Chapter One: The Lost Treasure of Piney Ridge
“Ten plus two more.”
“Ten plus two more, that’s the answer, ten plus two more!”
– “That’s the answer to what? What the heck are you babbling about now?”
“That’s the answer to the question the little boy asked in the story, “The Ransom of Red Chief” by that O. Henry fella. He asked this guy ‘How many does it take to make twelve?’. I read that story last night, I laughed and laughed, but I’m glad I read it now. He was asking a bunch of kid questions and that was one of’em. ‘How many does it take to make twelve?'”
– “How many WHATS does it take to make twelve? You ain’t making no sense. Anyway, this ain’t got nothing to do with what I was talking about, you didn’t let me finish what I was talking ’bout.”
“You ought to try reading sometimes, Lester. How many ANYTHING does it take, that’s what he was asking, how many ‘things’ does it take to make twelve ‘things’. And I just figured out the answer, that’s all.”
– “No thanks, Normally, I would just wait for the movie to come out.. But I’ll bite. How many things DOES it take to make twelve? You’re so smart, I can’t wait to hear this!”
“I just tol’ja, ten plus two. It takes ten ‘things’ plus two more ‘things, to make twelve ‘things’. He was just a little kid see? Look Lester, the kid in the story was only 8 or 9 years old. That means, he probably only knew how to count to ten. This was a long time ago. He probably could only count to ten, so he needed to have things explained so he could understand it, something he knew about. So he needed to hear ten plus two more in order to understand how to get all the way to twelve from ten? It’s not like giving directions, you can’t just say ‘you can’t get there from here’. He’s young, he’s looking for answers.”
– “What are you some kind of doctor? Since when did you start talking with sense? Now I gotta go back to school to figure out what you’re talking about. So it can’t be nine plus three things? I don’t get it”.
“No Lester, we’re Americans, Americans count by tens. Everybody counts by ten. That’s the answer we been trying to figure out all this time. OK, lets start over, we were talking about that old wive’s tale legend of the lost treasure, you know, (he cupped his hands over his mouth to make an echo) ‘The Lost Treasure of Piney Ridge’ w-o-o-o-o!”. Then Parlo wriggled his fingers on each side of his face to emphasize how scary it all must be.
– “Yeah, that’s what I was talking about, you were supposed to be just listening”, Lester reminded him.
Lester Pinkney and Parlo Silby, both long-time residents of Remington, Virginia, both aging as expected, were standing at the bottom of the old Piney Ridge schoolyard staring at the ground. A pile of fresh dug dirt was about 10 feet behind Lester, as they talked Lester would walk over and look at the pile of dirt then walk back and survey the ground again. “It’s got to be here, it just has to”. Parlo walked over and patted Lester on the back, “Look, we know its here, we just haven’t figured out where. Now, you know the story, you’ve heard it a thousand times. It all started way back in the early 1900s when Julius Rosenwald realizing that Negroes weren’t being given a fair shot at getting a good education, collaborated with Booker T. Washington and Tuskegee Institute to build schools for Negroes throughout the south, everybody knows that. This was a shared funding program, Rosenwald’s philanthropic fund provided half of the moneys to construct the schools and teachers homes where needed, the labor and the rest of the funding came from the black community and in some cases the local school board”.
– “OK, OK, move along, you sound like you’re reading from a book or something!”, Lester was getting anxious. “Any self respecting American with one of those schools in their county would already know the history of how those schools came about. Don’t let you tell it, it’ll come out all screwed up. Now get to the good part.”
Parlo continued, “Well we already know that part but, as the legend goes, turns out for some reason old Julius Rosenwald, himself, took a special interest in the Piney Ridge school, the one that was being built in Remington. In 1925, when construction was just getting started on land donated by the Davis family, word got around that Mr. Julius was planning to make a surprise visit to the construction site, just to see how things were going. No one knew when, or even if he’d actually be there so people just started hanging around the property during the day, they wanted to get a glimpse of the man building colored folks schools all over the south. This guy was president of Sears and Roebuck, the same guy they ordered clothes from in the catalog, he was coming to Remington!
