Kemo D. (kemo_d7) wrote,
Kemo D.

The Ponce De Leon Treasure

The Ponce De Leon Treasure..

The blindfolded woman stood beside the deep spring’s rolling basin in a mystic trance. When she woke up, the clairvoyant told bystanders the answer to a question that had puzzled people for years the location of the Spanish treasure of DeLeon Springs.

Madame Clarissa Zaraza, the self-described seventh daughter of the seventh daughter of the Maharajah Kuweghavn of India, said the iron chest lay hidden under limestone rubble in the cave beneath the spring. It was 3 feet long, bound with copper and decorated with four figures of cupid.

It is lined with pearl and is filled with diamonds, rubies, emeralds and gold and silver Spanish coins, she said.

That was in late September 1927, exactly 77 years ago. It was a moment of high absurdity in the story of the fabled springs treasure, an oft-told tale that survived with a fair amount of credence until the mid-20th century when Jacques Cousteau’s invention of lightweight diving gear opened the spring to anyone with a mind to explore.

Rangers at DeLeon Springs State Park said they still hear people mention the treasure from time to time. Numerous Internet treasure sites make note of it.

Underwater exploration was expensive before Cousteau’s aqua-lung. The spring was a pool of mystery, fertile ground for blatant ballyhoo of resort managers and others who stood to gain from sensational publicity. Scores of stories on the attempts are scattered through old newspapers.

An early version, likely the origin, came from B.H. Wright, who recorded his experience in the 1880s as an early developer of the spring as a resort. He hired men to clean the basin because it was a repulsive and spooky place to bathe.

Using hooks and a small dredge, workers pulled logs from the hole as well as dugout canoes, paddles, pottery and flintlock muskets. An iron chain was snagged, but before it could be secured, slipped back into the water. Wright dived to investigate.

I could only remain an instant, but in that time, I felt a flat, hard surface like an iron chest, he wrote not gold, not jewels, just a hard, flat something. It was getting dark, so they stopped. The story didn’t.

About 1930, investors formed a treasure-hunting syndicate and hired Victor Estelle of Jacksonville to don a 300-pound diving suit and copper helmet and search the spring. The Jacksonville Times-Union reported the group used a delicate instrument referred to as a gold indicator that confirmed the presence of the precious metal.

Estelle crawled just inside the cavern, but found no gold. He did find a human skull and many bones to feed the tale.

In 1938, a writer named Charles Driscoll wrote a story for The American Magazine about pirate treasure. He said a chest, similar to those used by pirates in the 16th century, had been clearly seen by many in the late 1800s, perched on a deep ledge in DeLeon Springs.

Old residents, he wrote, remembered how a man dived down and tied a rope to the chest, which was hitched to mules and dragged from the depths. But just as it reached the surface, the rope broke and the chest toppled deeper into the spring.

In 1949, an estimated 400 people watched deep-sea diver Gus Elliott descend into the spring. Hired by the resort, Elliott pushed through grass, mud, silt and logs as he gave a running description to the crowd by radio and loudspeaker. An armed guard stood by to guard the treasure when it surfaced, but debris and water pressure kept Elliott out of the cave.

New York Yankee slugger Johnny Mize was in the crowd and posed for photos with a Daytona Beach bathing beauty named Lois Peterson as she tried on the diving helmet. Children left school to watch the spectacle.

The treasure stayed lost, but its legend grew. One version said the most celebrated lost treasure in Florida was thrown in the spring in 1612 by Spanish settlers retreating from Indians. Another said conquistadors had done it before being massacred.

What may have been the last hunt came in 1955, the era of pioneer scuba divers. Members of the Daytona Beach Seacombers dive club found a dugout canoe, a couple of silver Seminole bracelets, bones and pottery. But no treasure.

A state film crew showed up to interview divers. Several photos survive in state archives.

One diver thought he found a chest with metal straps, but it proved to be a log and a fishing spear. The water’s force, debris and air supply kept divers from exploring past the cave’s mouth. Use of explosives to enlarge the cave mouth was rejected.

A member of a Jacksonville diving club, the Jetty Jumpers, said no one could possibly go into the cavern and come out alive. Which was first-degree bunk. Thousands of divers have proved the jetty jumper wrong in the last 40 years.

Visitors today can see a map of the formerly mysterious cavern posted by the swimming area. It shows detailed features inside the cave, but no fabled treasure chest. No surprise. Madame Clarissa said it was hidden.

Kemo D. (a.k.a. no.7)

Tags: mysteries of life
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