Hunting for treasure

Wed, 06/27/2007 - 12:35pm
By: Emily Baldwin

A 30 year plan unfolds

Treasure Hunt 1

It’s the story every kid dreams of (and even some adults, too): the discovery of buried treasure. There are stories of it, movies and television shows about it and even real life treasure hunters.

For three Peachtree City children, this fantasy became a reality over Memorial Day weekend when they discovered a trove of treasure in their very own backyard.

Thirty years ago Don Hillyer, a resident of Chicago, Ill., began working on an idea he thought would be fun. Today, that idea- a treasure hunt for his then-future grandchildren- has resulted in over 30 treasure boxes filled with sparkly items ranging from cheap rhinestones to pearls to money from all over the world.

“When my two daughters were very young, I thought it would be neat for them to go on a treasure hunt but they were a little too old for it. So, I figured, well, eventually they are going to have kids, so I will do it for the grandchildren. So I started collecting sparklies, anything that sparkles,” said Hillyer, 62, of the origination of his idea.

When friends, coworkers, neighbors and even strangers heard of Hillyer’s idea, they began to bring him items with which to fill his treasure boxes: costume jewelry, money from world travels and anything else they had to donate. For 30 years the pile of “sparklies” grew. The treasure boxes themselves were created by one of Hillyer’s friend’s fathers, a 90 year old man from Austria who used hand tools to craft each of the approximately 30 boxes Hillyer has filled with treasure.

The plan is that when each of his grandchildren (he currently has three and another on the way) hits an average age of 5-7 years old they will go on a treasure hunt; “Before they know what worth is,” noted Hillyer. The idea is that the children will find the treasure only after they have heard the tale of the buried treasure and searched for it with a series of clues.

The Memorial Day treasure hunt was the first for Hillyer and his grandchildren, Lauren, 8, Jocelyn, 6, and Gavin, 3.

The weekend was set with much anticipation on the part of Hillyer and his daughter, who lives in Peachtree City with her husband and three children. The children are, more or less, of the right age and it was high time for Hillyer to unload a few of the boxes which weigh in at approximately 60 pounds each. Hillyer has transported the boxes with each move, and was quite ready to unload some of the treasure.

“It’s really nice to get rid of it,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve moved it seven or eight times from house to house. Up to second floors and back down again.”

So, with the treasure ready to be buried and the date set, it was time for Hillyer to finalize the final details. This past year he came up with the legend of the buried treasure and detailed out a path with which the children could hunt for the treasure through the woods without accidentally finding it too soon.

On Saturday, May 26 the children went out to see a movie while Hillyer and his son-in-laws got to work setting the scene. They ran rawhide string through the wooded back yard, through a hollow tree and set it so the string would lead them from the first clue to the treasure buried under leaves, sticks and other foliage.

That night, the children sat with their grandfather by the fireplace and he told them the story of “The Hermit’s Treasure.” The story tells of a young man and a young woman who fall in love with each other. The man wants to marry the woman, but her father refuses because the young man cannot offer his daughter the kind of financial security he wants for his only child. Instead she is married off to an older, wealthier gentleman. The young man promises to wait for her and goes off into the world to collect the riches his love is deserving of, but when he comes back a wealthy man, he discovers that an illness has claimed the life of his one, true love. Heartbroken, the man buried his treasure confined himself to a home on a hilltop where he becomes known as the Hermit of the Hill.

As the legend goes, Hillyer told his grandchildren, “Only people with love in their hearts would be able to find the treasure, but those with greed in their hearts never could.”

With the story told, the children were off to bed. On Sunday morning, Gavin, Lauren and their grandfather were walking in the backyard with Hillyer’s dog when the they came across an Amethyst Clusters Mineral Rock. Soon enough the whole family was in the backyard and the first clue was found. The rawhide string led the children through the woods to a wooden carved statue referred to in the first clue as “The Guardian.” A metal pole inserted through the neck of the statue and looked through revealed an X in a tree where the kids were to look. Underneath a pile of brush was a blanket wrapped in a chain fastened with a lock. The kids used a key found earlier in the hunt to unlock to chain and reveal the buried treasure.

“If you saw it, I think you would be amazed at how it all fell together,” remarked Hillyer of the kids’ hunt. “Fifteen minutes worth of 30 years planning.”

The treasure hunt wasn’t just meant to be about fun, however. The money from around the world that is included in some of the boxes also acts as a mechanism to expand the children's knowledge, “They can see the different etchings on the different bills, from Mexico, from Canada...” explained Hillyer. The moral of the hermit’s treasure also teaches the kids that love is far more important than financial wealth.

If you ask Jocelyn, however, the financial wealth is pretty exciting; when asked what her favorite part of the treasure is, her adorable six-year-old face lights up, “Money!” Her grandfather shouldn’t be too worried about her though, she is quick to remember that the point of the Hermit’s story is that “only people with love could find the treasure.”

To see pictures and listen to six year old Jocelyn talk about the hunt, click HERE.

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