AUBURN — A curio on a flea market table in Pompano Beach, Fla., caught Bob Christian’s eye: a foot-long brass key bearing the name “Auburn, Maine.”

“He just had it out when I walked by,” Christian said. “It was a pretty neat-looking thing, so I ended up taking it home.”

Christian, 63, said he began trying to figure out how it made the trip from Maine to Florida.

He didn’t come up with an answer, but he found a willing buyer, Auburn Mayor Jonathan LaBonte, who paid Christian $50.

“It gives you a sense of how dynamic history is,” LaBonte said. “We don’t know the history of it. Did they give it away to a business that opened? Did it belong to a dignitary who came to town? And how did it end up at a flea market in Florida?”

Christian said he likes to browse the flea markets in his area looking for comic books and baseball memorabilia.

“I’ve found a lot of things, but it’s the first key to a city I’ve found,” he said. “I look for things from the ’50s and ’60s, but I keep my eye out for other things that might be interesting.”

The man he bought it from said it was in a forgotten storage locker he’d purchased. He didn’t know anything about it or who the original storage locker belonged to. The back of the key said it was presented by Auburn Mayor Merle S. Merrill, who served in 1954 and 1955.

“If I find items I think belong somewhere else, I try to find out if someone there is interested,” Christian said.

He called LaBonte and other city officials, eventually working out a sale. Figuring out the key’s history is now LaBonte’s job.

“I have a mini Lewiston-Auburn archive I’ve been building on my own for a couple of years, and this is now going to be front and center in it,” LaBonte said.

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