West Chester Buried Pirate Treasure Project

Dear West Chester friends and neighbors:

Do you remember the period of your life, starting at about age nine and lasting until about age now, when you were cynically skeptical of all the magic in the world, but secretly really wanted to believe in it? Watch any group of cub scouts walking through a haunted house, their words dripping with scorn: “THAT’S not a real spider web.” “THAT’S not a real mummy!”

I think the heat in this scorn comes from disappointment. These kids’ critical faculties have developed to the point where they can start to see behind the scenes, and they realize that most of the wonderful things they thought were real are, in fact, fabrications. And that’s a painful, painful process. Every one of those cub scouts is secretly wishing that they’ll turn out to be wrong, and that the haunted house will turn out to be real. In other words, they’re mourning the loss of magic in the world.

Imagine, for instance, that a sealed letter arrives at your house on a dark and stormy night, detailing a legal battle that has been tied up in the courts for almost THREE HUNDRED YEARS, concerning William Penn’s land grant, his embezzling steward Philip Ford, and William’s lackwit, gadabout son William Junior, who after getting expelled from the new Commonwealth for drunken brawling, moved to England and started a scheme with Lord Fairfax to recover treasure sent to the bottom of the caribbean by his grandfather, Admiral Sir William Penn. Imagine that the Quakers in Barbados have found this treasure. Imagine learning that YOUR VERY OWN great-great grandparents secretly smuggled some of this Quaker treasure up here to Chester County, and that it’s interred somewhere around the county seat.

Okay, are you imagining that? Well, how would you feel if, after an amazing adventure involving piecing fragments of documentation out of the back of family portraits, you found the spot mentioned in the treasure map you’ve carefully pieced together, only to find that the ground had BEEN RECENTLY DISTURBED, and something had OBVIOUSLY BEEN PLANTED THERE? I’ll tell you how you’d feel. You’d feel like Santa Claus had kicked you right in the solar plexus. You’d feel like the Easter Bunny had pulled off his fuzzy head, revealing a sweaty dude chomping on a cigar. And the guy with the cigar IS LAUGHING AT YOU.

That is why I wish to embark on the West Chester Buried Pirate Treasure Project. Here’s Phase I:

  • Assemble a sizable amount of plausible pirate treasure, to include items like: silver-plated candlesticks, pearl necklaces, tiaras, costume jewelry, doubloons, and handfuls of glittering rubies and emeralds. All treasure will be plausible to a suspicious kid (no plastic, all “made in china” marks carefully filed off.”)
  • Find or construct a suitable round-top treasure chest, divide the treasure into packets, sew the treasure into oilcloth sacks and seal the seams with tar, and lock them in the chest using multiple locks (necessitating multiple keys).
  • Locate a suitable location (I have a great one in mind), and
  • BURY THE TREASURE six feet deep. We’re talking four adults, four shovels, four hours. The real deal.

The final step in the plan? WAIT AT LEAST A YEAR. It is of the absolute, utter, most crucial importance that when our various children manage to unravel the Mystery of Penn’s Treasure, and when they at last arrive at the spot referenced in the map, that the spot where we all begin to dig is pristine earth covered in vegetation.

Kids cannot imagine waiting a year to do anything. If it’s covered with grass, man, it’s been there since the Pleistocene.

So what do you think? Who would like to volunteer their ancestors to become a retroactive part of the Secret Guild of Penn’s Treasure-Keepers? It doesn’t matter if your family hasn’t been living in Chester County for 300 years, there are plenty of plausible-enough ways to get your ancestors involved: “As it turns out, great-great-great grandma was an investor in the first East India expedition that Sir Admiral William Penn founded, and so she naturally gained a share of the prize money, which was then stolen…” “Well, as you know, great-great-great-great uncle Ezra was a cabin boy in Lord Fairfax’s flagship…” “Hey, did you know that every generation of our family up to Grandpa were savage Caribbean pirates?”

We can hammer out the details of the backstory later (by the way, William Penn’s ties to privateers and, sunken treasure? Quakers’ ties to the Caribbean? Embezzlement of dizzying sums? ALL TRUE.) For right now, we just have to get that treasure into the ground and start the grass growing over it. I’m thinking that each family involved could commission a Pirate Portrait of their ancestor, and we’ll seal a key into the frame of each portrait. Will the kids get suspicious that the Pirate Portrait may be done in a style not exactly common in the early 1700s? Maybe. But when I bring down a GENUINE* Buried Pirate Treasure expert from the Museum of Natural History in NYC to be present at the digging up of the treasure? NOSKEPTICISM WILL BE ABLE TO WITHSTAND US. It’s okay if the kids aren’t 100% convinced, but we are going to blow their little MINDS, man.

So: Who’s with me? Who’s in? Leave your message in the comments! I’m thinking we can fit ten families’ worth of treasure into a fair-sized chest. That’s ten oilskin packets, each sewn shut and sealed with tar. We’ll have to do this under conditions of UTMOST SECRECY. Don’t discuss this at the dinner table in front of little ears! In fact, I will delete this post after we’ve gotten everyone signed up. For kids savvy enough to find this post in the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, I’m sorry you had to find out finally and unequivocally that the treasure was planted. Bear in mind that we’re doing it because it’s important to always be unsure if maybe there really IS a cave with a pirate ship in it right under your feet.

