What follows is arguably the best editorial writer in the state of Maine and his take on the activity of letterboxing, a sport in which you use clues to find “treasure”. I myself have letterboxed and find it to be quite fun. The hunt as well as exploring the surrounding area of the quest is relaxing and gets you in tune with nature. Here is the article
That irrepressibly rascally journalist, Mark LaFlamme, is at it again. This time, he leads us over hill and dale throughout Maine to find weird things buried in odd places. Typical!
I’ll let him speak for himself, since he does it so well. Good fun!
Mystery, nature, art and treasure intersect in letterboxing
Mark LaFlamme , Staff writer
Sunday, May 10, 2009 05:00 am
I’ll be honest with you. I didn’t expect to find a treasure at the base of the tree in the forests of Westbrook. Why would I? The landscape showed little of man’s influence. There were trees of all varieties and sizes. There was a babbling stream that sounded like it suffered hiccups. There was a blanket of last year’s leaves on the ground, all soggy and dead.
When I scooped away a mound of wet pine needles and stuck my hand into the hole, I expected one of two things: a reptile would bite me or a tree spirit would grab my fingers and pull me down into some Tolkien world where I’d be forced to slave for Keebler elves.
Instead, I found a plastic box. This was the heretofore fabled Millbrook Trout, a collection of items left in this secret place a year ago and visited by dozens since.
There is something chilling about holding knowledge about a hidden treasure out in the wilderness. The box itself becomes iconic. Inside are things a stranger planted after stealing into the forest on a different date and under different circumstances. Clawing into the contents of the box is like treasure hunting and time travel. It feels mystical, almost forbidden.
But it’s not forbidden, it’s letterboxing and it’s catching on. A mix of scavenger hunting, navigation and art, some say it derives from the ancient custom of leaving a rock on a cairn after reaching the summit of a mountain. The more recent version began in England in 1854 when a Dartmoor National Park guide left a bottle by Cranmere Pool with his calling card in it and an invitation to those who found the bottle to add theirs.
Now thousands of people are venturing into woods or back alleys, clawing beneath rocks, crossing streams, braving hornets, sweeping craftily away from the eyes of non-letterboxers and following sometimes vague clues in a quest to get a stamp in their letterboxing diary and to leave a stamp of their own.
Around the country, it is estimated that 25,000 letterboxes – each with its own theme – have been placed. As of this writing, 1,778 of those are in Maine and I went searching for a dozen or so of them.
In Saco, I had no luck at all. In the hunt for the Bogart in Lilac, I was told through online clues to drive a road named after an American president, stop before a “blind drive” sign, hike a trail and either walk or wade across a stream. Only there was no “blind drive” sign on any of the presidential streets including Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson, and so I never laid eyes or hands upon the letterbox stashed in July 2006.
In Yarmouth, confidence was restored. It was night when I went searching for the Royal River Letterbox, which had remained hidden in plain view for six years. I carried a flashlight in one hand, a baseball bat in the other (in case of zombies or letterbox pirates) and followed the instructions carefully. There. On the right. Five brick circles marking the end of my journey. A short distance away, under a rock that looked like any other, another box with another treasure inside.
You will notice that I’m vague in my descriptions of these journeys. Among the code of conduct of letterboxing is the obvious rule that the presence of the boxes themselves should not be revealed or hinted at to those not involved in the sport. Leave no trace of your own presence. This is a society of such secrecy and nomenclature, it is worthy of a novel by Dan Brown.
In Lewiston, I went in search of a five-part letterbox series in the theme of “A Nightmare Before Christmas.” Part of the clue was written like this: “There is a place where some play, some walk, and some eat. As you pass the wooden welcome sign on the right, take a breath of fresh air, enjoy the sounds of the various birds and crickets chirping. Now, we are ready to begin our journey…”
Enjoy the sounds of nature my ass. I overshot the first clue, stumbled on the second in a hollow log by pure fluke, had to backtrack through the forest. A group of kids playing basketball eyed me as though I was a madman clawing at trees and roots. One of the letterboxes had been scavenged from its box, ruined by elements, tossed across the forest floor. I could not read the contents of the box or apply my stamp (mine is a palm tree until I can get one fashioned in the shape of a bat) to the book therein.
My wife, whom I bring along as a cheap GPS unit, wanted to continue on. I wanted to quit. And here it was revealed that in the language of letterboxing, I am something of a slackboxer, described thusly: “The practice of accompanying one or more letterboxers on a letterbox quest but not participating in the reading or deciphering of the clues, identifying landmarks, reading trail maps or otherwise participating in the letterboxing hunt.”
Yet, there is a soft addictive quality about the hunt for things left by strangers, and I came back. In Auburn, I went on two searches, both around Lake Auburn. In one, six paces from the corner of a rock wall led me to the bounty I sought. At another, eight paces toward Lake Auburn led me only to a stack of rocks and some animal bones, which in itself is a treasure.
