Post Office Safe Blown Up – Robbers use Nitroglycerine

February 17, 2020

The Marion Post Office as it appeared on a tinted George Blesch postcard, circa 1910.

By Julie Traynor

I came up empty when searching for some interesting Valentine’s Day ghosts this week. Other than club and organization meetings with a Valentine’s Day theme, the only real highlight of February 14 in Marion, Michigan, was the 1994 Valentine’s Day fire at the Marion Post Office. No one was hurt and little or no mail was lost. The post office opened for a time on the other side of Mill Street, on its way to the present East Main location. Many successful Valentine deliveries are made each year without incident.

I did come across a post office related tale, seldom recounted. So, in lieu of hearts and flowers on this Valentine’s Day, we give you the story of the blown safe and the Post Office robbery.  

During the wee hours of May 29, 1913, a brief explosion echoed up and down the sleeping streets of Marion, Michigan. Because of the hour, few heard and those who did soon dismissed the noise. All was quiet and remained so until the first postal clerk arrived to find the front door hanging open and the interior in disarray. She called the postmaster who in turn summoned the local Deputy Sheriff Archie O’Donnell. They called Sheriff Sprague in Hersey. He arrived on the 1pm train to further the investigation.

The blast separated the front of the safe from its body and blew a hole in the maple floor. Safe shrapnel put holes in the opposite brick wall. Robbers used nitroglycerine.

Robbers used Archie Lowry’s Route No. 1 mailbag to carry away the safe’s contents. An inventory revealed thieves took about $100 in cash, nearly $500 in stamps and all of the office’s record books, including cancelled checks. Lowry’s cash box contained $3 in cash and $5 in stamps. Other than the safe and office, nothing else was disturbed. 

News of the robbery spread like wild fire and several distant residents reported hearing the blast while those in the immediate vicinity heard nothing. Some thought it might have occurred out of town. The night watch at the Marion Depot thought it could have been a boiler explosion at the local mill. Investigation proved all well and no explosion heard.

As news spread, the report of a car traveling country roads in the night came along and dismissed upon investigation (it was the Evart veterinary). The only promising lead came from the report of several suspicious men camping on south Watson Road (5th Avenue), near the Wooll farm. Mrs. Wooll described the man at her door as fairly well dressed and polite. He asked for potatoes and said that he and two friends were camped a short distance away. She gave him the potatoes. The men were last seen walking toward Marion later that evening.

The theory advanced at the time was that these men had been there a few days, checking things out. Certain footprints at the camp exactly matched some found behind both the Hall (post office) building and the Piper & Lowry building, next door, and believed made by the robbers.

William Webster, a west side resident, reported that a vehicle came into town from the west just before midnight and that one left at a high speed about 2am. No further information on the robbery or the robbers surfaced. 

For many years, the repaired maple flooring and dings in the wall of the Hall building served as a reminder to post office patrons of the time robbers blew the safe for $103 in cash and a bunch of stamps. In fact, if you know where to look you might just find those nitro ghosts today. 

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