Friday, August 22, 2008

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Along with 29 other students - in what now looks like a closed class - I'm getting ready to start HIS 479 "From Vikings to Hackers: A Pirate's World History." I especially wanted to get into this class because it's a 4-credit ECCE in Global Studies which I needed, but the subject matter appears to be quite interesting too. One of the books on the required reading list is Robert Louis Stevenson's "Treasure Island," which I know I've got but I haven't found yet. Searching for this lost book got me to thinking about the general fascination with buried treasure.

I'm not sure just how widespread this practice really was with the buccaneers of the Spanish Main. Of course, banking practices being what they were at the time, or lack of them, might have instilled the notion that burying a wooden chest full of jewels and gold doubloons six feet down in the sand on a deserted barrier island would provide the equivalent security of, say, a modern-day bank vault. But it wasn't as if you could readily access this plunder, given the rickety old tubs they were sailing around in, and the fact that after a couple of hurricanes the barrier islands might not even still exist.

Still, the prospect of buried treasure holds a tremendous attraction. Whether it's Jean Lafitte's booty down in Louisiana, the Lost Dutchman Mine in Arizona, or the Knights of the Templar's holy grail at Oak Island, treasure hunters are always on the prowl for the big payoff, just like all the people at the gambling boat in Peoria.

Why anybody would voluntarily bury valuables underground is beyond me. Just the thought of having to do something with a shovel makes me break out into a sweat - a cold sweat. It's a hideous thought involving using muscles that aren't designed for such strenuous exertions, as least that's my belief. I guess the southerners had to bury their silverware when the Yankee raiders and scavengers showed up during the Civil War, but that's probably only because they hadn't invented plastic forks yet.

In my family, Uncle Charlie had the reputation of being a tightwad. It wasn't true, of course, but he secretly enjoyed the razzing and even promoted the notion that he had jars and jars of coins buried out in his back yard and down in the cellar. One day at a Yankees-White Sox game he turned the tables on his detractors. When the hot dog vendor showed up on his rounds, Uncle Charlie said, "No thanks - brought my own" - and pulled a fully wrapped and mustardized dog out of his coat pocket. I realize this is an old and oft-repeated joke but according to Dad it really did happen.

This brings up modern-day treasure hunting with metal detectors. A friend of mine caught the bug and went out and bought one of the top-of-the-line models, I think it was around $1500. It was so powerful it could detect mercury fillings in a mummy in a tomb under one of the pyramids, that is, if the ancient Egyptians practiced dentistry along with trepanning. After a few times scoping around an abandoned railroad bed, which required a long, sweaty hike out into the middle of the woods, my friend uncovered a couple of highly-sought after and valuable rusted railroad spikes. I think he put the detector back in the closet and returned to his cave to start watching the entire DVD set of Benny Hill, which suddenly held more interest than metal detecting.


ajenno said...

Your class does sound interesting!

I lived in Arizona for a year but I never heard of the Lost Dutchman Mine in Arizona. Was it the Dutchman that was lost or the mine?

Do you think your friend is looking to get rid of his metal detector? I'd love to try it!

Dan B said...

The Lost Dutchman Mine is reputed to be in the Superstition Mts. east of Phoenix, just google it for sites about the legends. Louis L'Amour mentioned it in detail in one his novels, but I don't remember which.

I don't think my friend would sell the metal detector, he probably still uses it now and then.

suPerg!RL 13 said...

I was thinking about taking that class but was "elbowed out" by you and 28 others!

Interesting thought - treasure hunting and why the need to bury certain treasures. In the Philippines, our legendary treasure was the "Yamashita" treasure which was allegedly hidden by the Japanese during WWII somewhere in the caves and mines of the multiple islands of the country. Many historians have disputed the treasure, yet it has been a great part of Philippine pop culture (it was in films, books, video games and in Unsolved Mysteries).
I guess the attraction is the Why more than the What. Why bury the treasure? Why choose the location?

Hopefully, the class is as interesting as it looks. Let us know what you think!
Thanks - Lyn