Rockford Area Historical Society News and Updates for 8/2/18

By Terry Konkle – President

As some readers know the Rockford Area Historical Society (RAHS) publishes a quarterly newsletter called “Power House Post”. For years it has been subtitled “Electrifying News from the RAHS”. Recently I have been looking back through some older copies from my files and found an interesting column written by my wife Janette Konkle in the summer of 2001. The museum had just acquired a large safe which had been in the Hessler Building for years. It had been donated to the RAHS and moved to the basement of the old museum down by the dam. Some Rockford city workers used a fork lift to move it down Courtland Street one Sunday morning and then pushed it into the basement of the museum building. The safe is now a part of the new  RAM. Here is my wife’s column!

THE MOSLER SAFE MYSTERY by Janette Konkle

When I first met Bob Cordes and we began discussing the old safe in the back of the Hessler Building (he and his partner owned the building), I had no idea what the possible history of the safe might be.

I began reading “Rockford Registers” from 1896 to 1901 because having a large safe and moving it was big news in those days. The April 15, 1896 paper reported “The only thing left in the burned district as good as new is one of Davis’ Frost Proof Cisterns.” This was not the safe, but showed that items like that survived major fires.

Another article from December 15, 1897 stated, “W.F.Hessler and Postmaster Spore have added fine burglarproof safes to their establishments.” I was excited thinking that our safe might date back to the 1800s. At that point I referred to the Mosler Safe web site. I learned that it was possible that the mountain scene painted on the door was done by Gustav Mosler’s son, Henri. Along with an elaborate history, the company also listed the serial numbers and the years in which their safes were manufactured. Our safe had the number 180880. The record showed that that number was given to a safe built in 1904 or 1905.

My next step was to write the company in hopes they might have a bill of sale to a business in Rockford. Their records showed that the safe was considered a 121 and the actual order number was 144471. The safe was built sometime between July 20, 1905 and July 28, 1905. It was then shipped to B & Cook in Mexico, possibly to have the walls filled with cement, or perhaps just to become part of the company for its own use.

No one knows how the safe wound up in Rockford. Regardless of its origin, it will be put to good use.

After sitting in the crowded basement area of the old museum for ten years, the safe became the first item to be moved to the new RAM, finding a permanent home in the south room. But my wife was not done with it. The safe was locked closed, but we had a combination. One Sunday afternoon when we were working on the new museum, she began trying the combination. We had been told that the numbers had to be just right to work. She tried many, many times with no luck (at least an hour). At that time those of us working kind of forgot about her quest when suddenly this happy voice boomed out “I GOT IT OPEN”. What an accomplishment and what patience! We haven’t closed it since!

Of course, visitors to the RAM can view the safe and read more of its story. It is just one of many parts of our area history on display. Stop in and see it! As always, contact me by email (tnjkonkle@hotmail.com) or by phone at 616-866-0530 with questions, comments, concerns, ideas and corrections. Have a great positive week!