People, Places & Events
treasure hunting, hiking and art in one hobby
By Pearl Cantrell
Monitor Staff Writer
CEDAR CREEK LAKE- Who doesn’t like a good scavenger or treasure hunt? But they can be such a bother to plan and host, thus rarely are you invited to one.
Well, a new hobby has been planted and is growing in East Texas and the United States that combines the fun of a treasure hunt without the bother.
It’s called letterboxing, and though it’s relatively new here, its roots go back to 1854, Dartmoor, England.
Tool resident Lois Adams heard about the modernized version in a magazine article she read two years ago, and promised herself she would do it.
In January, she made good on that promise, and is having a ball deciphering and following clues to interesting places in East Texas she didn’t know existed.
And, in turn, she too is hiding little treasure boxes and leaving clues for others to follow to places she’s enjoyed. Several are hidden in the Cedar Creek Lake area.
Husband James didn’t think much of the idea, but quickly changed his mind when Doris asked for his help to decipher some of the clues.
“He’s really quite good at it, and when we go searching he’s good to have along to look in the underbrush,” Doris said.
What exactly is letterboxing and how does it work?
Letterboxing is the British term for mailbox. James Perrot, an 1854 guide to the moors of Dartmoor, the setting for the Sherlock Holmes mystery Hound of the Baskervilles, started it.
He left his calling card in a jar in a remote area by Cranmere Pool and encouraged his clients to find the jar and leave their cards in the jar, as well.
Eventually, visitors began leaving a self-addressed post card or note in the jar, hoping the finder would mail it back to them and tell how they found it. That’s how it came by the name letterboxing.
Today, hide-and-seekers design a simple or elaborate container with a small blank journal for finders to stamp their personal stamp on, along with the date they found it, where they are from and any other short note they care to make about the box’s condition.
The box also contains a rubber stamp, mostly hand-made ones matching the box’s design, for the finder to, in turn, stamp their private log book of the finds they’ve made.
These logbooks would also be marked with the date, and perhaps a short note about the journey to decipher the clue and the clue that led them to the box.
Perrot’s logbooks are archived in the library in Plymouth, England.
Where are the clues to be found? On the Internet, of course.
Letterboxers in North America modernized the letterboxing tradition by cutting out the postal service and posting their clues at one of two websites. They are letterboxing.org and atlasquest.com.
Although some people have their own websites where they post clues to their own hidden boxes, some sporting goods stores post clues, and word-of-mouth is another way to find clues.
“We enjoy it,” Adams, 70, told The Monitor. “It’s something just for us (James and her).”
One of the surprising places the couple have found a box was at the Calaboose in Kemp, an historical marker.
“I didn’t know that existed,” the 10-year Cedar Creek Lake resident said. “I always like to hide my boxes somewhere there is some interest.”
Adams says she enjoys designing the boxes and hiding them, and of course, finding them, but the most challenging part for her is writing up the clues.
Boxes can be any size – if outdoors they should be waterproof and hidden well.
When one is found, it’s very important to replace it in the exact spot it was found for the next seeker to find, Adams said.
“I just get very excited about it, and I hope more people in this area will want to try it,” Adams said.
So far, Adams has hidden seven boxes and has four more ready to hide. She and James have found 16 so far in places near and far, including Athens, Gun Barrel City, Tyler, Greenville and Summerville.
“We do it every weekend. It’s just lots of fun,” Adams said.
There are estimated to be more than 22,000 letterboxes hidden in the United States today, with the highest concentration of them in the Connecticut River Valley in Vermont, New Hampshire and Connecticut.
In Dartmoor, where letterboxing began, there were just 15 boxes on the moor by 1970.
Clues are recorded in a regularly updated booklet, and consist of grid references on park maps and compass bearings, paces or landmarks, and do not include elaborate mysteries as are common in the U.S.
Ten years later, there were 3,000 boxes in the 365 square miles of Dartmoor National Park.
The Smithsonian magazine introduced the concept to an American audience for the first time in an April, 1998, article.
A small group were intrigued by the story and set up an online forum and Web site, where they launched an American version of letterboxing.
There is no official letterboxing organization in England or here. Consequently, there are no official rules, just a set of traditions and practices that most letterboxers observe.
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