My flight landed at the Philadelphia airport right on time. I picked up my bags, loaded them in the rental car as fast as I could and pointed it north. It was almost a two hour ride to my parent’s house in Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania just south of Scranton.
I never thought I would be happy to get back there but this time I was. The truth be known, I was glad to be anywhere right now except where I just came from. Don’t get me wrong, I’m close to my family and have some great friends up there.
Excuse me, I should probably start from somewhere near the beginning. My name is William Sean Connolly, my family and close friends call me Dutch. It was my grandfathers nick name, nobody is sure how he got it because both sides of my family are Irish. Anyway, people that knew my grandpa real well said I favor him a lot and just started calling me that when I was a kid.
I was the first one in the family to graduate from college and became a mining engineer. When I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do someone said to me, “If you can’t do what you like, do what you know. If you can do both life will sure be easier.”
I wasn’t exposed to enough outside where I came from to figure out what I liked but I was positive what I knew. My father runs his own business and does well selling mining equipment. Dad was the first generation in our family that didn’t go down in to the coal mines to make a living.
You see his father, Grandpa Dutch did and generations before them all did. Some died doing it and others suffered from ‘black lung’ a condition caused by breathing in coal dust. The mining companies exploited the miners and things only got better when the men revolted.
My great grandfather and his brothers were members of a group called the ‘Molly Maguire’s’. It was a secret society active in the anthracite coal fields of Pennsylvania. They were a militant union that started the struggle to make the mines safer.
I went out to Colorado for college and the landscape couldn’t have been any different. Back home parts of the county looked like the dark side of the moon, void of any trees or grass. The ground was covered by finely ground black rocks, a byproduct of mining.
The change of scenery was welcomed and I accepted a job with the Federal Bureau of mines because I knew about mining and worked for the agency the last ten years. Three years ago I took a position at the University of Colorado as an Assistant Professor in the Engineering department and finally got to do something I liked.
I wanted to do something different this summer and decided I wouldn’t teach any summer courses. I was looking for an adventure but wasn’t sure what do. A friend unintentionally sent me on my journey and I got much more adventure than I bargained for.
That friend went to The University of Colorado with me and was coming to town, he called my cell phone, “Dutch, how life is treating you?”
“Brian the school year went well, I got the pictures from your birthday party you emailed yesterday and was going to call you.”
“I saved you the trouble; my cousin Lindsey wants your phone number.”
“You can definitely give the former cheerleader my number.”
“I am going to be out your way next week, want to do dinner and a game?”
“Sure, if you’re buying Brian,” I said and laughed.
‘I am hooking you up with my cousin and you want me to buy dinner?”
“Alright, dinner is on me.”
“Good, I bought you something at an estate sale I thought you might be interested in.”
“Nice, what is it?’
“A book about mining and topography in Arizona, it was printed in 1901.”
“Thanks Brian, I have been collecting books to keep in my office and it would be a great addition.”
“All the margins plus any blank pages have notes, measurements and directions of some type on them.”
“That’s interesting; I am looking forward to reading it.”
Brian spent a three day weekend with me; as usual we drank beer and watched baseball. I even found time to call his cousin Lindsey and set up a date.
After Brain left I took a closer look at the book he gave me and I was intrigued by the hand written notes so I showed it to another professor I was friends with, Sam Brassard. We were both sure the author of the notes was making reference to the Superstition Mountains in Arizona. They are a range of mountains east of Phoenix that is anchored by Superstition Mountain
The Superstition Mountains play a large part in local folklore and Native American spiritual beliefs. Some Apaches say an opening that leads down to the underworld is somewhere in the Superstitions. The legend most associated with the mountain is the ‘Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine.’
The legend says an Old German prospector named Jacob Waltz discovered a mother lode of gold somewhere in the Superstitions and on his death bed told a woman carrying for him the location. Several people have claimed to have found the mine but could never prove it.
It appeared that the writer was describing an area he had explored and was anxious to return to. The exact location of the site described and his motivation to go back were still a mystery. His notations were cryptic, making reference to a location but there was nothing in the book that we could find which clearly identified it, so there were several pieces of the puzzle still missing.
Who wrote in this book? Did he return and did he find what he was looking for? I was determined to some how answer those questions. The first place to start was with the person who gave me the book and that’s what I did, “Brian, what’s the weather going to be looking like in your backyard this weekend?”
“Good, are you coming up to visit?”
“Yes, I’ll be there Friday about .”
“Great, you are visiting me or Lindsey?”
“I have plans with Lindsey for Saturday afternoon to check out an art exhibit her friend has contributed to but I also want you to help me with something.”
“Ok, why don’t you stop by the house after the art exhibit and we can talk. What is it you want me to help you with?”
“I really need to find out has much as I can about the person who owned the book you gave me.”
“We should be able to do that, what’s it all about?”
“That’s exactly what I want to know,” I told Brian as this real strange feeling ran through me like a bolt of lightening.
