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Expedition Unknown – Finding Fenn’s Treasure – S02E06

fennOur next outing takes us to New Mexico in search of a treasure chest filled with gold, emeralds, rubies, diamonds and other precious gems. And which pirate ship did this treasure fall overboard from? Well, none actually. In fact, it was buried only a few years ago. Buried deliberately and a map put out there for all to see. Well, a poem actually, but the treasure is available for anyone and everyone who wants to go looking.

What we have is the story of Forrest Fenn, who, having amassed a tidy fortune during his life, decided to leave behind a nice stockpile of wealth for someone else to find. Fenn grew up poor and loved the great outdoors. He became and adventurer and over time amassed his wealth opening celebrated art museums. It was his desire to create an adventure of his own, so when he was diagnosed with kidney trouble, he set about burying treasure and leaving clues in his memoirs. Not a bad way to be remembered I must say.

Turns out, he’s stronger than the doctor’s gave him credit for, and not only is he still alive, he’s still giving out clues to where the treasure is hidden. The real clue is in the first line of his poem, but he has since stated the treasure is in the Rocky Mountains and above 5,000 ft. So what’s in this treasure box? When Josh sits down to talk with him, he states about 20 pounds of gold and around 200 gems including the aforementioned rubies, diamonds and emeralds.

His main goal he says, was to get people into the outdoors, to have them take in the scenery, smell the pine needles, get away from their phones, enjoy the sunshine and have some fun. So far, the treasure remains unfound and after talking with Fenn, Josh is firmly convinced the treasure is real and hooks up with a couple of different treasure hunters to see what they’ve come up with.

His first stop, after visiting the local market of course, is Yellowstone National Park in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He meets with JP and Yasmine who feel the first like of the poem speaks of the hot springs, which Yellowstone has plenty of, and there are plenty of canyons that match the description. But even with these clues and seemingly accurate markers, the treasure could be anywhere. It’s not necessarily buried, but rather “hidden” according to Fenn. So even if you were within a 1,000 feet, how would you know? But Josh makes a couple of good points.

Fenn was in failing health when he hid the treasure. He wasn’t away from home for very long, meaning a day trip to drop the treasure off and return home the same day. It also makes sense that the terrain would need to be fairly uniform and gentle since the treasure would be heavy and was carried.

With that, Josh heads back to Red River which is closer to where Fenn lived. He meets up with the Wright family, a multi-generation group of treasure hunters who gather together and head out into the woods. It’s daughter, mother and grandmother, who scour the hills looking for clues. You have to admit, while the chances of them finding the treasure is slim, the fact this family heads out together is pretty neat.

Another stop is Taos, where Josh meets Katya who moved there just to look for the treasure. She’s been on the hunt for two years and thinks the Rio Grande holds the answer to the loots location. They head down the river looking for an inlet Fenn may have used to drop off the treasure. Katya picks out key words she thinks are relevant and their outing turns into clues from something out of Indiana Jones. Is the light really supposed to shine through a hole in the rocks and point the way to the treasure? Does it point to an outcropping of rocks with a chest full of gold nestled underneath?

While Josh doesn’t unearth anything of consequence, he and all the other fortune hunters seem to be having a great time doing exactly what Fenn wanted – they’re under the blue skies, enjoying the great outdoors, embarking on an adventure. And it appears 35,000 people are out there experiencing the thrill of the hunt. Time will tell if any of them are in the right place.

The Thrill of the Chase

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Expedition Unknown – The Real Robin Hood – S02E05

imageOur next adventure takes us to England to answer the question, "was Robin Hood real and where is he buried?" The original story of Robin Hood is a series of ballads that date back to the 1200s. Our interpretation of Robin Hood is a bold and virtuous man who stood up against injustice, robbed from the rich and gave to the poor. But that’s the reworking of the story, not really the original. Josh gets a look at the source material and the real story is quite violent, with Robin Hood robbing from anyone who crossed his path regardless of their stature and giving to the poor didn’t work it’s way into the story until much later. Oddly, I just finished reading the Adventures of Robin Hood by J. Walker McSpadden and my impression was that Robin Hood was pretty much an ass. He was arrogant, rude, full of himself and picked on anyone he saw wandering along the road. The first impression is certainly not one of a noble hero.

To try and learn more, Josh heads to Nottingham where the story takes place and indeed goes to meet the current Sheriff of Nottingham. Jackie Morris currently fills that role, but as she says, it’s more ceremonial these days, although a few decades ago she could have dispatched Josh to the dungeons.

