The area known as Evesham Township was settled by English Quakers in 1672 (Evesham Township was established in 1688). Historians are not sure if it was named after the town of Evesham in England, or after an early settler, Thomas Eves. The township was originally much larger, encompassing the current towns of Marlton, Mount Laurel, Medford, Lumberton, Hainesport, Shamong, and Washington Township. It was bounded by the South Branch of the Rancocas on the east and Cropwell Creek on the west. Miles and miles of flat land and hardwood forests quickly turning to pinelands, with only an occasional bump in the landscape.
The flat land had few rocks to interfere with the plows, the soil was rich, roads led to major markets such as Mount Holly and Philadelphia, and many small creeks provided water. The air was clear, the night skies filled with stars. Farming was a way of life up to, for the most part, about the 1970's.
I was talking to an old-timer named Sam a few years back, while having breakfast at Olga's Diner, and he told me a story about the hidden treasure of Evesham. Back in the late 1700's, a visitor arrived from Philadelphia bearing an unusual book. The stranger did not look like a typical European, but no one could quite figure out where he was from. He was short, stout, rugged and weathered. He spoke the King's English perfectly, with the air of a gentleman. He told the locals that he had come to climb Mount Laurel, but due to a recent injury, his ascent would have to wait while he recovered. Of course, the locals laughed, as the only "mountain" in Evesham was a mere 106 feet higher than the surrounding area. He took a job as a hired hand while he recovered from his injury. At night, he would entertain his hosts telling stories of his many travels around the world. The area farmers would gather on Sundays just to hear his tales. Once, he snuck out at night under the light of the full moon, not returning until dawn. Where he went, no one knew. Occasionally, he was seen writing in his book, so clearly he was an educated man.
An accident took the stranger's life after only a few months in Evesham, and he was buried in the nearby Meeting House cemetery, even though he was not a Friend. After his death, the local farmers began to wonder about that odd book, which had disappeared the night of his death. What did it contain, where might it be, and was there really a map, or maybe clues, to where he had stashed the treasure he was rumored to have brought with him? Clearly he was hiding something. But the mystery seemed to have been taken to the grave. Still, the story lived on, handed down generation to generation. Over the years, there were reports of his return, about once a generation. Was it his ghost, returning to complete his mission? No, the residents swore he was there, or at least a visitor who looked like the stranger of the stories told by their parents. Most stories claim the returning visitor was seen carrying the book.
In the early 1950s, while a local farmer was building a horse track behind his farm, he wandered off into the woods behind his fields after a storm. There he came across a large tree that had fallen. Under the upturned roots he found a large clay jar, still intact. Inside the jar the farmer found an old leather-bound book, wrapped in tin foil. It had the initials "TJ" on the cover. He carefully opened the book and noticed that the last half of the book was blank. The first couple dozen pages appeared to contain a diary of a traveler who had wandered the four corners of the Earth.
The rest of the book contained several sections with some sketches, odd jottings, unusual drawings, and odd shapes. With each section the handwriting appeared to change, as if written by different authors.
He showed the book to several of his neighbors at the next Monthly Meeting. One neighbor, an octogenarian considered by most as the local historian, noticed the initials on the cover, and walked out to the cemetery with the farmer. There he found a simple gravestone with no name, just the initials "TJ" carved into the stone. The worn date on the stone appeared to read "1774 5 May." The old man remembered a story his father had told him when he was just a lad, a story about the well-dressed, unusual-looking stranger who died shortly after his arrival in early Evesham, carrying an odd book. The elder himself had seen a visitor who looked much like the stranger of the story, maybe 26 years earlier. He was quite sure his father had said the initials on the book were "TJ." Could this be the book? Certainly this must be the stranger's grave. They rode over to the Bareford Hotel and studied the old book more carefully. Upstairs, a boarder who had just checked in, was being brought his midday meal.
