Posted 8/23/16 (Tue)
By Cecile Wehrman
Crosby Pioneer land man and attorney, R.H. Points always liked his papers “just so.”
“He had his own filing system,” remembers granddaughter Gail Kostek, and no one better mess with it.
No surprise then, that a safe opened last week, belonging to Points, yielded personal papers in filing drawers with alphabetical dividers contained inside.
One thing R.H. was less meticulous about was leaving a record of the safe’s combination. It traveled to Crosby’s Pioneer Village in 1979, when his building was donated to the Divide County Historical Society.
With the refurbishment of the Points building earlier this year, local historian Danny Hansen began following a trail of clues that Monday last week bore fruit -- he found the combination to the safe written in a law book.
Prior to his discovery of the safe’s combination, said Hansen, “It was just a suspense box. What good is a safe if you don’t have a clue what’s in it? Everybody has a different guess,” and Hansen is just tickled he got to be the one to reveal the truth.
A growing mystery
In the process of recreating Points’ office scene inside his former Main Street building, Hansen has perused nearly 100 law books, dating back to 1867 and all formerly belonging to the man responsible for handling the legal transactions and property dealings of Crosby’s earliest residents.
Points arrived in Old Crosby in 1904, ahead of an influx of homesteaders and merchants who later moved the town a mile-and-a-half east to its present day location.
Hansen became increasingly intrigued with what bits of history the Points’ safe might contain, and at one point, Kostek suggested simply hiring a locksmith to “pop” it open.
“I thought it would be empty. I really did,” said Kostek, but she appreciated Hansen’s interest and gave him the freedom to follow any clues he uncovered.
Trail heats up
Finally, in the Society’s main museum building, removed from the rest of Points’ possessions, Hansen found another of Points’ law books buried among about 20 others apparently donated by other people.
“I opened one book and saw his name written on the inside and then there was a piece of paper taped to the inside cover with handwriting on it,” said Hansen.
The paper contained three sets of digits and directions for turning a dial, along with the words “This combination is probably for one of R.H. Points’ safes.”
“I was a little ecstatic at that point,” said Hansen, to have rediscovered something someone else, at one point, apparently knew but lost track of.
All alone at the Pioneer Village grounds at the time, Hansen nearly ran to the Points building to see if the combination would indeed open the big safe.
Actually opening the nearly 6-foot high metal box wasn’t as simple as following the written directions, however. The last line of the instructions were not expressed very clearly. After a little trial and error, Hansen surmised that if he turned the dial very slowly on the last run, he might be successful.
“So I put my hand on the handle and it was getting tighter and tighter. And all of a sudden it clicked.”
That was a happy moment, because the handle turned.
Hansen immediately called Kostek, and though the family was in the midst of their grain harvest on the farm, she told Hansen, “I’ll be right in.”
Fifteen minutes later, along with Divide County Historical Society Secretary Doreen Schilke, the mystery of Points’ safe was solved -- the open door yielded personal business papers, a shoe brush and several newspapers -- from an issue of a 1901 Pennsylvania edition with Points’ father’s name on it to a 1951 Journal containing his wife, Mae’s, obituary.
Kostek appreciates the glimpse into her grandfather’s world.
“It’s fun to see how his mind worked, because he was so very nice to me,” she said.
Kostek was most hopeful there might be some old photographs, and there was one, from a long ago hunting trip.
Neither Hansen nor Kostek is disappointed now that the contents of the safe can be seen.
“This is probably what you’d expect to see. Anything else would just be a bonus,” said Hansen.
The lack of any materially valuable possessions is of no consequence.
“Just the idea we were able to get in it. The only gold mine in there was paperwork,” he said, but it is important.
“We’re trying to make his office as realistic as possible,” he said. “It’s just another step in making these stories come to life. That’s the whole goal, to bring them to life.”
The names of the people on the papers, he said, are what catches his eye -- names that in many cases are still familiar in the area.
Kostek said she trusts Hansen to respect the privacy of the families involved and has given him the authority to review the papers for any historical significance.
“I trust Danny completely,” she said. “These things are valuable to him. I am just glad someone wants to look at it other than family.”
For Hansen, opening the safe turned out to be like a birthday present two days ahead of the real thing.
He got to be the hero, he quipped, “For a day. Start at the bottom again tomorrow.”