Speaking of dungeons, Tim Pollard takes Josh into the ruins of Nottingham castle where Robin Hood was supposedly imprisoned, but ultimately escaped through the tunnels. Turns out there is indeed a network of tunnels under the castle and all through the surrounding area.

To prove the point, Josh visits with Peter Hammond who owns a fashionable clothing shop. But, his shop has a basement and even what might be called a sub-basement that takes them into a series of caverns and tunnels. They are currently mapping this network with 3D imaging, and have found lots of pottery and glass that are close to the time period of Robin Hood. So it does appear you could make a tunnel escape.

From the tunnels of Nottingham it’s off to the legendary Sherwood Forest to get more of a sense of what it would have been like to be an outlaw in that area. Unlike what we see in the movies, it would have been cold, wet, dark and poor living conditions. Sherwood was also the main path between the lands and so would have been traveled by plenty of wealthy men who bandits would have preyed upon. It was not the glamorous life portrayed in the movies.

It sort of seems like the real Robin would have been more of a bandit and scoundrel, but where did he end up? If we find the man, perhaps we can trace more of his origins. Turns out there are a couple of spots on the list of where he might be buried. As the legend goes, he ended up at Kirklees Priory where he needed medical attention. The medical treatment of the time would be blood letting and it’s suggested that he was bled too much either through revenge or by neglect. Either way, he grew worse and the time of his end was drawing near. It is then said he shot an arrow out the window and that’s where he wanted to be buried.

On the grounds of Kirklees Priory is a grave site attributed to Robin Hood. With permission, Josh brings out some ground penetrating radar, but doesn’t find anything to suggest a body is buried at the site. It’s merely a monument. Undeterred, they get an aerial view of the area to see which building might have served as the "hospital". From there, they shoot some arrows off into the distance to get a perimeter of where Robin might be buried. Again, the ground penetrating radar shows nothing. There is nothing to suggest a body is buried at the site.

So now what?

Josh heads to Loxley, where he is shown the grave of Roger Godberg, who might be the inspiration for Robin Hood. It is suggested that Roger was an arsonist and murderer. We don’t have the details of those claims, but it is suggested that he would have lived at the same time as Robin Hood, would have served time in Nottingham castle, was wanted by the sheriff, was an outlaw, possibly died at Kirklees Priory and had his body moved to Loxley. In essence, his story shares similarities with the tales of Robin Hood. So, is he a match? Well, they can’t go digging up the body, it’s on sacred ground, but out comes the ground penetrating radar and the scan does show the grave site is occupied. Is it Roger? Is Roger, Robin? Does it all fit together or is this wishful thinking?

The current story of Robin Hood, is one that’s larger than life. A man who fought against oppression, took from the rich and gave to the poor, and risked his life to save his friends. The original story however paints Robin a bit differently, one more prone to violence and one who was out to serve himself. And as with any story, it’s hard to know what, if any of it, is based on fact. Was there a Robin Hood? Did he perform great deeds? Or was he a scoundrel and outlaw who preyed on more than just the rich?

Fanciful tale? Biography? Legend? Fiction?

As with a lot of fairy tales, the version we have now is more exciting and more noble than the original and maybe we should be happy about that.

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Expedition Unknown – Hunting Vampires – S02E04

imageFor this episode Josh is heading out to Romania and Bulgaria in search of one of the oldest legends, the vampire. We know the vampire tale has it’s roots in Transylvania with that of Vlad Tepes and the much fictionalized and romanticized tales of Dracula. But, with each legend there is some kernel of truth, so where does that start with the vampire? For this part of the world, that story starts with the Strigoi, an undead creature who feeds upon the energy of the living. The people of this area still believe in the power of the vampire, so much so, that just recently a group of men dug up the grave of a man who they thought was turning into a Strigoi, pulled out his heart, cooked it, and used the essence to create a potion to cure the townspeople that had fallen ill and had seen visions of the man in their dreams. It’s all pretty damn strange.

The adventure starts in Bucharest with Josh riding a sweet motorcycle with a coffin as a sidecar. He travels to the local market that happens to be amidst the ruins of an old cemetery. Vendors are selling just about every trinket you can imagine and of course there is plenty of imagery and tribute to Vlad Tepes.
Josh meets with Oliviu, who takes him down into the ruined Tepes castle. Now, despite what some people would like to say as they go hunting for evil spirits, Dracul means dragon, not devil or evil. And Vlad didn’t stick people on spikes so he could feast on their blood, he wanted to scare the crap out of anyone who would invade his country. He had a small army and thought it would be best to instill fear into the advancing armies. If you saw people impaled on spikes as you approached to invade and thought it might be your fate, you might turn back.

