Letterbox Enthusiasts Hunt for Treasures
Caitlin Thomas, 13, starts out her search for a letterbox in the historical Oakwood Cemetery in Jefferson. She spends some research time near the gravesite of Jefferson’s famous murder victim, Diamond Bessie.
Photo by Britne Hammons
The historic Oakwood Cemetery in Jefferson is not the most likely place to find a teenage girl happily meandering through graves and tombstones. But to Caitlin Thomas, the hunt for treasure is an adventure that propels her through the grim, moss-covered grave markers.
Caitlin, a 13-year-old from Jefferson, makes it her quest to find hidden treasure in the unlikeliest of places throughout East Texas.
Her hunt goes by the name of letterboxing, a puzzle-solving internet-based game with its own subculture of participants around America and beyond. While it actually involves no actual letter or note, the adventure does include a weatherproof box concealed in a public place. The mission is to find the box using challenging clues.
The box holds a logbook and perhaps other mementos left by its “finders” over time. The logbook contains thumbprints, signatures, and stamp marks from those who have found the hidden treasure and left their marks.
The Jefferson letterbox is just one of about 600 boxes hidden in Northeast Texas and some 90,000 boxes hidden in the United States. Fans view a full listing of letterboxes, along with clues to find them, at www.letterboxing.org. They go by names both recognized and mysterious in a region. The Jefferson letterbox goes by “Angels of Oakwood.” Other Northeast Texas boxes are named “Sissy Spacek” in Quitman, “Pancake Capitol of Texas” in Hawkins, “Tallest Civil War Soldier” in Mount Pleasant, “Stop and Smell the Roses” and “Zeus Hits the Books” in Tyler, “Glass Castles” in Nacogdoches, and “Hoss” in DeKalb.
In East Texas, the hunt for a box can take a searcher from the swampy, alligator-trodden landscape of Uncertain, Texas, to the historic grave of Jefferson’s most famous murder victim, Diamond Bessie. Caitlin started her search for the letterbox buried at Oakwood Cemetery in Jefferson at the coin-covered gravestone of Diamond Bessie.
“I never really know where my clues will take me,” Caitlin said. “I don’t really realize it until after I find the box, but I end up learning a lot about the history of the town in which I hunt for letterboxes. I can’t describe how exhilarating it is to find a clue, then another and another until I end up at this little spot and start digging up these old letterboxes,” she said.
Caitlin’s search for the “Angels of Oakwood” letterbox led her on a path starting with Diamond Bessie, going to two Confederate soldiers’ graves, then to the final resting places of two treasured dogs owned by the original proprietor of The Excelsior House in Jefferson, and finally to a small corner of the cemetery. Buried underneath a pile of bricks lay the Angles of Oakwood letterbox.
Once a letterbox is found, the finder”can make an imprint of a stamp within the letterbox in a personal log book and then leave a mark of his or her personal stamp in the logbook.
“I go to these places around East Texas that no one has ever even heard of,” Caitlin said. “People ask me what I am doing running around in a cemetery or digging on the banks of a Jefferson bayou. All I say is that I’m digging for buried treasure and most people just look at me funny. But once I find something, they ask how they can find stuff too. It’s really addicting.”
While actual treasure like gems and gold are not found in the letterboxes, the wealth obtained by learning local history and lore is surely the reward.
“I have been to some of these letterboxes that have not been opened in five or six years. Not only are you cracking open a bit of history from six years ago that no one else has touched, but you just learned about Confederate soldiers from Jefferson, and how awesome is that?” Caitlin said.