The gold doubloon that entitles its finder to claim the gem-encrusted “Captain Kidd crown” has been unearthed. Its discovery marks the culmination of a GreeneLand treasure hunt that had baffled searchers over the past 17 years.
Taking possession of the glittering prize this morning at a ceremony in the Greene County building was Michael Reid of Catskill. He and members of his extended family, organized as Team Ria, set out in early October to decipher clues embedded in the story Captain Kidd and the Missing Crown and then, on weekend forays, to test hunches.
According to the story they deciphered, in 1699 the notorious Captain Kidd and his crew sailed up the Hudson River, landed somewhere along the Greene County coastline, buried a hoard of piratical loot in a secret spot, sailed away, and were caught and hanged in 1701 before they could return.
That story, seasoned with Da Vinci Code-like clues and written in florid Elizabethan style, was concocted back in 1991 by the mystery writer Jack Hashian. It was devised in support of a promotion organized by civic leaders, including county attorney George Pulver (now county judge) and fuel oil supplier Martin Smith. They were looking for a way to reprise a previous treasure hunt that had engaged locals and visitors in a search for the gem-laden ninepin that ostensibly had been left behind by Rip Van Winkle. That lucrative project had lasted until 1990, when a sleuth from Connecticut, Gerald Park, after seven years of trying, traced the ninepin to a spot in the Evergreen Mountain in Catskill Park.
The Captain Kidd story, as characterized by Greene County Historian Raymond Beecher (to a TimesUnion reporter, back in 2005), was “hokum”; but “Why let the facts get in the way of an entertaining story?” It served well as a promotional stunt, funded mainly by the TrustCo bank. In early years it attracted plenty of publicity and of tourists. Hundreds of copies of Captain Kidd and the Missing Crown, duly illustrated, were distributed. Some hunters returned year after year. But gradually, as failures multiplied, interest faded. A local antiques dealer, George Jurgsatis, opined three years ago “we’re not clever enough around here” to decipher the clues.
Team Ria’s quest for the coin, as explained by Mr Reid and his wife Laura, came about in the wake of the death, after an abrupt illness at an early age, of Laura’s sister Maria Ciancanelli-Kelly. In tribute to Maria’s partiality for pirates, and as a therapeutic exercise, the 15 adults and children set out to succeed where so many others had failed.
From clues planted in the Hashian story they reasoned that thedoubloon, representing the buried treasure, must be located somewhere close to a sailing ship’s mooring site: not in the mountains, then, but near the river or a navigable creek. And so it was. The hiding place actually was a short walk from what had been Martin Smith’s place of business, a fuel oil company fronting on Catskill Creek. The gold coin reposed for 17 years under a rock occupying a strip of tidal beach that was close to where, in the course of the years, thousands upon thousands of people had congregated for picnics and concerts and children's: Dutchmen’s Landing.
At this morning’s press conference, Warren Hart, director of Economic Development, Tourism and Planning, hailed “a highly successful tourism promotion effort.” “Although no one discovered the coin until last week, almost everyone who came discovered, in the process of looking for the treasure, something wonderful about Greene County.”
In a similar vein, Catskill Village President Vincent Seeley said “the treasure hunt did what it set out to do: draw visitors….” Discovery of the treasure, moreover, qualifies as a timely “bright light” at a time of economic gloom.
What will the Reids plan to do with their prize? The golden crown, ornamented with diamonds and other precious stones, has appreciated considerably since its cash value was appraised back in 1997 at $10,600. The Reids downplayed the idea of displaying it at the family’s incipient new place of business: a bakery and café on Brandos Alley in Catskill, to be opened next Valentines Day. Mr Reid said the goal is to “unlock” the crown’s value in a way that “will do something wonderful to commemorate Maria’s life.”
At this morning’s news conference, Martin Smith, who is now the chairman of the Bank of Greene County, was asked if another GreeneLand treasure hunt might be in the offing. “Nothing definite,” he said; “but there’s been vague talk about a Legs Diamond stunt or a Thomas Cole event.”
(For a rich chronicle of the quest, richly illustrated and with links to reports in The Daily Mail and The TimesUnion, go to http://teamria.blogspot.com).