But anyway, Oliviu talks about the Strigoi and how the legend is deeply entrenched in the minds of the farmers and people who live outside the city. In fact, Josh is told to head just out of town to the abandoned church where a Strigoi is supposedly living. Who could pass up an opportunity to hang out in a spooky cemetery with a supposed vampire lurking around?

Josh arrives just as it’s getting dark and the church is indeed a ruin. The ceiling is collapsing and the cemetery has been abandoned. However, he discovers that the sarcophagus is actually open. As he peers inside, what should greet him? Oh yes, a cat leaps out of the tomb and scurries off into the night. With pants soiled, Josh realizes that the myth of the Strigoi is just a bogeyman that people conjure up in scary places.

Some take it to an extreme though, and Josh heads to Craiova, where the villagers dug up the body. The story goes that once Petra Tomo died, people of the village got sick and saw visions of him in their dreams. This was enough to mark him as a vampire. So the villagers dug up the body, cut out the heart, cooked it to make a potion that the affected townspeople drank. Right after that, they were all better again and the anti-vampire ritual was deemed a success.

Josh ends up seeing the police record of the crime and says it’s incredibly violent. The men were given a suspended sentence of 6 months for desecrating a grave. Oddly, Josh heads out to the cemetery where the man was dug up. While having a look, some angry villagers arrive on the scene and it looks like another violent incident is about to break out. Turns out, one of them is related to a man who actually took part in the deed and agrees to take Josh to meet him. Oh this looks bad indeed as the translator bails out and leaves Josh on his own to go into the woods to meet some guy who is perfectly capable of digging up the dead and eating them.

Turns out the man was convinced Petra Tomo was turning into a vampire since he had blood around his mouth and that his skin and hair were still growing after he was dead. Of course, this is normal decomposition for a body and has nothing to do with vampires. But that doesn’t matter to the locals and not only does he not have any regret about what happened, he explains it’s not the first time that sort of thing has happened. He’s adamant he did the right thing and a bit offended Josh is second guessing him.

From here Josh heads to Bulgaria to participate in an anti-vampire ritual of a village. He meets with Ivo, an anthropologist and together they head out into the woods to pick some herbs to be used in the ceremony. They look for the verbena plant which is poisonous so the roots will grow down and poison the body, keeping it from rising up. Of course, to get to the plant, they have to cross a bridge that first made it’s appearance in The Temple of Doom. Without falling to their death they grab some plants and relocate them to the very meager and sorrowful grave in an abandoned part of town. Once done, they head to find the villagers to let them know the deed is done and find them working on their own ceremony.  The villagers are dancing across hot coals in the shape of a cross. This will help ward away the evil of the vampire.
Now that Josh has seem some of the hysteria first hand, he heads to meet Nickolay, an archaeologist who has found the grave of a man who was believed to be a vampire. Why does he make such a claim? The man had a metal spike shoved this his neck which secured him to the coffin he was buried in. This was clearly done on purpose and after he was dead. This wold have been to prevent him from rising up.

Since Josh is dealing with men of science, they agree to let him take some DNA samples to be analyzed. Turns out the man suffered from porphyria. This is a condition that among other things makes people sensitive to light and which can cause the gums to recede which gives the impression of fangs. In simple terms, it is the condition that causes the maladies that people have been associating with the vampire. It’s just a medical condition they don’t understand. This is the correlation people have made with mental disorders and being possessed by the devil. Unfortunately, all these desecrations are taking place over something they don’t understand. The townspeople have seen something gruesome, so this is a response to that fear.

There really is no basis for the vampire, just misunderstanding and a lack of medical knowledge. But the myth is certainly alive and well and judging by the attitude of the people, that myth isn’t going anywhere.

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Expedition Unknown – Blackbeard’s Hidden Gold – S02E03

image For this episode, Josh is literally right down the road in Greenville, North Carolina and Charleston, South Carolina looking for Blackbeard’s treasure. Now, we all know that Blackbeard was indeed a real pirate, that was first hired as a buccaneer, but then turned into a pirate once privateering was brought to an end. Blackbeard may be one of the most well known and perhaps feared pirates and his final days ended in a blood-soaked showdown, but what about all the treasure he took? Where did that end up? It was rumored he had made a fortune from privacy and was able to buy plenty of land on which he should have retired on. When the end came, the treasure was lost, or more to the point, no one has any idea where it is. But there are plenty of people scouring the beaches and even the wreckage in search of what could be quite a fortune.