The pages after the diary section had text written in mirror image. They had little difficulty decoding the text. It described a hiding place near the Cropwell Creek. The landmarks mentioned were long gone by now, but they speculated the location was near the old Inskeep farm. If anything was hidden there, it had been plowed under hundreds of times by then. The next section appeared to be some kind of code, a series of numbers. The next time the farmer took his produce into Camden to sell, he brought the book with him, and showed it to a professor who lived just off Linden Street, three blocks up from the river. The professor quickly determined that it was written in a book code, and speculated that the book used might have been the Bible, due to some references in the text. After a week studying the old book, the professor determined that the the book code was based on the Bible, specifically the Book of Acts, King James Version. The decoded text described a hiding place near the north branch of the Cooper River. There was no record of any treasure being found, however.
Maybe the "treasure" had been moved? But who moved it?
Recently, I had the opportunity to explore the old Greentree Inn before it was torn down to make way for yet another bank. In Evesham, historical preservation means brick sidewalks and fake gas lamps downtown. I went down into the cellar of the doomed inn and looked around. It still had dirt floors and old hewn timber beams. In the middle of the back room of the basement was a well, maybe 40 feet deep. It used to be were the inn drew its water before modern plumbing. In the rafters, above the well, I found a book with a light cover of dust, wrapped in cloth. I took it down and looked at it in the daylight after leaving the basement. On the cover was the initials "TJ." My God! Had I found the book that Sam had told me about that morning at Olga's Diner? I opened it up, and much to my amazement there it was, the diary, the drawings, the mirror code, the book code, and some other strange codes. I had found the stranger's mystery book! If only Sam was still around to show off my finding. Instead, I would have to figure it out myself.
I took the book home to examine it carefully. I noticed that the last entry in the book appeared to have been written very recently. An old Camden Courier newspaper article was tucked into the back cover, describing the book's finding in the 1950's, but there was no date on the clipping. After the diary section, the book was divided into several groups, each seemingly written at different times. The last group of pages were numbered, written out, "one" to "nineteen," with several pages torn out after page 19. On page "nine" I found the following two lines:
JBPREX BREXIZ UZJKRXYZC JRI XFEXXR JYRE CYFKJV YZDRCTYLCZ ELGKJV EXRUZ TYLCZ
AREEL KZIZTY DZI XPRTYLEX BREX BREALK JRI TYF FPL DFCRDVEHZEX BFEXLI KRXY
The rest of the 19 pages contained occasional letters, drawings, and seemingly unrelated plain text. What could it mean? Had the "visitor" returned and updated the book? Maybe the great, great, great ... grandson of the book's original owner? If so, maybe the treasure had been moved again. After all, Evesham has changed an awful lot over the years. Farm lands have turned into developments. The old orchards are now shopping centers. Old roads have been widened, and new roads laid. Much of the history of the town has been lost. And maybe the old hiding place for the treasure was about to be disturbed once again.
I studied the code for hours and days. I just couldn't make sense of it. I was going to have to seek the advice of experts. The Puzzle Masters.
PMC: Puzzle Master's Challenge
This puzzle is part of a series of puzzles created by the greatest Puzzle Masters of the Mid Atlantic Region. There are a number of Puzzle Masters contributing to this series. Solve all of the Puzzle Masters' creations, follow the storylines, gather the clues and find the final. Will you accept the challenge?
Each puzzle is a unique work of art created and owned by each Puzzle Master/Puzzle Team. In each cache there will be a clue that you must gather and record. These clues will lead you to a final mystery cache located somewhere in the mid-Atlantic region. This series is designed to lead you on an epic adventure that will require Master puzzle-solving skills and extensive travel to unique locations. You must travel and log in at each cache in order to claim a find on the final. Due to the extensive time and effort put into this challenge, the cache can be done as a group but each member of the group must go to each cache site and sign each log. Dividing into sub groups and pooling their efforts will not be allowed.Not at 39 54 .738 74 55.425
AND THE FINAL.....
An elusive cache. It has been missing for a long time. Can you find it?
PMC: THE PUZZLE MASTERS Click HERE to view all of the PMC caches as they are released (including the final).