Monday, February 20, 2012

Geneva and the Confederacy

Long before Team Evelev, Brian and I met-up with some friends one Saturday morning and spent a few hours driving around the deserted roads of Seminole county.  We ended up in Geneva, an area of about 12 square miles with a population of less than 3,000.  Wikipedia designates it as "Boon Docks Florida".  The future EyeoftheSeeker, who was oddly-familiar with the area, took us to the Osceola bank vault.  What's left of the bank vault is a crumbling brick structure littered with spiders and trash.  Not so inviting, but nonetheless fascinating. 

In 1916, the Osceola Cypress Company built an extremely productive sawmill and the small town of Osceola. The location was ideal because of it's close proximity to the railroad and the St. John's river.  Osceola was progressive for early 20th century swamp towns - it had a post office, school, and commissary, plus modern conveniences like indoor plumbing and electricity (though it was turned off every night at 10pm).  The town was on-track to be the largest in Seminole county; but all of that changed in 1939 when the Osceola Cypress Company moved it's operations to Port Everglades.  By 1940, Osceola was a ghost town.  The buildings were dismantled and sold for lumber.  All that remains is the vault.

The vault was located inside the Osceola Cypress Company's office building. Being the safest place in town, this is where the payroll and other important documents were kept.  Despite the populate name, it was not actually a bank vault (according to the Orlando Sentinel).  I swear when I researched this a few years ago that the door was made of gold and had been sold for cash to support the war effort...but since I can find nothing to corroborate that story, I'm going to assume it was a mojito-fueled daydream.  The door was supposedly taken to South Florida by OSC, a far more likely and uninteresting story. 

You can find more info at Weird Florida's website and in the Orlando Sentinel article I linked to above.

On a sidenote, if this idea of lumber-companies-on-a-river-by-a-small-town interests you, see Prophecy.   If there was any link to geocaching, I would write a review this instant.

Inside the bank vault.  Not pictured: Spiders.
Fast forward to 2010.  A geocrazed Evelev looks up the area and discovers a cache there, but alas, it has been muggled and is temporarily disabled.  Some time later, the owner re-enables the cache.  Team Evelev decides to make a day of it, first hitting the vault, and then a mystery cache series nearby.  It's the type of series with separate caches that can be logged independently, but all hold a clue to the "optional" final stage. 
After the vault, we moved on to the first stage of the mystery cache, which was pretty straightforward.  The clue inside referred to something on the vault.  Luckily, I had a good photo, so I was able to figure it out from that, rather than go back.

The next search led us to a survey marker, the first I'd physically come in contact with. Inside the cache was a clue requiring interpretation of something on the marker.  I won't go into more detail than that.  I didn't think it was hard, but I've heard other people have trouble with that part.

The third stage took us to "downtown" Geneva, to the History Museum.  This cache was immediately visible, but extremely hard to grab due to the hoards of muggles taking part in a yard sale of some kind.  Normally, I would walk away, but I'd come too far.  Too far, I tells ya.  I decided to use the crowd as my cloak of invisibility, along with a dose of "I know what I'm doing, don't bother me" face.  People saw me, but the cache isn't really muggleable, if that makes sense.  It's still being found, so we're good.

The next stop took us to the Geneva Cemetery.  There wasn't actually a physical cache there.  This stop was technically part of the cache at the museum, but this is where the final clue to the final stage was.

The Geneva Cemetery is both beautiful and historically significant.  Lots of cemeteries are beautiful.  Big whoop.

The first piece of historical signifigance comes from the fact that seventeen civil war soldiers are buried there.  Sixtreen fought for the Confederacy, one for the Union.  The second, and in my opinion, more interesting fact is that one Lewis Thorton Powell is among those buried there. Well, sort of. 

Aside from being Micky Dolenz' evil twin great-great-grandbrother, he had a history of getting mixed up with the wrong crowd.  The son of a Baptist minister / schoolteacher / farmer (all his father's occupations), Powell was the youngest boy in a family of 12.  He is described as an introvert who liked to read and take care of sick animals.  I don't know if that's take care or "take care". 

