News / Arts & Entertainment

Modern-day Treasure Seekers Prize the Hunt

Letterboxers use Internet and savvy to accomplish their goal

The Hartigan family of Virginia hid a letterbox in Kilkerin cemetery in County Clare, Ireland.
The Hartigan family of Virginia hid a letterbox in Kilkerin cemetery in County Clare, Ireland.

Multimedia

Audio
Nancy Greenleese

There is a breed of modern day treasure hunter that utilizes the Internet, a knack for orienting and solving puzzles, and a sense of adventure to acquire its prize. But these 21st century explorers are not seeking riches, they're after something called a letterbox.

As a cold rain spits on a car ferry in western Ireland, James and Nancy Hartigan and their two children huddle together in the car, plotting the rest of the day’s travel.

"Killimer to Knock around Kilmore to Lab, and then back to Kilkerrin," James says. "And then we will hit the Battery at Lackyle, back out, probably hit the cemetery, and then up the road."

Letterboxing journey

This is the final leg of their journey from Ashland, Virginia, to their father’s ancestral home to see relatives and leave behind a letterbox.

"We have been doing this letterboxing thing for a while," James says. "And it is just a kind of neat way of connecting with people, you know, as opposed to sending emails and what-not. It is something that you have to travel to go get."

A letterbox is a weather-proof box which typically contains a hand-carved rubber stamp and notebook. A letterboxer hides it in a public place, and posts clues and directions for finding it on the Internet. Those who find a box, use the stamp to mark their personal notebook and leave an imprint of their own stamp in the letterbox’s notebook. Then they put the box back in its hiding place for the next treasure hunter to find.

"I definitely like the whole letterbox thing," says Sean Hartigan, 10, who carved a train to use as his personal stamp. "I am actually kind of hoping for, like, next time we come, eight or nine notes in there."

A typical letterbox contains a stamp, stamp pad and record book, which are left at the letterbox site.
A typical letterbox contains a stamp, stamp pad and record book, which are left at the letterbox site.

His older sister Maggie has written an introductory passage in the notebook. "I wrote about my hat and about how awesome Ireland is, and I am going to move here when I get rich, along with many other things."

But, first, they have to hide the box, which involves a long drive through drizzling rain over bumpy back roads and an after-dark arrival at the final resting place for many of James Hartigan's ancestors.

"This is Kilkirren cemetery," says James, once they arrive at their destination. "The gravestones would be several hundred years old."

The family wedges its letterbox into a crack in the cemetery wall. They have given clues to its location to their relatives.

Unique pastime

Letterboxing began in bog-covered parkland in Devon, England, in 1854.

"A gentleman left his calling card out on the moors and said, 'Anyone to find this also do the same or write a little note,' that sort of thing," says Randy Hall, an American software engineer and author of “The Letterboxer’s Companion.”

Hikers started leaving their cards. The idea caught on and word of other hikers hiding boxes in remote areas with cryptic directions spread through word of mouth. Stamps eventually replaced cards. For more than a century, the pastime was limited to a few enthusiasts on the moors.

'The Letterboxer's Companion,' is author Randy Hall’s guide to letterboxing, which is similar to old-fashioned scavenger hunts.
'The Letterboxer's Companion,' is author Randy Hall’s guide to letterboxing, which is similar to old-fashioned scavenger hunts.

A 1998 article in a major U.S. magazine introduced letterboxing to many Americans. Its popularity soared thanks to the Internet, which has become the primary means of distributing clues.

In Britain, Hall says, the clues often require the use of a compass, while in the United States, directions and puzzles dominate.

"It is kind of like setting up treasure hunts," he says. "It is like a mental activity, a brainy activity."

Hall is renowned for his clever and complex puzzles. The only clue he provides for locating a North Carolina letterbox is a haiku poem:

Roll’s pal in a noose
Sign marks his lupine brother
Pine tree to the north.


"I like people to have an 'aha' experience when they figure it out.  They feel, 'Wow, that is really cool.'  To create a sense of discovery," Hall says. "I do not like it when it is just ‘Walk down the path and look under a rock.’"

Working together

Letterboxing is also catching on as a vacation activity. Andrea Wyman and her family make it part of every vacation, including a 2010 trip to Ohio.  

"We were letterboxing on Lake Erie and we ended up in a forest area that we probably would not have gone to at all," she says. "But the letterbox was hidden within a little campground."

Wyman, an associate professor at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, has designed a course on letterboxing for grandparents and their grandchildren.

She says the pastime encourages generations to work together while enjoying the outdoors and exploring new places. And, solving the puzzles and writing the clues are good workouts for the brain.

Hannah Wyman’s letterboxing notebook contains stamps from the letterboxes she’s found near home and while on vacation.
Hannah Wyman’s letterboxing notebook contains stamps from the letterboxes she’s found near home and while on vacation.

"When you are trying to help someone find your letterbox, you are editing, reading and reviewing everything that you write down on your clue list so that you can help someone come and find your hidden book," Wyman says.

Her 11-year-old daughter, Hannah, has found her fair share of boxes.  She says letterboxing allows her to do what she calls ‘cool stuff’ that does not involve computers.

"We went to this park and then it said from this certain tree take 42 third-grader steps," Hannah says. "And I was a third-grader at that time, so I got to figure out where the letterbox was."

She stamped the book with her snowflake stamp and walked away with a souvenir and a fond memory. The treasure - for her, the Hartigans and the thousands of other letterboxers - is in the hunt.

You May Like

Nigeria Incumbent in Tight Spot as Poll Nears

Muhammadu Buhari is running a strong challenge to Goodluck Jonathan, amid a faltering economy and Boko Haram security worries More

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo tells VOA that despite her fame, life is still a struggle as she waits for government's promise of support to arrive More

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

At least seven different indigenous groups in Ratanakiri depend mainly on forest products for their survival, say they face loss of their land, traditional way of life More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the latest edition of "Beyond Category" blues singer and guitarist Corey Harris performs with his band and talks about his travels in West Africa tracing the roots of the blues.