The Treasure Hunter
Stephen Mark Rainey
For over a decade, I have been an avid geocacher. I’m sure many of you know what geocaching is, and I have it on good authority that some of you even participate in this mad hobby. In simplest terms, geocaching is a kind of scavenger hunt that uses GPS technology. A person hides a container, known as a geocache; records its geographic coordinates on a GPS device; and lists the cache and its coordinates on the geocaching Web site (http://www.geocaching.com). From the Web site, other geocachers can download those coordinates into their GPS units, venture into the wild, and try to find the cache. All caches contain a log sheet for finders to sign, and geocachers can record their finds online to keep a running tally. Caches may be large or small, easy or difficult to find, and they can be hiding almost anywhere. Wherever you are right now, there’s a good chance that bunches of them lurk only a short distance away.
Geocaching has taken me to some of the most intriguing locations I’ve ever visited. Caches may be found along woodland trails; high up in trees; in dark, underground tunnels; and—happily for me—at scenic, very likely haunted graveyards. Well, haunted by certain deranged writer/geocaching types, perhaps …
Graveyards are among the most popular locations for geocaches. Now, a cache may not be hidden in the graveyard itself (some folks are sensitive about this), but oftentimes one must visit various gravesites to acquire information that will lead you to the hidden container. Sometimes, a cache may be placed at a particular graveyard because individuals of some notoriety are buried there. I have hunted caches in and around more graveyards than I can count, but one of the most memorable lies in Stokes County, NC: a small, wooded plot where infamous murderer Charlie D. Lawson and his family lie buried.
On Christmas Day, 1929, Lawson killed his wife and six of his seven children with a shotgun before turning it on himself. He began his murderous spree by shooting his two daughters, Carrie (age 12) and Maybell (age 7), as they left to visit nearby relatives. He then hauled their bodies into his tobacco barn and left them there. Lawson returned to his house, where he found his wife Fannie on the front porch. He shot her and then rushed inside, where he shot his daughter Marie (age 17) and sons James (age 4) and Raymond (age 2) as they attempted to hide. Finally, he went to the crib of his youngest daughter, Marylou (age four months) and shot her dead.
Lawson’s eldest son, Arthur (age 19), was the sole surviving member of the family, only because he had been out on an errand at the time. Having completed his task, Lawson went into the woods and killed himself. He left behind few clues as to his motive. Some attributed his deviant behavior to an old head injury. Others whispered that he had been caught in an incestuous relationship with his daughter Marie. No definitive answers ever came to light.
The graveyard, just outside Germanton, NC, is a tiny tract of private land down a virtually unnoticeable dirt driveway just off the main road. The graves, mostly very old, belong to members of a handful of local families. The place feels as serene as Lawson’s murders were brutal. The Lawsons all lie together, their plot marked by a large, three-paneled headstone. The inscription reads: “Not now, but in the coming years, it will be a better land, We’ll read the meaning of our tears and then sometime we’ll understand.”
As is so often the case, if not for geocaching, I would never have found myself here. To me, graveyards are not creepy or unsettling but usually peaceful, scenic places where I’d be perfectly comfortable lounging about and having a picnic. (Brains, anyone?) Even when the stories the stones tell are terrible, ugly, and violent.
The geocache turned out to be a small, camouflaged container the size of a pill bottle hanging in a tree at the edge of the graveyard. Signing a cache’s logsheet always brings a sense of satisfaction, but the real joy of it is discovering places such as this one.
I’ve explored many expansive, well-known cemeteries—Sleepy Hollow (by lantern light, at midnight) in Tarrytown, New York; Bonaventure in Savannah, Georgia; Magnolia in Charleston, SC. I love going to such places. But so often, it’s the little, unknown, tucked-away burial grounds I find the most fascinating.
The Patrick-Watson family graveyard near Brown Summit, NC, is perhaps my favorite of these. Some local geocachers hid a cache there because they stumbled upon a bunch of old gravestones out in the woods. It’s a tiny, secluded spot with perhaps a dozen graves that date back to the late 18th and early 19th centuries. On most of the gravestones, the elements have effaced the inscriptions. In the 1800s, the Patrick and Watson families ran a small grist mill in the area, the remains of which lie not far from the graveyard.
I visited this one on a chilly day in March, just before sunset. As the sun began to set, a distant barred owl began its distinctive, eerie cry. I enjoyed this location enough to return to it a couple of times with other teams of geocachers even though I had already claimed the cache.
My geocaching adventures have inspired much of my writing, both directly and indirectly. While graveyards such as these may rate among my favorite discoveries, all kinds of other locations have similarly inspired me. Remind me sometime to tell you about my adventures amid miles of deep storm drains, one of which absolutely cured me of my arachnophobia. It was either deal with a tunnel full of spiders or fail to claim the cache.
Believe you me, I did claim that cache.