March 22, 2018
We gathered on a rainy afternoon in March and I presented them with a story.
“What if,” I asked, “you knew that there was buried treasure here on campus?”
They looked at each other, nine students and two staff members chosen for this adventure because of their wild creativity and willingness to engage in something unexpected. An artist, a filmmaker, several writers, and a few students I knew were capable of marshaling a project through to completion, these were a cadre of kindred spirits I knew could present our school with something marvelous.
Huddling around a small table in my office, they listened as I described the custodian who, in 1951, buried a mason jar that contained an object handed down to him through generations, a piece of the plunder from his great-great grandfather Admiral Clarence Morgan Arbuthnot, who in the early 18th century turned pirate after a long and successful military career.
He left a diary, I told them, and onto the table slid a small journal, scuffed and stained, pages dogeared. A student opened it hungrily.
“It’s blank,” she said.
“Right now,” I answered.
Next I showed them a volume of Walter Scott containing Red Gauntlet and The Pirate. I’d picked up the book years ago, intrigued by how old it was. Inside, on one of the first yellowed pages, written in fountain pen read the script: Mrs. Mary St. More Christmas 1890. That inscription from more than 100 years ago looked back at us so rich with possibilities.
Finally, the map. As blank as the diary, the thick brown paper I unrolled was stained with age and ragged around the edges. Truth be told, I’ve been packing that roll of paper around for more than twenty years, knowing it would be a map, but never sure when the time would be right. This was the time.
We talked about the possibilities.
We threw out ideas, asked questions, and allowed ourselves to wonder.
I explained that February and March were some of the most difficult months of the year for many folks at school. With winter break far behind us and summer still miles away, it’s the time of year when tempers sometimes flare, sadness can creep in, and everyone has a tendency toward feeling low. The perfect time for an adventure. The perfect opportunity for a group of creative souls to come up with something that would delight our school community.
Someone asked if we were going to make the student body think this was real.
I said the only thing that made sense to me, quoting Ken Kesey’s unreliable narrator from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, I answered: “It’s the truth, even if it didn’t happen.”
Creative sparks began to fire, replacing the bemusement of the start of our gathering.
We talked about the challenges facing a group this big collaborating on something this complex, and I shared with them the bones on which we’ll hang our adventure.
In 1951 Clement Arbuthnot, who was a custodian at the newly opened CE Mason Elementary school, the building that became our current ACMA and will be torn down in the summer of 2019 to make way for a new ACMA building, buried a mason jar filled with treasure. That treasure had been passed down through generations of his family from Admiral (later pirate) Clarence Morgan Arbuthnot.
Oh, and Clarence, I told them, had been born Clarice, and like so many adventurous women of her day dressed in men’s clothing to pass as a male and became a sailor, and a successful one.
We know that Clement left a diary and a map. We know that somewhere along the line Mary St. More is significant. We know that the treasure is buried on the campus here at school.
The rest of the story, still unwritten, danced playfully on the inside of a dozen brains.
…and I thought: Next February or March could be inspiring, and hopefully pretty fun, for our little school. The months between then and now will be the real adventure.