There is much more to uncover, and it’s easy to wonder how long this story could have been hidden if it weren’t for the judge’s curiosity.

MARION, Ohio – Call it a case of pandemic boredom.

If Marion County Administrative Judge Warren Edwards set up an office in an old warehouse at the Marion County Courthouse in the spring of 2021, he got a little restless.

“I was playing with a vault door with a combination lock that had been sealed for a while,” he said. “I don’t know how long, but it’s been sealed away for a while.”

His secretary witnessed his struggle and thought she might be able to help. She had worked as a court clerk for nearly two decades, so she decided to try a combination used on other doors in the courthouse.

“She turned the dial, did her magic, and voila, suddenly the door opened and we opened this long-closed door to find a vault, and we realized that there was a vault, but we didn’t know that there would be anything in it and how big it will be,” he said. “It was like walking into a tomb from Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

Inside this once hidden room was a huge layer of dust. But beneath that was a treasure trove of history. Some documents date back almost two centuries, even before the courthouse was built in 1884.

Along with court documents, which are sealed in more than 1,000 drawers, there are immigration documents, enforcement files and even physical evidence, including a bullet and a tobacco pipe.

RELATED: Murals, portraits of the president, hidden in the historic courthouse of Marion County

One of the most interesting finds was an 1839 court document in contempt of Ohio against Robert McClanahan and Virginians who traveled to Marion County to look for Bill Anderson. Anderson was accused of being a fugitive slave, and the story of his court battle is detailed on a historical marker outside the courthouse.

“When the judge ruled in favor of Mr. Anderson, the people of Virginia took out their guns and rioted,” Edwards said. “And so there was a great riot in downtown Marion, and the judge and Mr. Anderson fled the courthouse, the story goes.”

The hope is to find more court documents related to the case that could help unravel more of the mystery. And Sharon Gettschall is more than helpful in that effort.

She is working on her bachelor’s degree in history at Ohio State University in Marion, focusing on the Bill Anderson case. And she’s one of many students who will be working to help uncover and properly document what’s inside the room.

“I walked into that room, I couldn’t believe how many drawers there were and how many pieces of paper were in that drawer, how it was all preserved and how we were going to find what we wanted to find,” she said.

OSU-Marion professor Margaret Sumner was equally surprised by what was behind the vault door.

“When I walked in, I was impressed, too,” she said. “It’s amazing. Just a wonderful piece of hidden history that’s, you know, just waiting for young students to start having fun with it and, you know, doing hands-on history.”

These students will be OSU-Marion students. They will work to catalog what they find in the repository – a job that will likely take quite some time.

“It humanizes the history of the county and gives students a really interesting look at the social history, the intellectual history, the political history, the legal history of the county,” Sumner said.

For Edwards, the immigration documents are one of the most interesting finds in the room. He flipped through some of the books for 10TV, revealing that many of the pages had pictures.

“These are people fleeing Europe, seeking refuge here in our community and wanting to become Americans, so it was very touching,” he said. “And I found the names of the families that still exist in Marion whose ancestors it was, so that’s really interesting to see as well.”

Also in the room are documents from the Supreme Court of Ohio that likely ended up there when the court was a circuit court, and statements from political candidates along with a couple of photos, including former Justice Justice, whose name Edwards jokes that any justice would be grateful to have.

There is much more to uncover, and it’s easy to wonder how long this story could have been hidden if it weren’t for the judge’s curiosity.

“I don’t know if I want to be the person who advises people to open random doors, but sometimes when you take a risk, it pays off, and I think that’s what happened here,” he said.

Now he hopes what was discovered in the room behind the vault door will inspire others to want to save, protect and uncover other historic secrets hidden inside the courthouse.

“It is an honor and a blessing and I consider it such a privilege to serve the people of Marion County and to have the added bonus of being the custodian, custodian and restorer of this historic building, not to mention this repository, is truly an honor,” the judge said. “It’s just a great privilege to do this.”

For a tour that reveals other hidden treasures at the Marion County Courthouse, Click here.

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