MASSACHUSETTS: Yo-ho-ho and a Radar Set

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The King of Calf Island and his buried treasure were back in the news last week—for the last time. The King, a wild, unkempt, silent man, came to Boston in 1846, got a lonely job as keeper of Bug Light, finally retired to salt-bleached solitude on an outer harbor island. By waterfront legend, he was one of the pirates who had ravaged the West Indies early in the 19th Century, had come to the U.S. from Canada after murdering a man with a barrel stave. The King died in 1882 without discussing the matter.

Twenty years later, a man who claimed to be his brother spent weeks probing the sands of storm-swept Great Brewster Island off Boston with long steel rods. He told a wharf bartender, a lighthouse keeper and a peg-legged man named John Nuskey that he was hunting a map, key to a treasure which had been buried by the King.

Death under a Dory. The peg-legged man, still alive in 1937, passed the story on to a Boston writer and photographer named Edward Rowe Snow. Shortly thereafter, in the best treasure-hunting tradition, Pegleg Nuskey was found dead under an upturned dory with a towline around his neck. But he had talked to the right man. Snow, a burly descendant of New England sailing masters, had been hunting treasure, unsuccessfully, for 20 years. He began trying to track down the King of Calf Island's gold.

World War II halted his search for a while. Commissioned a first lieutenant, he did photo reconnaissance with the 12th Bomber Group, was wounded in North Africa. A fortnight ago, healed and discharged, he went to Great Brewster Island to take up once more the search for the legendary gold.

He failed to find a map, but he unearthed a 17th-Century Italian book beneath the floor of a deserted shack. Just to have it appraised, he took it to Harriet Swift of the Boston Public Library. She turned the leaves, noticed a pattern of pinholes on page 101. The holes pierced letters, formed a simple code message. Its exciting intelligence: the King of Calf Island had buried a treasure on Strong Island, off the shore of Cape Cod.

A Small Copper Box. Snow and his brother, Donald, headed for the island last week with a shovel and an electronics device like a mine detector, used in locating metals. Five times they dug down, found buried hulks. Their sixth excavation hit the jackpot: a small, encrusted copper box. It was full of tarnished old coins minted in Peru, Mexico, Portugal, France and Spain.

At most the treasure was worth only $1,900, but it was the King's trove and Snow was jubilant. Beaming at his find, he planned to get a radar set, go hunting storied New England hulks (among them the British Privateer Mary Ann, sunk off Chatham with $1,000,000 in bullion) which have hitherto evaded unscientific treasure seekers.