The residents of Peninsula should have known that all that glittered wasn’t gold — especially when they saw that glint in Robert Bordner’s eye.
The Cleveland Press reporter created waves of hysteria in 1945 when he wrote a series of exciting articles about the possibility of buried treasure in the Summit County village.
A gifted writer, Akron native Bordner (1899-1973) was an eccentric character who waxed his mustache, wore horn-rimmed glasses, smoked a corncob pipe and carried a fancy cane. He favored French berets, fur-trimmed caps, plaid shirts, denim pants, flowing scarves and shiny spats.
He and his wife, Ruth, a WGAR radio personality, lived on a sprawling 140-acre estate named Thanksgiving Hill off Major Road in Peninsula.
In the summer of 1944, Bordner entertained readers with breathless coverage of the Peninsula Python, a giant snake believed to have escaped from a circus. Multiple sightings of the 18-foot reptile were reported across the Cuyahoga Valley before the beast slithered off into local folklore.
A year later, Peninsula villagers began digging for riches.
“This Cuyahoga Valley village, heart of the Peninsula Python country, is buzzing today with rumors of a gold strike,” Bordner wrote Aug. 29. “Only a few people know the facts — and they won’t tell. But this much is true: For months, small parties have been prospecting the hills, digging in secret, extracting samples for assay. I have seen the pits.”
The lead prospectors were Police Chief Art Huey, Deputy Dale Hall, his brother Ray Hall and Paul Stimpson, who roamed the woods, ravines, hills and creeks. They carried divining rods, which they claimed were sensitive to gold and silver. When the rods seemed to point to a certain spot, they grabbed shovels and dug holes as deep as 12 feet.
Other villagers began to dig in the hills. Out-of-towners showed up, too. As more articles were published, the village and surrounding township became pockmarked.
Bordner directed the team to search Lock 33 of the Ohio & Erie Canal for “the legendary Mulligan hoard.” He said “Mulehead Mulligan” was an Irish laborer who helped dig the canal in the 1820s. According to Bordner, Mulligan stole from co-workers when a cholera epidemic hit their camp.
“Before dawn each day, so the legend goes, he rose and looted his perishing mates,” Bordner wrote. “Sometimes a half dozen would be found dead when the sun came up. Their savings were always gone.”
Before he died of cholera, Mulligan buried a fortune at the canal, Bordner explained. Perhaps it was still there.
Chief Huey, Deputy Hall and their colleagues used divining rods, picked a location, then dug with shovels and pickaxes. The muddy pit repeatedly filled with water, forcing the men to give up their search.
People came out of the woodwork with offers to help.
Cleveland resident Edward Olexo, a former Peninsula resident, claimed that he knew where to find the gold. He said it was “under where the old barn used to be” on the property where he once lived.
Art Euchre of Boston Township led an expedition to Jaite where he recalled seeing a golden gleam along the canal as a teen in the 1890s.
Akron resident Ralph Casteel made a bizarre offer to create a “human divining rod.”
“I need a girl — one about 21 would be suitable — to hypnotize,” he said. “I can give her X-ray clairvoyancy.”
The great hunt inexplicably shifted in September to the swimming quarry in Peninsula. No longer was it about 1820s gold. The treasure hunters were looking for an old safe.
Bordner reported that thieves dumped a stolen safe there during the Prohibition. He urged Chief Huey, Deputy Hall and the other prospectors to search the water in the quarry.
“We don’t want a lot of amateur help,” Huey announced. “Somebody would get drowned or hurt.”
The men borrowed diving equipment from the Akron Sea Scouts to look for the safe.
Deputy Dale Hall supervised the work from inside a boat. Chief Art Huey worked an air pump at the quarry’s edge, Ray Hall fed the hose and Paul Stimpson donned a helmet.
After 30 minutes of searching, Stimpson reported finding a corroded safe in 40 feet of water. The men hauled it to the surface and confirmed that it contained “a sum of money.”
“Anyone who can identify the safe, its contents and himself as its owner can reclaim the property,” Chief Huey told the media. “The money, if unclaimed, will be turned over to the Peninsula treasury, after a reasonable period for claims.”
That’s about the time that old, large-size currency and spread-eagle silver dollars began showing up in cash registers at businesses in Peninsula and Boston Township.
Barkeeper Scotty Ingerton found money in his till. Ben Sovacool noticed it at the general store. Worthy P. Bean saw it in the post office. Others to report strange currency were coal dealer Terry Montaquila, drugstore proprietor Lou Conger, farm bureau agent Marvin Layne and Peninsula Nite Club waitress Esther Broughton.
“The big old bills, out of circulation for many years, have shown up in all denominations including 20’s and 50’s,” Bordner wrote. “The silver, black with tarnish, has appeared by the sockfull.”
Peninsula Mayor John Ritch became irate, suspecting that his two-man police department was spending cash from a stolen safe. Villagers grumbled that the men had spent four months neglecting their duties.
“If all this old money you men are passing in Peninsula, Boston and Richfield comes from the safe you recovered from the quarry, it is incumbent upon me to request your resignation, in view of your promise to turn the safe money over to the village if unclaimed,” Ritch said.
Huey insisted he had no cause to resign.
“The old money now in circulation here is not part of that recovered from the stolen safe,” he said.
Furthermore, Huey said, the “sum of money” found in the safe was only one rusted dime!
An amused Ritch withdrew the resignation request, saying “I have full faith in the integrity of the police force.”
That’s when Beacon Journal reporter Don R. Klein blew the lid off the treasure chest. He learned that Bordner had withdrawn old currency from the Cleveland Reserve Bank shortly before the money began showing up in Peninsula.
Klein confronted Bordner with the damning evidence.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Bordner finally confessed.
The entire thing was a hoax. There was no treasure, no loot.
Bordner wanted to promote the village — just as he had done the previous year with the Peninsula Python, although he insisted that tale was absolutely true. In creating his “beautiful story” about treasure, Bordner enlisted the police and their cronies, and joyfully chronicled their exploits around the village.
The Peninsula Library & Historical Society features the 1945 treasure hunt in an exhibit at the Cuyahoga Valley Historical Museum in the 1887 Boston Township Hall at Route 303 and Riverview Road.
When you go, leave your shovel at home. There’s no gold in them thar hills — at least as far as anybody knows.
Copy editor Mark J. Price is author of The Rest Is History: True Tales From Akron’s Vibrant Past, a book from the University of Akron Press. He can be reached at 330-996-3850 or email@example.com.