Those of a rational mind will tell you that the joy in letterboxing is obvious. Get exercise by hiking trails and climbing over fallen tree limbs. Commune with nature. See places you would not normally see and sharpen your mental acumen.
Me, I have a motorcycle, which means I don’t like hiking. And communing with nature means flying over my handlebars into the puckerbrush.
No, I’m all about the weird connection to strangers through trinkets left in secret places. The thrill for me is in the cloak and the dagger, of being one of only a handful that’s in the know. Here is the nine-to-fiver’s chance to play Robert Langdon or Indiana Jones, dodging low-hanging branches and bad clues instead of spears. You can search across the world or in your own backyard.
Letterboxes are everywhere. And I can find nine out of 12 of them.
I created this map back in August of this year. It has 113 places in the greater New England area that are really worth a visit, at least some due research. I have visited at least half of the sites on the map and am trying to finish off Southern New England before my departure for Maine and the North Country. I hope with the best intention that people visit these places with great respect and please help maintain these great sites. If you see any litter please pick it up. It takes only one person to make a difference. Thanks everyone and enjoy!
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In August of this year my exploratory team and I took a trip south to Pomfret, CT to see the much fabled ghost town of Bara Hack. It was a early Welsh settlement that was abandoned in the early 1900’s. Here is an excerpt from barahack.com –
“The name “Bara-Hack” is associated with Harry Chase, a local Pomfret historian/recluse who claimed the village was so named. There is no evidence that the Higginbothams named their little two home village “Bara-Hack”. It sounds more scary than the “Higginbotham’s abandoned settlement” though. Using a Welsh to English language converter: bara= bread, drylliad= breaking, torri= to break, tor= break, and hac=cut, notch, or hack. Thus Bara Hac=cut bread. The Higginbothams were of Welsh descent so they must have “cut bread” there, but most likely would not have named their settlement Bara Hac.
On August 30th, 1971 three Rhode Island parapsychology students visited “Bara-Hack” looking for evidence to verify whether or not the rumors of its’ haunting were true. They met with Harry Chase and went to the Lost Village. They encountered the following: a sense of depression when entering the area, constant barking of dogs, lowing of cows, strange human voices, and a complete absence of birds. They explored for a couple of hours and came back at night. They heard spooky voices coming from the Nightingale Brook. They came back October 30th and 31st with more investigators. They lost their way walking towards the burying ground even though they had been there before. One of their new team members became frozen in place on the trail and could not be physically moved by anyone there towards the direction of the cemetery. One of the investigators wrote about the experience in a book called Faces at the Window, Paul F. Eno, 1998. The premise for the Blair Witch Project is thought to come from the accounts of this “investigation”.
The Lost Village or Bara Hac is located in a hilly area surrounded by many brooks and streams, voices and other sounds carry for miles in these areas. There are still even today working dairy farms and hobby farms in Pomfret which is part of the Last Green Valley. Pomfret is a rural area and as such almost everyone has dogs and other animals. Since much of Pomfret and Windham County is a National Heritage Corridor and the Last Green Valley much of the land is protected from development. There are coyotes, fisher cats, bobcats, black bear, and recent sightings and tracks from mountain lions. A common sign of a predator being in the area is an absence of normal forest noises, a strange stillness devoid of sound.
The Lost Village is located on private property and may soon be open to the public because there is such an interest. The area is currently being logged and the forest thinned out. You still need permission to go there, and I suggest not going as the area is closely watched. There are no town police in this part of Connecticut, but there are plenty of shotguns. The owner has written a book based on her own research into the Higginbothams life and death in Pomfret. The Lost Village of the Higginbothams, Doris B. Townshend, Vantage Press, NY, 1991. The book is a historical fictional novel based on facts the author was able to uncover and is a good fast read that provides an intimate look into 18th and 19th century rural colonial life.
I am a Pomfret resident and have been to Bara Hac many times including after sunset and have never encountered anything unexplainable. My family came over on the Mayflower in 1620, and has lived in the Eastern part of Connecticut since 1637. I have spent a good portion of my life exploring the New England forests and countryside. Even scarier than Bara Hac… I live on Pomfret’s very own Witches Hill. Suspected witches were put to death in Connecticut before the Salem Witch Trials ever happened. Unfortunately, nothing even remotely paranormal has happened here either. ”
I managed to get some great pictures and was intrigued by the place and its tranquility. Quite a remarkable place. Especially the face carving on the rock. Again from Barahack.com –
“Such stone carvings are called petroglyphs by archeologists. Many of these stone carvings have been found out west in Indian territory, and are thought to have been carved thousands of years ago. Others were found to be of more recent Indian history of 200 to 300 years ago. The age of a carved stone is it’s biggest mystery. Some carvings are signify sacred sights, and tributes to great spirits of long ago. Other carvings have been found near burial sights, and as tributes to ancient leaders. Others may simply be directional markers. ”
Here are the pics……