Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Lost Treasure of Kinzua

Kinzua Viaduct
Postcard a part of the author's collection
It all started with an email from Stephanie, a friend I had met in college, that brought me once again into the beautiful area of the Kinzua Valley in northern Pennsylvania. Her brief email asked me what I knew about the lost loot of Kinzua.

I replied what little I knew about it at the time.

Her response was: My boyfriend and I are planning on going out to look around for it if you want to tag along…and he has an interesting story to share with you.

Standing at the edge of the railroad bridge memories of previous visits flooded my mind. One of the first times I can remember visiting the park with my family, we arrived at the same time as the train from the Knox Kane Railroad arrived. Having to stay off the bridge and tracks we watched the train slowly cross the bridge. Knowing we were out of luck for the day, we left, but would return a couple years later and this time there was no train and we were able to walk out onto the bridge.

Having a fear of heights, I took my time as I stepped out onto the bridge. While the rest of the family moved forward at a much faster pace, I took my time walking out across the bridge. Step by step, railroad tie by railroad tie, I shook with each step I took as the ground dropped further and further below me. They were on their way back by the time I made it halfway across and I joined them in the return trip.

The Kinzua Bridge was the tallest bridge in the world when it was built in 1882. The viaduct was built as an alternative to an eight-mile section of railroad that would have taken the line around the Kinzua Valley. The original viaduct was built of iron, towered 301 feet over the creek below and was 2,053 feet long.

However, due to larger and heavier train engines, the bridge was rebuilt in 1900. This bridge maintained the same height and span, but steel now replaced the wooden frame. Amazingly, the second bridge was built by a group of men, between 100 and 150 strong, working ten hour days to complete the bridge in one hundred and five days.

Freight traffic discontinued in June of 1959 and in 1963 Governor William Scranton signed the bill authorizing the state to purchase the lands that would become Kinzua Bridge State Park, officially opening in 1970. Beginning in 1987, excursion trains would cross the bridge as a part of the Allegheny National Forest tours.

My thoughts returned to the present-day as Stephanie and her boyfriend walked up. After a couple minutes of small talk, she told me the version of the story she had always heard.

Kinzua Viaduct
Postcard a part of the author's collection
Somewhere in the Kinzua Valley, within sight of the Kinzua Bridge, is the hidden loot from a robbery that occurred in 1893. The unidentified man robbed the bank in Emporium and fled northward into the wilds of northern Pennsylvania. The outlaw was discovered a couple days later wandering in the forests near Mount Jewett. The sick man was taken to town and before dying mentioned a handful of words that included: viaduct, triangular rock, glass jars, and money. The robber died before revealing the exact location of the buried loot.

Since those famous words were muttered, countless treasure seekers have scoured the woods around the viaduct, each hoping to find the buried loot that is thought to be worth between forty and fifty thousand dollars. Many believe that the loot is located in or near Wildcat Hollow, the area to the southwest of the park and to the east of Mount Jewett.

As Stephanie finished her portion of the story, her boyfriend shared some information he had found among some stuff he had received from one of his uncles. He spread out a worn topographic map and pointed out a couple features before he laid a couple photos on top of it.

I carefully picked up the photos and studied them. They were old black and whites, but they clearly showed a large triangular rock. Another one showed a picture of the viaduct, barely visible through the trees, but it was definitely the train bridge.

As I looked at the photos, I felt my heart racing. Was this the key to finding the lost treasure or were they just another false lead? Even as the thoughts ran through my head, he continued his story.

His uncle had given him the photos and claimed that the treasure was indeed there, waiting to be discovered. Supposedly his uncle had discovered the treasure and fearing the state would take it from him, he had reburied it.

I had my doubts about the story and so did Stephanie and her boyfriend. If I found loot worth that much, whether the state took it or not, I would definitely not rebury it. The fact I had made an important discovery would prevent me from hiding it again.''

Aerial view of the Kinzua Viaduct
Postcard a part of the author's collection
I was still studying the pictures when I noticed something that caught my attention. I flipped through the handful of pictures again, studying the pictures a little more carefully this time. I pointed out the one thing that bothered me about his pictures – none of them showed the rock and the bridge together.

“You still want to search for it?” they asked and I admitted I was a little excited about the possibility of finding it, so we set off in search of a rock. Yes, we went in search of one particular rock on a mountain full of them. The rock in the picture was a large rock buried in the side of the mountain and from the top looking down at it, it appeared to be triangular as it jutted out of the hillside.

The problem we discovered was that there are a lot of rocks that match that description. And I do mean a lot of triangular looking rocks in that valley.

We wandered along the side of the mountain, keeping the bridge mostly within sight and carefully checked around all of the large rocks we thought might be our one particular rock. After an hour of searching, I realized I had to head towards home and we called it a day.

One thing we did discover that morning was a possible location where the photograph may have been taken from. Ironically, if this was the correct location where it was taken, it was the one spot in the area that did not have a large, triangular looking rock nearby.

The next few weeks were spent digging through various sources and I came to the following conclusion: as much as I want to believe that there is a lost treasure buried within sight of the remains of the viaduct, I find the story to have a couple head-scratching questions.

First, where did this occur and what got robbed? The exact location of the robbery, according to the vast majority of the sources I’ve read state that the robbery happened in Emporium, which is roughly thirty miles southeast of Mount Jewett. The version I’ve shared is the most popular version of the story and is the one that Stephanie related to me that morning. However, I have read in a handful of modern sources that the robbery took place in the town of Hazel Hurst, which is just east of Mount Jewett.

The most popular version of the legend states that it was a bank that was robbed. I have found a couple of versions that claim that it was a general store that was robbed and another source states that the loot came from a coach robbery.

The second thing that jumps out to me is the claim he hid them in glass jars. I find the fact that this claim is something put in by somebody who wants to believe that this is true. If they were buried in jars, it may have been crock pots, but I find it doubtful that the bandit, fleeing from the law at that time, carried such things with him or took the time to buy/steal them.

We did not find any treasure that day, but did enjoy a nice walk outdoors and an interesting story. Maybe somewhere in the Kinzua Valley there is a fortune waiting to be discovered...but I doubt it, though I may be wrong.

The Kinzua Sky walk
A note: Due to age, by 2002 excursion trains were no longer allowed to cross the bridge. On Monday, July 21, 2003, an F1 tornado (wind speeds between 73 and 112 mph) struck the side of Kinzua Viaduct. Thankfully, no one was seriously injured though it completely destroyed the bridge.

The state park is still open and the remains of the bridge have been converted into a sky walk, complete with a glass floor on the viewing platform. It is well worth the visit if you’re in the area.