A quick sweep soon turned into a history-filled discovery for a Hannibal couple restoring a downtown landmark. Everything began with a single piece of paper.

A quick sweep soon turned into a history-filled discovery for a Hannibal couple restoring a downtown landmark. Everything began with a single piece of paper.

Co-owner Hong Kilmer asked her husband, co-owner Bob Kilmer, to sweep up the area near the wooden slats that once formed a wall inside the former Rialto Theatre on Broadway. When Bob Kilmer noticed a stray piece of paper wouldn’t sweep away, he took a closer look.

The paper turned out to be inside a billfold, hidden within the wall for more than 70 years. The billfold signaled the first of many secrets waiting in that small spot Thursday, Oct. 15.

After he found the billfold, Bob Kilmer then discovered dozens of historic artifacts, documents and slices of Americana from the Rialto Theatre’s heyday.

“It just fell out on the ground,” Kilmer said as he began to investigate the spot containing the billfold.

The billfold that kicked off the discovery — one of two Kilmer found — held an array of memories for descendants of the young man who lost it in 1943.

Kilmer carefully pulled out a neatly folded train ticket, a yellowing American Junior Red Cross identification card with the name — and a photo showing a smiling young woman.

Hong Kilmer posted pictures of the billfold’s contents on Facebook, hoping to connect with relatives of the late Owen Rebo. It only took a week, she said.

Kilmer described connecting Rebo’s family members as “God at work.”

Kilmer gave the wallet to Rebo’s niece, Karla Kutcher Bradshaw, on Thursday, Oct. 22. Through Facebook posts, Bradshaw found Sarah Harper Scott, who identified the woman in the photo as her grandmother. Bradshaw plans to send the photo to Scott, Kilmer said.

After collecting his discoveries, Bob Kilmer arranged the items across a table.

A Camel cigarette pack from the 1930s looks as if it was set down a few weeks ago. A strip of 35-millimeter film lies draped across a Curtiss Baby Ruth candy bar wrapper. Nearby, a white label for Union Leader pipe tobacco looks right at home beside a stack of chocolate brown cigar butts. A Rialto Theatres popcorn box still radiates with vivid red lettering, encouraging visitors to “eat more popcorn for health’s sake.”

The Kilmers plan to keep the building as historically accurate as possible during the renovation. David Davidson, of A to Z Restoration, helped restore the blue, yellow and white steel tiles and the underlying structure. To complete the facade, they reconstructed a missing tile because they are no longer available, Hong Kilmer said.

Amid the white tiles, 28 small windows conceal lights, which lit up in a rainbow of colors for the holidays. After the couple restored the windows, Bob Kilmer found three colored light bulbs, labeled with the General Electric logo from the 1950s.

By next week, crew members will begin hanging sheets of drywall for interior walls, Hong Kilmer said.

As renovation efforts continue inside, the couple wants to showcase the building’s historic ties in the community. Bob Kilmer plans to hang a collage of the items he found. Hong Kilmer envisions a large print of a photo she received from the Steve Chou collection, which shows a large group of children in front of the Rialto Theatre in the 1950s. Kilmer wants to surround the vintage photograph with images of those same people, as they appear today.

The Kilmers said they enjoyed making historic and working on rejuvenating the building. For Hong Kilmer, giving the billfold back to Rebo’s niece remains a shining highlight.

“That’s worth everything to me,” she said. “It’s like a miracle.”

Reach reporter Trevor McDonald at trevor.mcdonald@courierpost.com