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Mount Orégano
Sue Burke
Treasure, alien life, and ghosts 
22nd-Feb-2012 10:34 am

I know of two supposed sunken treasures of gold in Wisconsin, one in Lake Michigan and one in Lake Mendota, both dating back to the Civil War. I've researched the one in Lake Michigan and even have the treasure map which locates the gold near Poverty Island Shoal at the tip of Door Peninsula, but I haven't decided to learn scuba diving. I don't think these treasures exist.

What interests me is why these stories stay alive. Lies are common as leaves in a forest, so why keep certain ones?

First, there's a simple wish for sudden wealth, the motive force behind lotteries.

Second, legends often say that treasures, buried or sunken, are guarded by leprechauns, mermaids, or at least a curse — by beings alien and magic to our existence. It's a wish for a livelier universe. In the same way, some of us hope for life on Mars or Andromeda, which also would be a real treasure.

Third, it's a wish to preserve and honor the past by keeping stories alive. Ghosts work the same way. I met a woman whose neighbors told her the troubled presence she had noticed on the stairway of the house she'd just bought was of a teenager who had committed suicide some 50 years earlier because he was gay. She hung a gay pride poster in the stairway to soothe him, and it seemed to work.

Most importantly, treasure is real. Sometimes — at Troy and in the Caribbean — gold is found, and then our wishes are confirmed. I can see Mars at night, and I might be watching Martians. If there are ghosts, I have visited haunted houses. When I lived in Milwaukee, someone else in that town named Susan Burke (not me) won the Supercash lottery. Riches await, if we keep searching.

X marks the spot.

— Sue Burke

22nd-Feb-2012 09:43 am (UTC)
I used to dream of finding the Mahogany ship, its bones sticking out of the sand like seaburned ribs. Sometimes the riches are in the dreams of treasure and any actual discovery would tarnish it.
23rd-Feb-2012 07:19 pm (UTC)
Some dreams can last forever.
22nd-Feb-2012 07:12 pm (UTC)
This is a wonderful entry (and the *map* is wonderful--Poverty Island right by the Summer Island? I sense a grasshopper-and-ants fable in those names.)

Your reasons for the persistence of treasure stories feel so on target. Yes, I find myself thinking, yes, this is exactly it.

There was a letter found near where I live, found in a bottle in a farmer's stone wall, that seemed to be from Captain Kidd to one of his friends. While the letter could possibly have been true, the way in which it's written (and the tenuous connection with his movements) make it almost assuredly a fraud. Yet what a fun fraud, and how understandable. The boys who "found" the letter, residents of a sleepy farming town... what a way to create some excitement, to elevate the importance of where they lived.

I think that's another reason for treasure stories, especially ones with a historical connection--it's a desire to hitch the local area's metaphorical wagon to a star, to assert importance, to claim a little romance, excitement, and so on.

And yes, sometimes the treasure is completely real, and the stories are true.
23rd-Feb-2012 07:20 pm (UTC)
Yes, the right treasure story can make a place magical.

Edited at 2012-02-23 07:22 pm (UTC)
22nd-Feb-2012 09:28 pm (UTC)
Nice post. And yes, what you said.
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