Except one fella had heard that Rosenwald was known to show up at all hours of the day or night, even when nobody was there. So what he did was camp out down across the road on what later became “The Government Place”, now known far and wide for spying on foreign embassies and such. Fleabite Gaskins has been dead for 50 years but they say he claimed that one night while he was sleeping in that field, he heard a car drive up. He swore that right at the stroke of midnight he saw a white man get out of the car carrying a shovel and a vase or a urn or something. This man walked directly over to the southwest corner of the building, stood right at the cornerstone. He placed his back against the building so he was facing due west. He stood there in the pitch black for a minute, then started walking straight ahead counting as he went. “One”, “two”, “three” and on and on. When the man got to about eight he went out of sight behind a big oak tree. Fleabite was afraid to move for fear that the man would hear him so he kept still and just listened… “Nine… ten… eleven… twelve”. He stopped at twelve, the next thing he knew, Fleabite saw the man’s gray suit coat come flying out from behind the tree and hit the ground and then he heard what sounded like digging. That white man was digging in the school yard, I mean he was going at it. He must a dug deep because he kept at it for a good 30 minutes or more, until Fleabite heard what sounded like the man struggling to climb out of the hole he’d dug. He heard the man filling in the hole, that took a while too. When that was done he came back in view all sweaty and dirty carrying nothing but the shovel. Sweat gleaming in the moonlight, he was so wet. The man got back in his car and left. Fleabite crawled out from under his covers, went over to where he thought the man had been digging but couldn’t see any sign of where the ground had been disturbed, no sign at all. It was like the man had never been there. And that’s it, that’s the story of how the legend got started. Nobody has been able to find any treasure or any sign of a hole since.”
“Somewhere in this school yard is buried treasure, waiting to be discovered. All anybody has to do to get it is figure out where it is by using the information we already know. They say that some students at Liberty High School in that Bealeton, Virginia made a video of how Piney Ridge school came to be and if you watch that video carefully it shows you exactly where that treasure is. It shows exactly where to find it, all you have to do is watch it, study it, they say.”
Parlo got down on his haunches and started doodling in the dirt as he spoke, “We know he did go 12 paces west, taking about 3 foot strides, according to Fleabite Jenkins or was it Gaskins? We also know that, because of the dimensions of the tree shown in the video, he would have come out on the other side of the oak tree and back into Fleabite’s line of site. So that means we know he didn’t keep walking straight the entire time. He must have turned either north or south somewhere between steps 8 and 12. I say he turned at ten, then took two more steps in a different direction. Ten plus two more, if that’s right Lester, ten plus two more if that’s it. Quick! I got it! Fill all that dirt back in, we should start digging right there!”
Chapter Two: The Treasure Revealed
“There it is!”, Parlo jumped out of the hole he’d dug and pointed.
– “There what is?”
“What have we been looking for you idiot?”
– (Lester, under his breath) “Nobody should call somebody a idiot.”
– “Don’t call me no idiot, I ain’t the one been digging for the past two hours.”
“Alright, you’re not an idiot. The treasure, there’s the treasure. That busted up vase that old man Rosenwald must have buried here.”
– “Who’s old man Rosenwald?”
By now Parlo was visibly getting angry, “Don’t make me repeat myself. Julius Rosenwald, the man who was president of Sears, Roebuck and Co. You know that catalog your folks kept in the outhouse when you were a kid, the one they used to send away for shoes and clothes. That Rosenwald, now do you remember? Old Fleabite Gaskins has been dead almost 50 years but damned if he wasn’t telling the truth.”
– “Oh that guy.” (Poor Lester obviously had a short attention span).
“Yeah, THAT guy.” Parlo reached down and began pulling out pieces of the broken vase that had been lying buried in the schoolyard for almost 90 years now. “I wonder if the Rosenwald school in Warrenton or Blackwelltown has something buried there too.” A rusted rectangle shaped tin box lay in the rubble, Parlo reached down and picked it up, almost afraid of what he might find inside. The box was coated in some type of wax to keep it sealed. Parlo took out his pocket knife, walked over to the makeshift table they had set up earlier. He sat down on a folding chair and laid the box on the table. Lester came over and said, “Let me get my phone, I want take pictures while you’re opening it, this could be huge.” He took out his phone and started recording. Parlo took out his pocket knife and began cutting around the edge of the box. The seal was really good, you could actually hear a vacuum sound as the box filled with fresh air. Suddenly, the top of the box popped off, it surprised Parlo so much that he dropped the box back onto the table, it lay open before them. Inside the box was nothing but a peace of paper that looked as new as the day it had been written on. “Where’s the treasure? What’s this?! That’s it, a piece of paper. Where’s the treasure everybody said was here???”. This was more an insult to Parlo than anything, “Imagine 90 years ago one of the richest white men in the country coming to this little place and digging a hole and leaving nothing in it but a piece of paper, HA!”. He snatched the paper from the box, looked under it and yelled out again, “WHERE’S THE FREAKIN’ TREASURE!?!”. Parlo unfolded the paper and read the words written there, he read them aloud, “It’s all inside. – j.r.” Parlo was furious by now, “Inside? What the heck does that mean, what’s all inside?”