Photo Credit:
He joined the Confederacy in 1861 and was later shot in the Battle of Gettysburg, which landed him in a Union hospital.  Eventually he escaped and found his way into Mosby's Rangers (known for "lightning raids" on Union soldiers).  In 1865 he left the Rangers and worked his way through Virginia to Baltimore, where he came upon a boarding house owned by the family of a woman he'd met at the Union hospital.  Small world, isn't it? 

While in Baltimore he met a Confederate operative, John Harrison Surrat, Jr., who later introduced him to John Wilkes Booth.  The merry bunch devised a plan for kidnapping President Lincoln and using him to force the release of Confederate soldiers.  Their plan didn't play out, so they took it up a notch.  We all know what happened at Ford's Theater, but many people don't know that Lincoln's assassination was part of a bigger plot to take out several of the higher-ups in one night: Secretary of State William Seward and Vice President Andrew Jackson.  Powell's assignment was to assassinate Seward.  The plan was to sneak in with "medicine" that would "help" Seward's recovery from a recent carriage accident, and then murder him.  Seward's son saw through the ruse and attempted to intervene.  Powell tried to shoot Seward's son, but the gun misfired, so he beat him with it instead.  Duh.  This bought Powell enough time to stab Seward and a few others who tried to help. 

Photo Credit:
Powell fled and hid in the woods, but eventually (1-3 days later, depends on who you ask) he ended up back at Surrat's mother's boarding house, where he was arrested. He and three of the other conspirators were hung on July 7, 1865.  Seward recovered from his injuries.  Lincoln did not.

Powell was buried in the penitentiary courtyard where he was hung, though his body was re-interred on several occasions.  In, his skull was discovered in the Smithsonian Anthropology Dept., mixed in among some Native American remains.  No one knows where the body ended up.  The skull was sent back to Geneva in 1994 and buried near Powell's mother.  (

Foreground: Powell's headstone.  Background: His mother's headstone.
Finding this headstone wasn't actually part of the mystery cache.  After I'd found what I needed (dates on other headstones that completed a short story from the CO's family history), I remembered that EyeoftheSeeker had mentioned this story about the Lincoln conspirators and the Geneva Cemetery.  A few minutes of googling provided the name (thank you, iPhone), and a few more minutes of plain old searching led me to the grave.  Come to think of it, I'm surprised this wasn't part of the challenge, but I'm glad took that extra step.

Having completed the first three caches in the series, I now had the coordinates to the final stage.  We drove to the area, but I still had about a mile to go to the cache.  I told Brian I would be quick, and the walk would probably take about 30 minutes round trip.  I promised him a visit to Sonny's upon my return.

I set out on the trails a little blind because the satellite photo on my phone didn't show the paths.  I decided to just head in the general direction and about 15 minutes later I was leaving the path to do a tiny bit of bushwhacking.  I found the cache right away.

As if a genie had popped out of the cache, I found myself with three rewards.  The first was being STF behind Parkhoppers, two months after publishing.  This wasn't intentional, but the cache takes so much time and effort that it just doesn't get a lot of visits (to date: 13 finders, over a year after publication).  My second reward was a few photocopies of Confederate money, provided by the CO as a reward for solving the puzzles.  Third, I got to trade for a civil war bullet, donated by Parkhoppers.  I googled an approximate value and left several things (first aid kits, I think) to make an even trade.

The urge for sweet tea growing, I texted Brian and started to make my way back.  In my delirium, I took a wrong turn.  I was never really lost, but I took much longer to get back than I anticipated.  His panic was intensified by autocorrect, which corrected "fine" to "gone," changing the whole context of the situation.  You can read the text exchange below.

I did get back about 10 minutes later, but Brian was a wreck.  I would like to say I apologized, but I'm pretty sure that I didn't.  We were both tired and hangry (sic), so the next stop was for barbeque and cornbread.  A satisfyingly sticky end to a savory trip through local history.