Answer Man: Years ago, when Chestnut Expressway was being built there was a rumor of a Spanish treasure of gold and silver buried near the proposed route. I think the project was put on hold to allow treasure hunters one last chance to find the bounty. Was it ever found? - Ted Gearing, of Rogersville.
You sure know how to get a reporter's attention, Ted: Buried treasure right here in Springfield!
It makes me wonder: Why am I wasting money contributing to the newsroom pool for the $550 million Powerball?
But is this story of the quest for Spanish gold true?
Did folks actually believe there was buried treasure along the proposed route of the Chestnut Expressway?
Ted seemed to think this would have occurred from 1965 to 1975.
I found nothing in our archives.
So I called one of my predecessors, former News-Leader columnist Mike O'Brien; as well as Deputy Answer Man John Sellars, executive director of the History Museum on the Square; and Angela Eden, spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Transportation.
None of them had any recollection of alleged buried treasure along the proposed route of Chestnut Expressway.
But Sellars and O'Brien said that for centuries such rumors have existed in the Ozarks.
At this point, I deployed my great investigative reporting skills; I told Ted to go to work and get me something more concrete.
So, he did.
He provided me with the dates and page numbers of several news stories that appeared in the News & Press - one of the News-Leader predecessors - from January and February of 1959.
And it's true.
The buried treasure reportedly was first sought in 1952 by Ben F. Woods, who back then owned the mineral rights to the property - which is at Chestnut, between National and Sherman, at the former Jones Spring.
In a Feb. 25, 1959 story Woods is described as "Springfield's treasure-hunting plasterer.
"Woods and several associates have been digging - off and on - for the legendary treasure for years, prompted by a map published in the newspapers more than 30 years ago."
That map reportedly tells how mules were used to unload the bounty of gold and silver centuries prior, according to a news story.
A second effort was made by a different group in 1959.
A syndicate of investors used equipment from the McLean Construction Company.
By 1959, the property was owned by the state and there were plans for the Chestnut Expressway.
This team of treasure hunters dug down 40 feet to what was believed to a "smelter room."
According to a news story with the headline - "Treasure Hunt is Flop":
"What they found was nothing to what they'd hoped for. In fact, what they found was nothing.
"Jim O'Marr, superintendent of the construction crew digging at the springs, said a mineral detector was brought into use after the floor of a large "smelter room" was reached. Not a trace of gold - not even an Indian-head penny which could have been left by Kickapoos roaming this area years ago - was uncovered.
"Shortly afterward, the construction crew took its tools and went home - for good - leaving the syndicate with shattered dreams and a hole in the ground."
After this second group failed, Woods was champing at the bit to try yet again.
According to a news story, he asked the state for an extension of time.
"But they won't listen," he told the paper.
It is unclear if either group used the services of a man named F.C. Huber, of Stockton, who wrote a letter-to-the-editor offering his ability to "locate water, tell the depth of caverns or caves as well as their width.
"I can also find gold or silver shallowly buried in the ground.
"This was a gift to me from some higher power. I did not discover I had this until last year."
As for me, I suspect that O'Brien and Sellars might be in cahoots and that they know far more about this "alleged" buried treasure than they are letting on.
(These are the views of Steve Pokin, the News-Leader's columnist. Pokin has been at the paper 51/2 years and over the course of his career has covered just about everything - from courts and cops to features and fitness. He can be reached at 836-1253, firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @stevepokinNL or by mail at 651 N. Boonville, Springfield, MO 65806.
Steve's articles: http://www.news-leader.com/topic/f471bbef-b023-4ca2-b031-eda137400290/pokin-around/)
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