Lester spoke up, he got it even if Parlo didn’t, “The kids, it’s inside the kids. It’s inside the school. That’s where the treasure is, the world is inside. Our future is inside, that’s what that means. The treasure is the education they got while they were here. The treasure was learning from some of the brightest negro teachers the state had to offer. The treasure was this new building, nothing like they’d ever had before. The experience of being together, playing together. Can you imagine the number of young lives molded right here on these school grounds. Can you imagine how many games of hopscotched were played, how many soft balls were hit, how many knees got skinned. Think of all the PTA meetings, spankings, you name it, it all happened right here. Some of the best teachers taught in this school, Mrs. Hackley, Miss Waller, Miss House, Miss Rowe, she got married and became Mrs. Stinson, Mr. Berry, and more. By the way Parlo, that Miss Stinson? she was a good looking lady, pretty. They gave the treasure to the kids and the kids left here and spread it.”
Parlo stood mesmerized by what Lester was saying, more like preaching. He’d never heard him speak like this before.
Lester walked over to where the old swing sets used to be then continued on, “They gave these kids the building blocks to become pillars of the community. Teachers, lawyers, principals, business executives, carpenters, brick masons, secretaries, house wives all walked down those steps, Parlo, and on into the mainstream of society, able to stand toe-to-toe with the best America had to offer. They had to use hand-me-down books, desks, chairs, stuffed old rags in cracks to keep out the cold. But they persevered, they made it through, they flourished Parlo. They didn’t let a little thing like segregation keep them down, they didn’t let a little thing like Jim Crow hold them back. They were men and women dammit! They kept going, WE kept going. We don’t need no treasure, we got the treasure (putting his finger to his head), we ARE the treasure (pointing to his heart). Us, the ones they didn’t want around no more after slavery, the ones they thought weren’t no good for nothing. Well let me tell you something… a whole country don’t fight a war over something that ain’t worth nothing. You and I attended this school. We’re old enough to remember how it was. That treasure is IN us, Parlo. We have to believe that, we have to know that down deep inside! Julius Rosenwald knew it, Booker T. Washington knew it, our grand-parents knew it. They invested money, time and labor in it, because they believed it. We know it too and it’s our responsibility to keep the treasure that these schools provided from being squandered. We ought to be able to do that Parlo, we have to do it!”.
Moisture had formed beneath Parlo Silby’s eyes as he’d sat listening to Lester. When he stood slowly to his feet, he wiped the moisture away. He turned and looked at the broken down old schoolhouse he’d attended as a child. After what seemed like minutes, he looked at Lester and said, “Com’on man, let’s get outta here”.
~ The End ~
Historic Schools of Fauquier County, Virginia
|Name||USGS Topo Map|
|Blackwell Town School||Midland|
|Cherry Hill School||Linden|
|Crest Hill School||Flint Hill|
|Fenny Hill School||Upperville|
|Foster Hill School||Marshall|
|Good Hope School||Somerville|
|Hitch School||Flint Hill|
|Hume School||Flint Hill|
|John Barton Payne High School||Remington|
|Lake Field School||Rectortown|
|Pilgrim Rest School||Thoroughfare Gap|
|Piney Mountain School||Jeffersonton|
|Piney Ridge School||Remington|
|Public School Number 18||Marshall|
|Saint Stephens School||Catlett|
|Turkey Run School||Catlett|
Rosenwald Schools (may also be listed above as historic)
|Name||USGS Topo Map|
|Routts Hill School||Opal|
|Crest Hill School||Flint Hill|
|Piney Ridge School||Remington|
Authors Notes: What I found most interesting when researching Julius Rosenwald, was how little money he actually contributed to most school projects. The bulk of the money came from the community. I was a bit surprised by that.
Click on the Rosenwald school names to see further details about each school. Notice how much money each community raised and how much was contributed by the Rosenwald Fund.