FAYETTEVILLE -- Chris Upton of C&E Lock & Safe arrived Monday morning at the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette office and prepared to reset a combination for a 200-year-old safe.
Then he saw the container of tear gas inside.
"I've only ever seen this, in seven years, one other time," he said.
Screwed onto the inside of the safe's door sat a metal container, with a glass tube protruding in a tear drop shape from the top and bottom.
Upton said the tear gas functioned as a security measure to deter potential thieves. If anyone broke the lock off the safe, the glass would break, releasing the tear gas.
"Back before booby trapping was illegal, that's what they used to do, too, in banks to keep a safe from being broken into," he said.
The discovery surprised the newspaper's employees.
"That thing is so heavy, it's just never been moved," Cathy Staggs, the regional business manager for the Democrat-Gazette, said of the safe.
The safe has been in the building since its construction in the late 1950s, located in a room that formerly served as a nuclear fallout shelter. The paper is converting it to a designated storm shelter.
Rusty Turner, editor of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, said the building was originally constructed as the newspaper office in the late 1950s to early 1960s, back when businesses could receive tax breaks for constructing buildings to nuclear fallout shelter standards. Fallout shelters are designed to protect people from radioactive debris, or fallout, caused by a nuclear explosion.
"It was the kind of thing that if the Russians fired their missiles, you were supposed to go to a fallout shelter, and this was one of the places you could go," Turner said.
As a designated fallout shelter, there were no windows until about 20 years ago, and a supply of canned goods was stored until just a few years ago, Staggs said.
Carla Gardner started her job as the director of finance April 1 of this year. She said the discovery, though potentially deadly, was "pretty cool."
Gardner called the Fayetteville Police Department.
"That policeman was not excited about taking it out of here," Gardner said of the tear gas.
Officer Josh Nixon said the container was placed into evidence and would be destroyed.