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

Photogallery Americans Celebrate Thanksgiving With Feasts, Festivities

Holiday traditions include turkey dinners, 'turkey trots,' American-style football and New York parade with giant balloons More

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

With two years left in term, analysts say, president has less to lose by taking conversation on race further More

Video Italian Espresso Expands Into Space

When Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti headed for the ISS, her countrymen worried how she would survive six months drinking only instant coffee 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.
South Africa Sees Male Circumcision as Way to Reduce HIV Infectionsi
X
November 28, 2014 3:31 PM
South Africa remains plagued by AIDS despite massive government and NGO efforts on prevention and life-sustaining Anti-Retro-Viral programs. But the country has opened up another front to reduce new HIV infections: promoting circumcision. Emilie Iob reports for VOA News from a pioneering circumcision center in Orange Farm, Johannesburg.
Video

Video South Africa Sees Male Circumcision as Way to Reduce HIV Infections

South Africa remains plagued by AIDS despite massive government and NGO efforts on prevention and life-sustaining Anti-Retro-Viral programs. But the country has opened up another front to reduce new HIV infections: promoting circumcision. Emilie Iob reports for VOA News from a pioneering circumcision center in Orange Farm, Johannesburg.
Video

Video To Make A Living, Nairobi Street Vendors Face Legal Hurdles, Physical Violence

The Nairobi City Council has been accused of brutality in dealing with hawkers in the Central Business District - in order to stop them from illegally selling their wares on the streets. Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

Throughout the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri, President Barack Obama has urged calm, restraint and respect for the rule of law. But the events in Ferguson have prompted him to call — more openly than he has before — for profound changes to end the racism and distrust that he believes still exists between whites and blacks in the United States. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Online Magazine Gets Kids Discussing Big Questions

Teen culture in America is often criticized for being superficial. But an online magazine has been encouraging some teenagers to explore deeper issues, and rewarding their efforts. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky went to this year’s Kidspirit awards ceremony in New York.
Video

Video US Community Kicks Off Thanksgiving With Parade

Thursday is Thanksgiving in the United States, a holiday whose roots go back to the country's earliest days as a British colony. One way Americans celebrate the occasion is with parades. Anush Avetisyan takes us to one such event on the day before Thanksgiving near Washington, where a community's diversity is on display. Joy Wagner narrates
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.

All About America

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Soul Lounge

Avery Sunshine is known for her irresistible combination of soul, jazz and gospel influences. She’s traveled the world entertaining audiences with her powerful voice, inspiring lyrics and infectious spirit. She joins host Shawna Renee on "The Soul Lounge" to perform and share the stories behind her new album, "The Sun Room."