ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Albuquerque resident William Conner is something of a hero to millions of Internet strangers all over the world, but he didn’t get there without a little bit of “chicanery.”
When Conner and his wife, Ashley, renovated their 30-year-old Northeast Heights home about eight months ago, they discovered a mysterious safe under the floorboards. The safe is about a cubic foot, embedded in the house’s foundation and tucked into a corner in the living room. They didn’t open it at first.
But about a week and a half ago, Conner lost his job as an advertising copywriter. He found himself spending more time than usual on Reddit, a popular social news and entertainment website that has a currency of inside jokes and common interests.
One such joke comes from a frustration over the past several years from posters on the website who, like Conner, find a mysterious safe under ripped-out floors or in a secret room in a new house. A few users have made similar posts — sharing a picture of the safe and promising to show its contents to the site’s 70 million unique monthly users — but none has delivered.
“I felt I had a chance to heal that wound,” Conner told the Journal on Thursday, half joking. “I, like many other Redditors, was crushed.”
Conner then posted on the website, and, within 30 minutes, the picture went viral. Reddit users posted almost 6,000 cautiously optimistic comments:
- “I don’t think I’m ready for another relationship just like the last one,” user Ringmaster87 posted.
- “The (poster) won’t let us down this time. I can feel it,” one user said.
- “We’ve been hurt too many times!” commented Snowman334.
The anticipation built, Conner said. He contacted a locksmith who installed a lock-picking device, which spent 24 hours ticking through combinations in order to force the safe open. Conner ditched his infant son’s first birthday party when it was finally finished Sunday, bowing to thousands of comments from users demanding to see the safe’s contents.
“Reddit was losing its collective hive mind,” Conner said. “The whole world was depending on me opening this safe.”
After a final tick, the machine stopped. The combination was entered, and the safe creaked open.
“It was empty,” Conner revealed Thursday to the Journal. “But the whole process was the build up, the payoff… I wanted it to be that visceral finish that the other guys didn’t give them.”
So Conner placed three wooden sculptures his dad had carved into the safe, and he claimed in a subsequent post that he had discovered the pieces inside.
Conner defended his viral lie as a way to spark the creativity of the site’s users, and he said the posts he made in anticipation of the safe’s opening were far more popular and imaginative than when he finally got the thing open.
“I knew for Reddit it was never about what was inside,” he said. “Sorry, Reddit.”
As of Wednesday, some 2,500 posters were still speculating about the carvings. Some advised Conner to find an exorcist, many recommended appraisers, and several others claimed the carvings were worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In total, Conner guesses that around 1.2 million visitors saw the posts. When he said online before opening the safe that he had just lost his job, Conner said creative directors of three major advertising firms offered him a freelance gig.
“When I mentioned losing my job, it just blew up,” he said.
Conner said he doesn’t know what the fallout will be when Reddit users find out he deceived them about the safe’s contents, but he hopes they’ll appreciate the adventure. Users hoped the safe would contain, for example, a murder weapon, a key to another safe, a reminder to drink Ovaltine, a taco or the remains of Jimmy Hoffa.
“I knew what they wanted, and I gave them that,” he said.