By Charles M. Skinner in 1896
The wealth of the Astors hardly exceeds the treasure that is supposed to be secreted here and there about the country, and thousands of dollars have been expended in dredging rivers and shallow seas, and in blasting caves and cellars. Certain promoters of these schemes have enjoyed salaries as officers in the stock companies organized for their furtherance, and they have seen the only tangible results from such enterprises.
One summer evening, in the middle of the 17th century, a ship dropped anchor at the mouth of Saugus River, Massachusetts, and four of the crew rowed to the woods that skirt its banks and made a landing. The vessel had disappeared on the following morning, but in the forge at the settlement was found a paper stating that if a certain number of shackles and handcuffs were made and secretly deposited at a specified place in the forest, a sum of money equal to their value would be found in their stead on the next day. The order was filled and the silver was found, as promised, but, though a watch was set, nothing further was seen of men or ship for several months.
The four men did return, however, and lived by themselves amid the woods of Saugus, the gossips reporting that a beautiful woman had been seen in their company — the mistress of the pirate chief, for, of course, the mysterious quartette had followed the trade of robbery on the high seas. Three of these men were captured, taken to England, and hanged, but the fourth — a man named Thomas Veale — escaped to a cavern in the wood, where, it was reputed, great treasures were concealed, and there he lived until the earthquake of 1658, when a rock fell from the roof of the cave, closing the entrance and burying the guilty man in a tomb where, it is presumed, he perished of thirst and hunger. Dungeon Rock, of Lynn, is the name that the place has borne ever since.
In 1852 Hiram Marble announced that he had been visited by spirits, who not only told him that the pirates’ spoils were still in their olden hiding-place, but pointed out the spot where the work of excavation should begin. Aided by his son he tunneled the solid granite for a distance of 135 feet, the passage being seven feet high and seven wide. Whenever he was wearied the “mediums” that he consulted would tell him to make cuttings to the right or left, and for every fresh discouragement they found fresh work. For 30 years this task was carried on, both father and son dying without gaining any practical result, other than the discovery of an ancient scabbard in a rift. The heiress of the house of Marble alone reaped benefit from their labors, for resuming, on a petty scale the levies of the first dwellers in the rock — she boldly placarded the entrance to the workings “Ye who enter here leave 25 cents behind.”
In several cases the chasms that have been caused by wear of water or convulsions of nature (their opposite sides being matched) were believed to have been hiding-places, but, in the old days in New England, it was believed that all such fractures were caused by the earthquake at the time of the crucifixion — a testimony of the power of God to shake sinners.
In Massachusetts, the Heart of Greylock is the name given to the crater-like recess, a thousand feet deep, in the tallest of the Berkshire peaks, but it was formerly best known as Money Hole, and the stream that courses through it as Money Brook, for a gang of counterfeiters worked in that recess, and there some spurious coinage may still be concealed. The stream is also known as Spectre Brook, for late wandering hunters and scouting soldiers, seeing the forgers moving to and fro about their furnaces, took them for ghosts.
Province Island, in Lake Memphremagog, Vermont, is believed to contain some of the profits of an extensive smuggling enterprise that was carried on near the lake for several years.
A little company of Spanish adventurers passed along the base of the Green Mountains early in the 18th, expecting to return after having some dealings with the trading stations on the St. Lawrence River; so they deposited a part of their gold on Ludlow Mountain, Vermont, and another pot of it on Camel’s Hump. They agreed that none should return without his companions, but they were detained in the north and separated, some of them going home to Spain. Late in life the sole survivor of the company went to Camel’s Hump and tried to recall where the treasure had been hidden, but his search was in vain.
While flying from the people whose declaration of independence had already been written in the blood of the king’s troops at Concord, the royal governor — Wentworth — was embarrassed by a wife and a treasure-chest. He had left his mansion, at Smith’s Pond, New Hampshire, and was making toward Portsmouth, where he was to enjoy the protection of the British fleet, but the country was up in arms, time was important, and as his wearied horses could not go on without a lightening of the burden, he was forced to leave behind either Lady Wentworth or his other riches. As the lady properly objected to any risk of her own safety, the chest was buried at an unknown spot in the forest, and for a century and more the whereabouts of the Wentworth plate and money-bags have been a matter of search and conjecture.
When the Hessian troops marched from Saratoga, New York to Boston, Massachusetts, to take ship after Burgoyne’s surrender, they were in wretched condition-war-worn, ragged, and ill fed, — and having much with them in the form of plate and jewels that had been spared by their conquerors, together with some of the money sent from England for their hire, they were in constant fear of attack from the farmers, who, though they had been beaten, continued to regard them with an unfavorable eye. On reaching Dalton, Massachusetts, the Hessians agreed among themselves to put their valuables into a howitzer, which they buried in the woods, intending that some of their number should come back at the close of the war and recover it. An Indian had silently followed them for a long distance, to gather up any unconsidered trifles that might be left in their bivouacs, and he marked the route by blazes on the trees; but if he saw the burial of this novel treasury it meant nothing to him, and the knowledge of the hiding-place was lost. For years the populace kept watch of all strangers that came to town, and shadowed them if they went to the woods, but without result. In about the year 1800 the supposed hiding-place was examined closely and excavations were made, but, as before, nothing rewarded the search.
A tree of unknown age — the Old Elm — stood on Boston Common until the late 19th century. This veteran, torn and broken by many a gale and lightning-stroke, was once a gallows and Goody Glover had swung from it in witch-times. On tempestuous nights, when the boughs creaked together, it was said that dark shapes might be seen writhing on the branches and capering about the sward below in hellish glee. On a gusty autumn evening in 1776 a muffled form presented itself, unannounced, at the chamber of Mike Wild, and, after that notorious miser had enough recovered from the fear created by the presence to understand what it said to him, he realized that it was telling him of something that in life it had buried at the foot of the Old Elm. After much hesitancy Mike set forth with his ghostly guide, for he would have risked his soul for money, but on arriving at his destination he was startled to find himself alone. Nothing daunted, he set down his lantern and began to dig. Though he turned up many a rood of soil and sounded with his spade for bags and chests of gold, he found nothing. Strange noises overhead — for the wind was high and the twigs seemed to snicker eerily as they crossed each other-sent thrills along his back from time to time, and he was about to return, half in anger, half in fear, when his spirit visitor emerged from behind the tree and stood before him. The mien was threatening, the nose had reddened and extended, the hair was rumpled, and the brow was scowling. The frown of the gold monster grew more awful, the stare of his eye in the starlight more unbearable, and he was crouching and creeping as if for a spring. Mike could endure no more. He fainted, and awakened in the morning in his own chamber, where, to a neighbor who made an early call, he told — with embellishments — the story of the encounter; but before he had come to the end of the narrative the visitor burst into a roar of laughter and confessed that he had personated the supernatural visitant, having wagered a dozen bottles of wine with the landlord of the Boar’s Head that he could get the better of Mike Wild. For all this the old tree bore, for many years, an evil reputation.