PARKERSBURG - John Hakala was 4,000 miles from West Virginia when he stumbled upon a key to the city of Parkersburg.
Hakala was in Germany shopping in a wine cellar when he noticed boxes of housewares. The shop's owner bought estates and had piled boxes of items in the back of the shop.
"There were boxes and boxes of furniture and all kinds of things," he said. "I was going through everything and found a plaque with a key from the city of Parkersburg."
A key to the city presented to Manfred Rau by former Mayor Al Smith. The key was discovered a few years ago in Germany.
The plaque read: "Presented to Manfred Rau by Mayor Al Smith, Parkersburg, W.Va."
Hakala, a Michigan native, who served in the Air Force since 1982, moved to West Virginia in 1999. He's with the 130th Air National Guard and lives in Ona. Hakala said he'd been to Parkersburg a few times to eat and said his daughter's future father-in-law, Sam Tanner, lives here.
"The fact it was from West Virginia struck me," he said.
Hakala purchased the plaque, for $7 and brought it home. He also did some research to determine how a key to the city found its way to Germany.
Hakala said he discovered Manfred Rau was a mayor of Cochem, Germany.
Mayor Bob Newell's office said no records of key recipients are kept. Longtime City Clerk Connie Shaffer also had no recollection of Rau, nor did former Parkersburg City Council member Andy Swearingen.
"There was a guy who came over from Europe," Swearingen recalled. Swearingen thought the man was a relative of the Blennerhassetts.
"Al did give him a key to the city."
But Swearingen couldn't remember much more. Ray Swick, historian at Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park, who's been at the island since the 1970s, didn't recall the event nor Manfred Rau.
Dan Fowler, former executive director of Blennerhassett Historical Park Commission, who now lives in Florida, also could not recall any such events or Rau.
Hakala contacted the late Al Smith's family. But they had no definitive answers.
Joanne Smith, Al Smith's wife, has scrapbooks full of Smith's newspaper clippings and memorabilia. She has no record of Smith presenting a key to Rau.
"I went through all my newspaper clippings for Al's term in office," she said. Smith served as mayor from 1978 until 1982. The closest thing she found was Smith giving keys to a visiting group of French women.
And she said Smith typically gave just keys, not a plaque.
Hakala said he planned to return the key to the city.