOCK® also protects banking systems in Taiwan and Hong Kong to ensure their financial data, worth trillions in financial assets, can survive various types of disasters.

The brokerage houses and financial institutions using FIRELOCK Vaults are too numerous to mention. All of these applications led to the development of “Server Vaults” that protect the vital information assets housed in massive computer systems to ensure these information assets are really protected.

One unique vault is the FreddieMac Vault in the D.C. area. Imagine the volume of loan documentation, mortgages, trust documents, and so on that need protection! With the move to digital records, many security experts have lost sight of how secure information assets were when they were maintained on paper inside a locked vault inside an ultra-secure location.

When Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd made the movie Trading Places, I knew that the vault that held all of this sophisticated trading data, futures, historical trading data, and so on, was protected in a vault FIRELOCK® constructed outside of New York City. The 9/11 attack encouraged many large corporations to move their most vital records outside of New York City. These large databases allow professionals to anticipate and predict the trends that flow through the vast investor marketplace.

The Most Exciting Projects and Being Part of History 

State archives and museums are the most exciting vault repositories. As one fascinated with the story of the Alamo, building a vault that protects documents from the earliest days of the Republic of Texas was very exciting. The Texas State Library and Archive was our first state archive project. As with all things Texas, they broke new ground when their FIRELOCK® vault was selected because the FIRELOCK® vault could protect not only historical documents but also their large microfilm and photo negative archive, as well as the backup data for the state agencies. This was a true hybrid vault, one of the first installed within a state archive.

The Indiana State Archive was our next state project. The director of the state archive at the time designed the vault to house computer media in one side of a large 92’ 0” x 40’ 0” chamber. The demising wall was designed to be moveable so that if one collection (computer media vs. microfilm) grew faster than the other, the interior size being modular, was changeable. These state archive vault projects changed the industry because now vaults were described as “media vaults.”

This led to the Washington State Archive using the FIRELOCK® vault to convert all of their records to digital files and store the backup media for their online server rooms. Literally every document in the Washington State Records Centers could be accessed online. They were the first to achieve this milestone. They used two vaults in different cities to provide disaster recovery capability within their own model.

The most recent project at the state level is The Tennessee State Library and Archive. This project was unique in that the historical records were stored in one vault with special refrigeration to maintain the integrity and stability of the documents. The media and microfilm are stored in a separate vault. This library is an amazing facility, worth visiting to see its collections. They truly put the history of the State of Tennessee on display for the public.

Protecting America’s Culture 

Protecting the ebb and flow of American culture also trends into the entertainment area. Those icons who represent our unique culture often recognize their responsibility to protect their documents and artifacts.

Oftentimes collectors donate their collections to museums with the idea that special protection will be provided, but the goal of museums and archives is to display or merely house the collection. In most cases, over 80% of materials are just stored out of the way in warehouses or storage rooms. Most of these facilities do not include vaults, and the lead archivist will decide which collection might be displayed and which might be stored in a back room or dusty warehouse. By the time collectors realize they consigned their most-prized collection to such a repository, the collection is out of their control. The scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark where they wheeled the Ark of the Covenant into a vast warehouse stored inside a crate to be stored away forever comes to mind. Museums and archives simply lack the capacity to display their vast collections.

The result is that some collectors now provide their own secure storage using the FIRELOCK® Modular Vault that can protect every type of media and artifact. Certainly, we understand that Walt Disney would want collections protected; but there are vaults that protect the collections of rock bands like The Grateful Dead and “he Doors. Also, grunge music is iconic, and Pearl Jam built their own FIRELOCK® vault. Apple Records has a vault in the UK. See—Vaults can be fun!

Building vaults is just smart business because protecting the core of the industry is fundamental. During the design phase of the World Wrestling Entertainment vault, we learned the value of their film archive. In the most sophisticated recording studio, the various Pay-per-view video productions were dubbed into 60 different languages for distribution across the world. The Gem Stone was the original films made by Titan Television and then made into formats that could be sold and resold. With 300 events per year, broadcasting to over 35 million viewers in over 150 countries, Jess and Vince McMahon and Toots Mondt were visionaries.

Top Rank Boxing is another entity that understands the value of its collections. As with so many of these archives, the value increases each year. Housed in Las Vegas, the vault is part of a museum and display attraction. This allows collectors to consistently provide the level of protection they believe is necessary for their archive collection. These display centers become their own income generators.

Religious Heritage Stored in a Beautiful Time Capsule 

The Sabbathday Lake Shaker Museum, created and run by the Shakers, houses collections from the earliest days, covering their history, religious philosophy, herbal medicine, architecture, furniture, crafts, music, and education. The Library’s Radical Collection of materials on other communal and radical religious sects in America, in addition to other special collections, provides context for the experience of the Shakers.

Direct representation museums are nearly unheard of, yet the Shakers have successfully run their own for nearly a century. It has long been open to visitors who come to tour its historic buildings and learn about traditional Shaker crafts, and to picnic, hike, and enjoy the land.

This is the most extensive Shaker collection in existence today—nearly 75,000 pieces of Shaker furniture, folk art, tools, fancy goods, artifacts, historical records and manuscripts, photographs, maps and drawings, artwork, and extensive archives. Although the collection represents every Shaker community known to have existed, special emphasis has been placed upon preserving the heritage of the Maine Shaker communities, including Sabbathday Lake, Alfred, Gorham, and Poland Hill. A visit will renew your confidence in our historical foundations.

Protecting America’s Pharmaceutical Technology 

Some of the most valuable collections are not something that tourists would enjoy, such as the science and technology, chemical research, and cutting-edge developments of the world’s pharmaceutical giants.

The developments by Merck, Schering Plough, Hoffman La Roche, Roche, Wyeth Aerst, and Abbott, represent more traditional pharmaceutical research advancement; but then along come GenVault, Geneprot, Genometrics, and the Canadian Genome Project; all of which advance the study of the human genome, the ability to fast-track research, and the means to advance the entire research frontier.

FIRELOCK® has played a role in protecting the benchmarks in research so movement can continue ever forward—protecting progress and maintaining information assets so each new step is more streamlined and elegant.

Imagine a company called SPECS that stores millions of compounds, each one holding the hope of some fantastic breakthrough—but in the original application, the compound failed. Everything about this compound is data-logged and available for other models. The data relating to each compound is stored to ensure that drug development is progressing at ever-faster rates. Lower the cost of research and developments and you lower the cost of new drugs—and increase profits for the research partners. These compounds represent pre-assembled building blocks. When a researcher is looking for a puzzle piece, this research is housed in unique archives of chemical compounds. A researcher wishing to try a puzzle piece need only call up a small sample of a previously-researched component, test it within his current research model, and if this researcher is right, a large step forward is taken.

The loss of these millions of compounds would set research back. Yet each container of scientifically-derived compounds is a container of potential energy that can be used to accelerate research. That is one of the reasons we see scientific research take such amazing leaps.

FIRELOCK® loves the role it plays in protecting treasures of all types and playing a role in making the world a richer culture.