Writing Activites

Burying a Treasure

One project you may want to undertake is the creation of your own treasure. For this, you and your family or your friends can assemble items that may have value or special meaning.

Author Alistair Reid, his twelve-year-old son, Jasper, and a friend, Jeff Lerner, decided to bury their own treasure while on vacation in St. Andrews, Scotland. During the spring of 1971, they took a plastic box and filled it with treasure:

      • a history exam

      • three small plastic airplanes

      • a jarful of pennies

      • photographs of the family

      • a piece of white quartz

      • a pen that still wrote

      • a postcard of St. Andrews

      • a local newspaper dated May 22, 1971

Carrying spades and lanterns at twilight, they found the perfect burial spot on public land that bordered a golf course. They selected a small elm tree, about twenty yards from a stone wall, as a landmark, then Jasper measured the distance from the tree to the treasure site: three arm spans. They told themselves they would remember the exact location when they returned to reclaim the box on Jasper's twenty-first birthday: August 9, 1980.

On the precise date nine years later, Reid, Jasper, and Jeff met in St. Andrews. The small elm tree was now fully grown--and problems developed with their memories. Jasper did not remember using "three arm spans" and began to pace off the distance from the tree. He dug a small hole at a location he chose and uncovered an unbroken teacup and a bent spoon--hardly his box of treasure. Even when he tried to measure by arm spans, he realized that his arm had been quite a bit shorter in 1971; precise measuring was impossible. By the time they found the box--with the aid of a metal detector--they had dug many holes in an area more than eighteen feet wide. Clearly, their memories of the twilight burial had dimmed in nine years.

Upon opening the box, they saw the announcement they had placed on top of their treasures. It read:

This chest, containing treasure in coin and various souvenirs of the present moment in St. Andrews in May 1971, is buried here by Jasper Reid, Jeff Lerner, and Alistair Reid, in a spot known only to these three persons. It is their intention to return on the 9th day of August, 1980, to meet and disinter the chest in one another's company and to celebrate their survival with appropriate ceremony. Sunday, May 30, 1971, a hazy day with sea mist, rooks, curry, and kites.

To bury your own treasure, select a good box. It shouldn't be made of cardboard or even wood, which may rot over the years. A metal or plastic box with a tight seal is preferable. You may want to wrap the box in aluminum foil, since that will make retrieval with a metal detector easier.

Once you have your box, you can decide what you'd like to place in it. Different items may suit your purpose.

First, place some items that date the time you buried your treasure. For example, a copy of a recent newspaper is useful. This not only provides a date, but will be of interest in the future to see what was happening in your area and the world at the time.

Second, include a personal message. This could be written on paper or recorded on audio- or videotape. You may also want to encode a message so that its contents will remain secret until you decipher it. Your message might say who you are, what you've buried, why you've buried it, and what you hope to be doing in the future when you recover the box.

Third, include items that have personal meaning. Such items might include your favorite stuffed animal, a bedtime book you enjoy, or special toys that you've collected.

Finally, add possible future treasures. These could be shiny new coins, postage stamps, unopened packs of baseball cards, or whatever.
When you've assembled your collection, place it inside your box, perhaps wrapping everything in a plastic garbage bag or two in case it should spring a leak.

Then select a burial spot with care. First, avoid a place where you can be watched by others. As soon as you leave someone may simply dig your box up. Second, bury it either on public land (where digging is permitted) or on your own property. If you decide to bury it in your backyard, consider whether your family is planning to move. If so, someone else will own your house and may not appreciate your digging there years from now.

When you've chosen a site, dig a hole at least two or three feet deep. If you bury your box too close to the surface, it may be uncovered by heavy rains or soil erosion. Finally, remind yourself when you wish to unearth your treasure. You might write a brief note, put it in an envelope, and ask your parents to place it in a safe deposit box. The outside of the envelope might read: DO NOT OPEN UNTIL, MAY 8, 2015 (or whatever date you choose). Inside, your note will describe the treasure you buried, along with a map of the location or written directions to the treasure.

Whatever you do, however, do not rely on your memory of the burial. As you saw with Alistair and Jasper Reid, memory is a very tricky thing.

Copyright © James M. Deem. Taken from How to Hunt Buried Treasure (Houghton Mifflin, 1993). All rights reserved.