With the new Ghostbusters film coming to theaters this weekend, everyone is trading ghost stories and tales of the supernatural. Coin collectors should be listening. After all, stories of lost treasures and paranormal activity go back centuries. Almost every legend of buried coins comes with the requisite guardian specter or curse, put in place to prevent any upstart from stealing the wealth. Here are a few of our favorites.
Captain Kidd’s treasure on Charles Island, Connecticut
Charles Island is a small spot of land just off the shore of Connecticut, near the town of Milford. It’s been said to have been “thrice-cursed.” The first curse was set by the local Paugussett nation who believed it to be the home of sacred spirits; when European settlers defeated them, the chief proclaimed that any shelter built on the island would crumble (and indeed, no building has lasted long on its soil.) The legendary pirate, Captain Kidd, also cursed the spot during his final voyage in 1699 when he reportedly buried treasure there, insisting that anyone who disturbed the gold would die. The final curse is supposed to be from the Mexican Emperor Guatmozin, whose treasure was allegedly hidden on the island by sailors in 1721.
Officially, no treasure has been found on Charles Island to date. But there are stories that say otherwise. Local tales recount the story of two treasure hunters who found an iron chest buried on the island in 1850. When they began to open the chest, a screaming, fiery skeleton descended from the sky, and a shower of blue flames erupted from the treasure pit. Naturally, the treasure hunters fled in terror; when they returned to the spot by day, their tools and the treasure pit had vanished. In some versions of the story, the two men spend their final days in an insane asylum; in others, they are beheaded by the spirits of the Paugussett nation. Whether any of it is true is a matter for conjecture, but even in the present day, visitors to the island report sightings of ghosts in the trees and disembodied voices.
The Treasure of Jean Lafitte
Pirate legends are a treasure trove of stories of headless ghosts and spectral ships; it’s hard to tell which stories are original and which have simply borrowed these common motifs. But one of the most common stories is the ghost of corsair captain Jean Lafitte. Lafitte was legendary for his exploits, and was condemned, pardoned, and condemned again by the United States government. He and his fleet helped save the city of New Orleans from British troops during the War of 1812, and though Lafitte operated as a man without a country, he had great respect for the new country. Lafitte’s ghost is a fairly common sight at his old blacksmith shop, which is now a bar. In many legends, ghosts are fine mists or shadowy shapes, and pirate ghosts are often said to be headless, but Lafitte has always been a full apparition, according to all accounts. He is always seen on the first floor, usually in the shadows, and never interacts with any visitor. When spotted, he looks like a normal human dressed in old sailor’s clothes, until he simply fades into the shadows.
Also unlike most pirate ghosts, Lafitte has only been seen in his place of business, never near any of his treasure sites. One of the sites commonly thought to hold some of his riches is Fowler’s Bluff, Florida. Lafitte and other pirates were known to frequent the area, especially to bring their ships onto land and clean to hulls. No treasure of Lafitte’s has been recorded here, but stories persist of a man who left the Bluff in 1888 with unexplained riches. Some attempts at using ground-penetrating radar have revealed shapes that could be chests of gold doubloons. Perhaps some treasure chests remain to be found by future treasure hunters.
The Cahuenga Pass Treasure
A large hoard of coins is reportedly buried near the Hollywood Bowl in southern California. This complex story starts in 1864, when four Mexican soldiers were sent to San Francisco with a load of coins and jewels to purchase munitions for the Mexican war (at the time, Mexican silver pesos were one of the most valued trade coins in the world.) One of the soldiers died during the voyage under suspicious circumstances, and his comrades buried their fortune for safe-keeping while they kept a watch for foreign agents.
However, the soldiers had been watched not by spies, but by a man named Diego Morena, who took the coins and made his way south to the mountains near Los Angeles, through the Cahuenga Pass. That night, he dreamed that he would die if he took the treasure into the city, so he buried it in the Pass. He went into town the next day, where he fell violently ill. He told a friend, Jesus Martinez, where the treasure was buried, before dying of his illness that night. Martinez and his stepson went to find the coins, but Martinez died of a heart attack as soon as they began to dig. The stepson died in a shootout 10 years later.
Part of the treasure was uncovered by a Basque shepherd in 1885. The shepherd sewed the coins into his clothing for safekeeping and set off on a boat for Spain. As he stood looking towards the approaching country, he fell overboard and the weight of the gold in his clothes sunk him to the bottom of the sea.
The legend (and curse?) of the coin hoard continued into the twentieth century. Henry Jones, an oil expert, dug for the treasure in November of 1939, while a film crew documented the dig. Nothing but dirt was ever found, and Jones committed suicide over his failure. The coins have never been recovered.
The Folly Island Treasure
The ghost of Blackbeard the pirate has been seen out at Folly Island, South Carolina, many times, possibly connected with this spine-tingling tale regarding treasure on the island.
During the Civil War, Union troops landed on Folly Island while preparing an assault on the nearby town of Charleston. Soldiers were sent around the island to ensure that all civilian residents had vacated the island; one young officer, reportedly named Yokum, came across an old black woman and a child living in a run-down shack. The woman refused to leave the house, as she had grown up in it, and began telling Yokum stories about the area. He wasn’t interested until the old woman mentioned treasure buried nearby.
According to the old woman, pirates had buried six chests full of gold and silver coins (likely doubloons and pieces of eight) between two oak trees. After the chests were lowered into the hole, the pirate captain stabbed one of his crew and tossed the body into the hole. The pirates covered the pit and sailed away. The old woman insisted that the treasure was guarded by the ghost of the pirate buried with the gold.
Yokum helped the old woman and the child off the island, then returned with his friend Hatcher to look for the treasure that night. As they dug, the tops of the trees began swaying as if in a high wind; the deeper the dug, the higher the wind rose, until the wind-blown sand began scratching their faces. Flashes of light began to appear, with greater frequency as the hole grew deeper. Finally there came a long flash, that made the night “bright as noon,” and Yokum and Hatcher saw that they were not alone. The dark form of a pirate stood behind them; the two men dropped their tools and escaped across the dunes, swearing never to tell anyone what had happened. The coins have never been found.