Two Long-Lost Maps Spark a Quest to Find Forgotten Pyramids in the Florida Swamps

Categories: Longreads

treasure_hunter_feature_1_credit_st_pete_times.jpg
St. Petersburg Times
L. Frank Hudson studies a map.
Upstairs at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science, past smiling employees at the front desk and cubicles full of researchers and staffers, lies a secluded room behind a password-protected door. Inside, unmoving taxidermies of bears, snakes, and birds stand next to rows of sterile bones, shells, and antique instruments of science.

The L-shaped room with industrial ceilings and wooden floors has been dubbed "the Curious Vault." Shelves and drawers are crammed full of every kind of weirdness from the natural and human world, most donated by the public over the past 60-plus years.

On a quiet weekday afternoon in April, I was working in the vault with Kevin Arrow, the museum's art and collections manager, digging through old files. As a writer and researcher for the museum, I've discovered and told the stories of objects that the public has never seen, from a bizarre weather-recording device owned by the Deering family to 1920s paintings made underwater using an experimental pre-scuba machine. With the museum preparing to move everything to its new facility on Biscayne Bay downtown, we've been diving into the darkest corners to catalogue what's hidden there.

That morning, I was skimming through some musty documents, handwritten letters, and crumbling photographs in a vintage-looking green file cabinet. I'd picked up a browned and well-thumbed folder labeled "Florida Archaeology" when two letters and some detailed diagrams fell out onto my lap.

I scanned the documents quickly, glancing at a pair of odd-looking maps. Then an oft-repeated phrase in the letters leapt out: "Pyramids in the Everglades." I looked at the maps again and blurted out, "Kevin."

No answer.

"Kevin!" I yelled more loudly.

"What?" he hollered from a distant corner of the vault.

I held up the papers excitedly. "Is this a damn treasure map?" I demanded.

He rushed over, and we both studied the yellowed papers.

The first map was printed on a large piece of paper, almost a handbill, with circles depicting what appeared to be settlements. A second, normal-size sheet was covered with markings pointing toward another obscure site near the Glades. Attached was a hand-drawn notecard depicting some kind of ancient dagger.

The attached letters only added to the intrigue. In straightforward prose, they described the remnants of a lost civilization in the Florida swamps, including a pyramid guarded by an underground room full of snakes. The writer had seen the ruins with his own eyes.

A buzz stirred my mind. My heart ran neck-to-crotch in a blurry race of excitement. All I could think about was trying to solve the mystery. What were these maps that seemed to point the way toward ancient pyramids in the middle of the Florida wilds, and where did they lead? I had to know.

For the past four months, I've jumped headfirst into tracing their origin. I soon realized they were tied up in the stories of two extraordinary and infinitely curious men.

The first, J. Manson Valentine, is perhaps Miami's foremost gentleman explorer -- a scientist, historian, and world traveler whose lifelong curiosity led him to some strange places, including becoming a world expert on the lost city of Atlantis. An enigmatic former honorary curator of the Miami Science Museum, he's responsible for filling many of the shelves of oddities inside the Curious Vault.

The second key character is a far more shadowy figure, L. Frank Hudson, the author of the letters, who claimed to have made the discovery of a lifetime.

Their tales are two untold chapters in Florida's rich history of treasure hunters, from big-business operations mining ancient shipwrecks in the Florida Keys to fringe characters obsessed with the swamp ape and psychic mediums leading the way to the supposed mysteries of humankind.

These maps, at least, sure looked real. So Kevin and I put on our Indiana Jones hats. We joked about how the discovery was a meal ticket, a passage to a lost civilization and enduring archaeological fame, but I knew the reality was that it was a call for further investigation, a quest I couldn't resist.

It was a call to find something.


Before I could try to decipher the maps or understand the letters, I knew I'd need to understand the man at the center of it. Valentine's name may not be famous in Miami, but for decades he was a major face of science around town -- and briefly, as I learned, rocketed to international fame for a more dubious achievement: a discovery hailed, for a time, as the key to the lost civilization of Atlantis.

