April 9, 2019
Monday morning the map arrived, our final piece in the puzzle leading to the buried treasure. Like any good pirate cartography, it gave steps from a landmark, the northernmost doors of the school, and ended with a large X.
Ducking into the supply closet in the main office, I removed the stopgap note and replaced it with the map, rolled tight and tied with red string (well, a string that I’d colored red with a marker that morning). For some reason that the map had been tied up in red was a little detail that had stuck with more than a few of the students seeking the map.
Those students continued to visit my office, a half dozen by lunchtime, and more and more they were beginning to understand that the numbers at the end of the journal were a book cipher. If SWS stood for Sir Walter Scott, author of the copy of Red Gauntlet and The Pirate that was with the journal, then the numbers gave them a path to find the message that might lead them to the map. By going to the page, then counting down the number of lines and over the number of words, several came up with a coherent message.
But what did it mean?
Students scoured the school. An observant filmmaker spotted my holy grail behind some books on a bookshelf in my office. “Is this yours?” he asked. I nodded. “Made for my by Kajsa Medak, a teacher I knew,” I told him. He hmmmmm’ed. “It looks just like the picture in the journal,” he said. “Like a holy grail,” I answered, feeling a little like the French knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail taunting King Arthur with “He’s already got one!”
That filmmaker, who had puzzled over the mystery since the first day, was on a field trip on the day when they found the map, but I captured a sliver of video of the event. Two intrepid sleuths had been tearing through campus for the better part of the week, finally understanding that all the searching wouldn’t work unless they figured out a solid touchstone.
It all boiled down to the key.
On my first day at ACMA, Michael Johnson, who had been the principal here for thirteen years, gave me several gifts, one of the most treasured a master key from the original 1949 locks of CE Mason Elementary. So many years later it fit exactly one lock on campus, the storage closet in the main office. The key, a beautiful example of mid century craftsmanship, had been passed down since the time of Esther Peer, CE Mason’s first principal. I will give it to the person who follows me in this office …years and years and years and years from now.
That key had been on my bookshelf for more than a year, hungry, I thought, to be part of the action, and happy to be included in this little adventure.
With an interested teacher in tow, the two girls who would eventually find the map came to the main office at the start of lunch. They had an idea, they said. Could they borrow the key?
They hurried out into the hallway toward the library, one question on their minds: Which door?
The answer was twenty feet from my office.
A few minutes later they were back, a bevy of students in their wake. They put the key in the lock of the closet and it fit. One girl hurried in and started hunting inside. The other, checking to see if the key turned, shut the door and twisted the bow. A theatrically loud CLICK locked her friend in the closet.
Curiosity piqued, the crowd watched as she unlocked the door and joined her partner in crime inside. They moved boxes, looked high and then low, and finally rewarded the assembling crowd with a whoop of success.
Unrolling the map was an adventure in anticipation. Students crowded around, peering over shoulders and scrutinizing the drawings inside. They trooped out into the hallway, turning the map this way and that, pointing in the directions they thought they might go.
They found the north end of the school and began striding off paces. Their initial work took them to the fence. This couldn’t be correct.
They noticed that portables had been dropped (years after the map was meant to have been drawn) right in their way. It was a fact my gleeful mapmaker had used as a challenge. “The portables make it hard,” one told me. “They seem to,” I answered.
Someone realized that they were taking long strides instead of steps, and wondered if that was throwing them off. They returned to the doors of the school, doors that had been part of campus for more almost seventy years. They were steps away from buried treasure. They could feel it. And…
The bell rang ending lunch. They looked at each other, then to their teacher. “Class,” he said with a smile. A student rolled the map tightly and handed it to her teacher. “Tomorrow,” she said.