Lindsey and I went to the art exhibit as planned and then went over to Brain’s house. The ladies went next door to visit while Brian stayed at the house. “Dutch, when I gave you that book I never imagined it would become mystery to solve. What do you think the guy was looking for?”
“I don’t know the only solid clue I have is the Superstition Mountains in Arizona. If I can find out who wrote the notes maybe the notations in the book will make more sense.”
“Yesterday I called the company that managed the estate sale; we have an appointment in a half hour with the person who was actually involved with cataloging everything and then selling it.”
Brian and I pulled in to the parking lot a small office building. As soon as we walked in a guy comes over to us and says, “Hello, one of you must be Brian? I am Larry Kent.”
“Yes, I’m Brian and this is my friend William but everybody calls him Dutch.”
“It’s nice to meet you. Brian told me the information you were looking for so I did a little investigating.” Larry opened up a folder the held various documents, “The person that contracted with us for the estate sale is Sarah Foster. We just catalog the items for sale; provide a brief description and an asking price. I talked to Sarah and she said she would be more than happy to answer any questions you might have about the item you purchased.”
I got really excited and asked, “When can we talk to her?”
“I spoke to her by phone not more than ten minutes ago. She said you can come over and visit with her right now. Here are the directions to her house; you will know it’s the right place when you see it and I will call Sarah to let her know you are on the way.”
Brian asked me as we were walking out the door, “What did he mean by ‘you will know it’s the right place when you see it’ Dutch?”
I shrugged my shoulders and said “Your guess is as good as mine.”
We had been driving about a half hour and passed through a picturesque little town named Kirbyville, established in 1872. About two miles later we reached our destination. Larry was right; we knew it was the right house as soon as we saw it.
We stopped in front of a large gothic mansion that had to be more than a hundred years old but looked like it was built yesterday. It was ringed by a six foot tall wrought iron fence and had a long tree lined driveway. The house sat in the middle of a large field and was one of the most beautiful houses I have ever seen.
We had a sense of going back in time and I certainly moved with anticipation to the front door. We rang the doorbell and an attractive woman about thirty opens the door and said, “Hello, I’m Sarah, Grandma is expecting you. She is ninety-two years but still very smart and perceptive.” The house was decorated with period pieces, antique furniture and beautiful woodwork. We walked in to large library. “Grandma, these are the gentlemen you were expecting.”
We entered a beautiful library that was filled with books on large oak shelves. Our host was sitting behind a large desk and said in a very pleasant voice, “Good afternoon, I’m Edwina Kirby but most people call me Winnie. Please do sit down.”
We introduced ourselves and I said, “We just passed through a charming little place called Kirbyville, is your name a coincidence?”
Winnie laughed and said, “No, the town was named after my great-grandfather, Union General Jedidiah William Kirby, a Civil War hero with the Army of the Potomac. Mr. Kent told me you were asking about a book purchased at my estate sale.”
I was fascinated from the moment we saw the house and it just kept getting better. “Yes, this book,” and I handed it to Winnie.
“Just as I expected that book you have belonged to my grandfather, Thomas Jefferson Kirby. We had barn full of his things along with some other family items that were in storage for year’s just collecting dust. We sold everything the family didn’t want and donated the money to charity.”
“Was your grandfather a geologist or civil engineer?”
“No, he was a lawyer. He did very well and retired at an early age.”
“That’s interesting, because the book is about mining and topography. Your grandfather left detailed notes in the book and demonstrated knowledge in those areas. I have the feeling he was looking for something or someplace.”
Winnie sat quietly for a moment and then she gasped and said, “I know what that is about, oh my goodness. I remember when I was little grandfather would be away for long periods of time. It was a warm summer day and I was sitting under a shade tree with grandma in the back yard. I asked her where grandpa was and she said……..oh my It was so long ago………” and her voice became a whisper.
I was hanging on her every word, “what did she say Winnie, what did she say?”
“That was the first time I heard that story you know.”
I watched as Winnie traveled back almost eighty-five years in her mind to a time when she was a young girl. “Where did your grandma say grandpa was?”
“She said he was…….what was that name again, now I remember grandpa was at the Superstition Mountains…..yes, that’s it, the Superstition.”
I was so excited I could barely talk; now I knew who I just had to find out why and where. “Do you know what he was looking for? Was it a thing or a place?”
“Oh, it was a place for sure because grandpa already knew what the thing was because his daddy, my great-grandpa told him.”
“What was it Winnie, what was it?”
“Well young man the thing my grandpa was looking for……he never did find it you know”
I knew from his notes he didn’t find “it” I….just….needed….to…find out what it is!
I prodded her memory just one more time, “What was it Winnie?”
Winnie giggled and said, “of course you want to know, you’ve asked me several times. I haven’t talked about this for so long; it is a fortune in silver.”
I said very loudly, “a fortune in silver?”