UPDATE: McGlinch sent this picture of a stack of Pirate Golf Trophies in his mom’s basement. Excellent, this is EXACTLY what I’m talking about. Imagine these holding up a pile of rubies and emeralds and what-have you:

12 responses to “West Chester Buried Pirate Treasure Project”

  1. HA! This is so cool John. I’ll help where I can… If only to geo-tag some photos with my brand new iPhone 3G!! (As soon as I get it in 7-10 days…I already feel cooler)


  2. I like the cut of your jib matey! I don’t have any little brats to fool, but I love the idea and would love to provide some treasure! I’m in!


  3. Yay, thanks you guys! I think kids are optional. If you don’t have kids, you probably have fiancees or spouses, right? Or friends that are susceptible to this sort of thing? Once we’re sworn to secrecy and all traces of the WCBPTP are erased from the Internet, there’ll always be just that little kernel of wonder:
    “Is my fiancee _actually_ descended from a long line of Quaker Pirates, fierce brigands that bluffed their way into history? No, it couldn’t be… could it?”


  4. Argh! Why do I have to live in Cincinnati. Hmm…I think I may have to usurp your idea, and as my plans have not gone over the Internets, I’m safe from the way-back curse.
    One question: How do you plan to seed this idea into the minds of young treasure hunters? Will this only be for children of people involved in the planning? Where will the paintings be so that they are both accessible but not encourage vandalism or theft?


  5. Tiffany, maybe we SHOULD do this as a nationwide, nay, WORLDWIDE thing. Why, we’ll be like a bunch of Johnny Treasureseeds. Maybe we should bury more chests than we mean to dig up.
    Here are my spotty, nascent ideas for planting the seed into the minds of young treasure-hunters:
    1) Commission portraits of ourselves as our own ancestors, in the guise of pirates. I’ve commissioned portraits before from the awesome Rosemary Travale, Robert Ullman, and my step-brother Oliver. (The portraits were not all of me, I feel obliged to point out.) The portraits would be in the same style, and would have other figures shadowily in the background. I’m talking small illustration-style ones done for this project, not thousand-dollar oil paintings.
    2) Have these portraits delivered in cardboard boxes from an uh, let’s say defunct museum in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Each family would get one portrait, of course, and we’d wait for the kids to eventually go “HEY, you know, WE have one of those!!!!!”
    3) Sealed into the back of each portrait is a fragment of a treasure map and a key.
    4) Et cetera, et cetera.
    The idea here is that we wouldn’t be all like HEY KIDS GUESS WHAT TREASURE HUNT, we would just let the clues hang out there and let one of the kids go “oh, my god, dad… OH MY GOD THEY HAVE THAT PORTRAIT TOO!” and we can get mildly, frustratingly kind-of-interested, and eventually bring home a thermal photocopy hinting at Penn’s treasure, etc., etc.


  6. Heck it breaks down at the finding level. Too suspicion-raising to have a big event, plus the blab factor would increase incrementally.
    But I think that I’ll get me a handful of Herkimer diamonds (beautiful little quartz crystals with an incredible sparkle) from eBay, and sew them into a little oiled-silk packet… and bury them in my garden. Then when Lydia comes to visit she can help me weed.
    Before your grandma SLB married ASB, she made him promise that if ever they built a house, he’d construct a secret passage in it. They never did build a house from scratch, but one of the houses I lived in as a little girl had been a stop on the Underground Railroad, and there was a hidey hole constructed into the privy… That was in Quaker Street, NY. Boy, wouldn’t THAT have been a place to hide a stash!


  7. Oh, wow, look at the Herkimer Diamond Mine! That’s fantastic. Yes, just what you would expect to find when weeding at Grandma’s house.
    I remember that EVERY time we brought home a piece of old furniture, I would carefully check it for voids and hiding places. We got a bookcase out of a cousin’s barn, I think, that had a small void behind the crown molding, and I was *sure* that a treasure map was in there. Eventually, when I pried the molding back enough to shine a flashlight in there, I was disappointed to see nothing but dust and spiders.
    SO! I think that it doesn’t break down at the finding level. For an adult, additional people adds additional skepticism, but I think it’s the other way around for kids. Plus, I’m not aimiing to have them buy the story hook, line, and sinker; I’m aiming to have them as much as PRETTY SURE it’s a hoax, but NOT 100% SURE that it’s not real. Things like freshly-turned earth are a dealbreaker — extraordinary improbability that your neighbors’ parents’ ancestors were all in the same pirate cabal, well… that’s not a dealbreaker.


  8. I guess I was just thinking that the number of “finders” would be limited. But I was forgetting how little attention kids pay to their grownups’ activities. If I were ten years old and at some big group activity in Chester County Pennsylvania, it probably wouldn’t occur to me that practically everybody there had some sort of connection to tikaro.com, and it probably wouldn’t be a dead giveaway even if I did…. LOL OK I’ll send the Herkimer diamonds to you… I’d just forget where I buried them, anyway.


  9. This be a mighty fine plan so it be. Too many modern day pirates are consumed with the desire to dig up treasure failing the all important task of burying it in the first place.
    Good luck to ye!


  10. Count the crazy Valentine-Reidingers in… Dave will help with the muscle.. I can certainly dig up some treasure in the storage area. Be happy to help with any narrative as well. In one year the little one should be just the right age!


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