Imagine this scenario: You’re on vacation at a small town museum. The museum’s main attraction is a mysterious old safe that’s been locked in the basement for 40 years. No one remembers the combination, and all documentation has been lost. You see this safe sitting there, teasing you, like it’s teased so many over the years, with whatever untold treasures and secrets dwell behind its black iron door. You stare at the combination lock. Then a vision. Three numbers appear in your mind. You think, well why not? There’s no harm in trying. Three spins to the right, two to the left, once more two the right. And then: click. It opens.
All rationality is erased from your mind. This is fate, it must be. I was meant to find this, you think with growing hubris, there’s no other explanation. Whatever treasures and secrets dwell behind this black iron door were meant for me! The creaking maw of the safe opens to reveal…a big ol’ pile of nothing good. Dust and scraps of papers. A waitress’ slip for an order of a burger with mushrooms, and a slip proving a hotel employee was paid $9 one week in 1978. Congratulations, reality broke itself for the sole purpose of messing with you.
Apparently, that actually happened. According to the Vermilion Standard, Stephen Mills, 36, was on vacation with his wife, children, and members of his extended family in Vermilion, Alberta, Canada and was subject to that exact scenario. Well, exact except the internal monologue, that was a little dramatic embellishment. Stephen probably isn’t so full of hubris.
The safe had been sitting in the basement of the Vermilion Heritage Museum since the 1990’s. Its former residence was the Brunswick Hotel which shut its doors for good in the late 1970’s. Since it began its stay at the museum, countless visitors had tried to crack it to no avail. A professional locksmith had even been called in to open the safe, but there was no luck there either. It wasn’t just that the combination had been lost—it’s a locksmith’s job to get around those problems. According to museum volunteer Tom Kibblewaite, the locksmith had said that even with the right combination, the gears were rusted and broken and it would probably never open again.
Enter Stephen Mills. On a tour of the museum , Kibblewaite told the story of the safe to Mills and his family. According to Stephen he decided to try the safe on a lark:
“I was like, I gotta get down and try this for a laugh. I was doing it as a joke for the kids, trying to be like in the movies, more or less.”
Mills says that the combination just popped into his head, 20-40-60. Of course, on a dial that goes from 1 to 60, dividing it into thirds is a logical guess. It’s the equivalent of having your email password set as “qwerty.” Go change that right now, by the way. But still, it’s pretty remarkable that it happened on the first try. Stephen Mills says:
“I took the numbers out of thin air, like right out of my head. 20 three times to the right, 40 two times to the left and 60 one time to the right, and tried the door and it cracked open.”
“Right away, I stood up, and I was like, ‘I’m buying a lottery ticket tonight.’ ”
There would have been a follow up story, we can only assume, if Stephen had gone on to win the lottery that night. But perhaps his good luck only extends to opening mostly empty, useless safes. Although Stephen Mills joked that he was hoping for gold bars to come falling out, all that was found were some dusty old pieces of paper. According to volunteer Tom Kibblewaite:
“They were dated 1977 and 1978—that’s probably the last time it was opened. One was part of a pad—of a waitress’ order book. The other was a pay sheet…I think the thing came out to $9.95 or something.”
Perhaps it’s a haunted safe, and whatever spirit was trapped inside was sick and tired of being fiddled with all the time and put a stop to it. We’ll probably never know. At the end of the day, Stephen Mills has a story about something really weird that happened to him, a story which he will likely tell at every family gathering he attends for the next 50 years.