Joseph Manson Valentine was born in 1902 in New York City. He earned a BA from Yale University in 1923 and went on to receive a doctorate in zoology from the Ivy League institution.

Soon after graduating, Valentine began traveling on scientific expeditions, including an ornithological survey to Panama with the American Museum of Natural History. He later taught zoology at Yale and the University of North Carolina while still exploring and focusing on entomology. Valentine traveled far and wide -- all over the United States, Europe, Northern Africa, the Caribbean, and Central America. It might be easier to pin the places on a map where he hadn't turned over a rock.

Along the way, he contributed to the scientific canon: He published extensively and even has a handful of obscure beetles named after him. In 1957, he moved to Miami and was soon made honorary curator at the Miami Museum of Science, a position he would hold for nearly four decades until just before his death, when he quit over philosophical differences.

Friends and relatives describe Valentine as a man with a larger-than-life personality, enthusiastic in his studies and extremely knowledgeable about a great deal of subjects.

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18 comments
hillbillyshackpear
hillbillyshackpear

Great Read!  Probably the best thing I"ll do all month was read this.  Thank You!!


Joseph Mazon
Joseph Mazon

Old dudes, Old dreams, Old waste of time. But treasure hunting is a favorite human activity. Easiest way to end up with a small fortune while treasure hunting, is to begin with a LARGE fortune :)

anthonydennis
anthonydennis

There was a short article in the Portland, OR OREGOIAN newspaper on the Florida Pyramids. This was in the early 1970s'.  I had a copy, sent it to the Fortean writer John A. Keel. He ran it in his newsletter ANOMALY, which he published in the 1970s. I'm surprised and glad to see the item reappear. The entire thing on Atlantis in the Caribbean area goes back to Psychic Edgar Cayce decades ago; he specified Bimini Island as an important site for exploring for Atlantis. Atlantis isn't just a city; it is, WAS , a small continent in the central Atlantic Ocean.  It broke up into several large islands over a  long period of time. At one time, Atlantis was as advanced as we are today; they built lunar bases on the Moon. There were reports in FATE Magazine in the 1980s,  on objects on the Moon, at least part of these are from the Atlantis lunar exploration, millions of years ago. I can remember a number of past lifetimes in Atlantis over the past million years; these are very clear, and confirm what both Psychic Edgar Cayce AND Ruth Montgomery said of Atlantis. As an early civilization, Atlantis really did exist. I would recommend reading the data on Atlantis of both Psychics Edgar Cayce and Ruth Montgomery; also, try and talk to people who HONESTLY can recall living in Atlantis over the past several million years. There descriptions should parallel Edgar Cayce, and other similar sources. There needs to be a proper oceanographic exploration of the central Atlantic Ocean, with the most modern high tech equipment. If this were done, it should be possible to prove with certainty of reality of Atlantis.  Hope you keep looking, and keep an open mind on this, there is something to it.

gumsandals
gumsandals

I don't know, but that map up above looks a lot like Disney World. Perhaps Walt knew something no one knew-- except Valentine, Hudson, and Weintraub.

Kit Varela
Kit Varela

The bafath headquarters was Florida, back then called Hyperborea... Creepy!

HarryTheHandyman
HarryTheHandyman topcommenter

This was a good read.  If there is an afterlife, those two dead treasure hunters are probably laughing their asses off.  40 years later and they're still messing with people's minds.  That Forte guy sounds like a modern day version of them.


Oh and in before the Facebook crowd who didn't bother reading the article chime in with assorted variations of "LOL" and poorly written sentences.

anthonydennis
anthonydennis

@HarryTheHandyman  Recommend you return to Kindergarden; did you drop out? YES, there could be an Atlantis, and it's were Plato and many others placed it: In the Central Atlantic Ocean, with colonies in the Caribbean, eastern Americas, North Africa, the Med, Europe and etc.  The proof is in early civilizations, reincarnation studies, Psychical research, the Earth Sciences, other areas.

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