As usual, Josh starts off the investigation at the market or rather a pirate festival where he meets up with historians who have focused their research on Blackbeard. They go over some of the places where the treasure could be located and the next stop on the voyage is Cayman Brac. Josh meets up with some treasure hunters who are exploring the caves of the area which would have been most suitable for the storing of loot. They caves are flooded with water and only accessible at low tide. With shovel and lantern in hand, Josh heads in. As far as novels go, it perfectly fits the hiding place. As they search and dig around, they do indeed come across something. Quick to see what they have, they unearth a coin that turns out to be from around the 1800s. Not the time period they’re looking for, but, it certainly makes the point that other items could be buried there. And if there is one coin, there surely is more, so who knows what they might be on the verge of discovering in that cave.

The next part of the investigation moves from the land and caves to the open water of the sea. Josh gets with another treasure hunter that believes the treasure went overboard. Josh suits up and heads into the water. They find some remnants of another ship and then come across the Cayman Abyss, a drop off that goes down 20,000 feet. If the current went the wrong way, if there was a treasure, it’s lost forever.
In the same area they manage to find an old Russian ship that was scuttled decades before. While this is a great discovery and clearly not the right kind of ship, it’s a pretty impressive find, but there are no signs of treasure and really, no signs on anything related to Blackbeard. I’m clearly no expert, but looking for treasure here seems way off course. But it’s all about the thrill of the hunt.

And with that, Josh is off to Greenville NC where they store parts of the ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge. It was in 1718 that Blackbeard sort of lost his mind a little and held the town of Charleston hostage. He set up a blockade and refused to let goods in or out. After negotiating, he agrees to sign a treaty with the governor, but on his way, the Queen Anne runs aground and he destroys the ship.

The team in Greenville is actually cleaning more than 400,000 items that have been recovered so far, including anchors, cannons and tens of thousands of smaller items. But the actual wreckage is out toward the Outer Banks in Beaufort. And more than likely, they have only pulled up half the wreckage. With a great deal of excitement Josh is off to the wreck side and down he goes. Clearly we’re not going to see open treasure chests or anything like that, but we do get to see another one of the massive anchors and more of the cannons. While the water looks clear from the boat, once he’s a couple of feet down, the visibility is horrible. It’s quite impressive they’ve been able to find as much as they have.

There is even more to this story. Blackbeard wrecks the boat then takes off on the Adventure to Bath, NC where he gets a pardon and decides to retire. He uses his money to buy a plantation and even gets married. But the life of leisure doesn’t quite suit him and within a couple of months he’s off again for his last stand.

Since he just bought all the land and is showing off his wealth, it is sort of believed he might have the money with him. But when Captain Maynard comes upon him, there’s no asking questions about treasure and Blackbeard is shot 5 times and stabbed 20 (or so the story goes). Needless to say, he didn’t make it out alive. But it’s believed that some of his treasure has made it over Springer’s Point. With special permission he and yet another treasure hunter break out metal detectors to see what they can find. After locating lots of junk they home in on something big. They scramble only to find a big rock. Yet again, nothing that supports Blackbeard’s treasure would be in the area.
Meanwhile, back in Bath, Josh meets with historian Kevin Duffus, who has a different take on Blackbeard’s treasure. To summarize, in 1718, Blackbeard wrecks his ship, escapes to Bath and there is an economic boon. This could be from the gold Blackbeard supposedly had, but what if that wasn’t the treasure? Duffus believes the treasure was in fact, slaves. Blackbeard was certainly involved in the slave trade and he may have either sold them in the Carolinas or pressed them into service to help build Bath.

It’s a theory that makes a lot of sense given the time period and the area. It would also explain why no one has been able to find said treasure. Or perhaps it’s still waiting to be discovered.

So what’s the truth? And when it comes to anything related to Blackbeard, that’s the question. There is more legend and myth about this pirate than anything else. The stories are so over the top, so larger than life that you really can’t believe anything. But even if the minor details can be believed, was his treasure a chest full of gold coins or was it actually the human lives that would have been used to rebuild the area?

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