Real Life Treasure Hunting
“There comes a time in every rightly-constructed boy’s life when he has a raging desire to go somewhere and dig for hidden treasure.” (Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, 1876)... or in every girl’s life, who had the good fortune to be born a century later when girls, too, could dream of treasures, read maps and dig in the dirt.
My treasure hunting started in the backyard around the age of 5, when, for a couple of years, I worked on digging a hole that I’m pretty sure could’ve easily been turned into a swimming pool. I mostly found grubs and earthworms, but all it took was one bent, silver spoon, and I was convinced that if I dug down deep enough I’d hit the mother lode. The Goonies was all the affirmation I needed.
Maybe it’s in the DNA, or maybe it’s that our house was built on some ancient trash heap that unearthed itself with each fresh rain, sparking my children’s interest. My two boys were around 4 years old when they started heading out into the yard like mini-archaeologists, armed with toothbrushes, gently uncovering and collecting bits of broken glass and dishes. It was during those long days, when I was trying to find activities to wear them out and ensure a good night’s sleep, that I discovered an underground hobby called Letterboxing, which took us on exciting adventures to new places—real life treasure hunts.
What is a Letterbox?
The term “letterbox” means “mailbox” in England, where the hobby began in the 1850s, in Dartmoor National Park. Visitors left messages for those who were to follow. Nowadays, you can find letterboxes almost anywhere. Just go to www.letterboxing.org and search by location. You will find them in nearly every town in every state, and even some in other countries. There are around 50,000 letterboxes hidden in North America.
What do you need to begin Letterboxing and what can you expect?
You will need a rubber stamp, an inkpad, a small notebook, a pen, a trail name (some people use their real names) and a set of clues to your destination. Those clues can take you through tunnels, down dirt roads and up mountain trails (you choose). You will end up in the most magnificently mystical places, sites that are sometimes historic and always beautiful. You will discover places that are in and of themselves treasures, but you will find the real booty discreetly hidden in plain sight.
There are three main rules to Letterboxing:
1. SAFETY. This is the Lowcountry. There are rattlesnakes, alligators and spiders. You have to be careful. Before reaching for a box, use a stick to poke around and make sure the area is critter free.
2. STEALTH. When you believe you have come to the point where X marks the spot, you have to check around and make sure no one is looking, no one who’s going to ask why you’re digging around in a hole in some decomposing tree, or why you’re pulling a box out from under a rock, or why you’re searching in the crevices of an old wall. When you find it, you have to play it cool. Sneak that box up under your arm and walk away. This is serious. Take a little walk. Find a scenic spot to sit and open your newly found treasure. When you’re done, you have to sneak it back into its hiding place and cover it with some mulch or pine straw for the next person to discover.
3. HAVE FUN. What do you do when you find a Letterbox?
When you finally open the treasure, you will find a rubber stamp, a notebook, a pen and maybe an inkpad inside. If there isn’t an inkpad, you can always use your own. Record the letterbox stamp in your own notebook, logging the date, time, location, and any other details you want to remember. Then use your own stamp to leave your mark along with a short message in the letterbox notebook. Even if you don’t have a stamp, you can still leave a note. It can be fun to look through the other messages that have been left behind by other letterboxers. When you are finished, be sure to carefully reseal the contents of the box so they are protected from from rain, and then return the box to its hiding spot.
Ready to get started Letterboxing?
Pink Magazine is hiding the first Letterbox in Bluffton, SC. We look forward to reading the messages you leave in our notebook… that will be our treasure!
Directions to the Famous Cross of Bluffton Letterbox:
Travel to the end of Calhoun Street in Bluffton, SC where you can find the most beautiful view of the sun setting over the May River. You gotta’ have “Faith” as you head ten paces towards the double doors. Turn your sights 90 degrees like you’re “Going Down to the River to Pray.” Proceed 33 paces. Where else would you find a treasure except hidden in a trunk?
Directions to the Heart of
Hilton Head Island Letterbox:
Start where you can go to watch a movie at Coligny Plaza on Hilton Head Island, SC. While you’re there, don’t forget to pick up a copy of Pink Magazine! Walk 6 paces and then head towards the ocean. Walk 50 paces to catch the New York Subway. When you exit the Subway, it’s about 10 paces across the bridge. Act like Captain Hook and keep hooking for about 18 paces. Stop just before the “Stairway to Heaven.” Instead, turn right and proceed about 6 paces until you find The Secret Garden. Sit down and take a load off. Don’t be afraid to get close to nature. Look around for something tall with a hole in it. All you have to do is reach for it.
Remember: SAFETY, STEALTH, and HAVE FUN!