Riddles…we all know one or two, those delectably enticing questions where the answer is so simple but so elusive. You can probably think of one off the top of your head right now were I to ask. Even I have a “favorite” riddle. It was the one posed by the adventurer Bilbo Baggins to the creature Gollum…
“Inside an ivory box, without lock, key or hinge, yet inside a golden treasure is hid…what am I?” (no, I am NOT going to give you the answer.)
But there is ONE riddle I have yet to solve. And that is the riddle at the end of Ridge Street.
When you approach Laurel Lodge, the warm front façade welcomes you. The porch is opulent with a commanding view of the Potomac river as it winds its way through the valley below. the sleeping porch off to the side of the house is (I’m sure) heavenly on cool spring and summer evenings. One would never suspect that this beautiful house holds one of Harpers Ferry’s biggest riddles. The riddles were put there by the man who built the house. Who, according to the owner ( a VERY pleasant man whose name I did not catch) was a collector of things from disasters. The house was built a scant two years after the fire in 1912 that reduced the hilltop to cinders. After that, according to the owner, the man who built it, died. From what, no one is sure. His wife operated it as a boarding house for years afterwards to keep an income. It would seem that building of Laurel Lodge, and some of his other “enterprises” had left the man bankrupt. So following his death his wife had nothing. Following that it was a private vacation lodge, then into a family home.
As a teen, my best friend lived in Laurel Lodge, it was just his family and I used to visit him often to hang out and get into the normal trouble teenaged boys get into. I knew of the things in the columns and foundations then.
I never really thought about them much, I saw them almost every day and it was just a thing. Nothing of import to my teenage mind. But as I grew, the little things became more fascinating, more filled with mystery and meaning. I wondered how many hands touched the things frozen forever in concrete. What were their stories? Did any of them die in the fire? So many questions now filled my head, but THAT is not the riddle.
Relic hunters and thieves have plundered most of the more valuable artifacts that were embedded into the solid concrete. It’s hard to estimate the value of the objects that were stolen. So much has been plundered over the years. The History that was stolen is priceless. But who stole the artifacts and why? That isn’t the riddle either.
There are names in the columns too, Eugenia, and Mary Ann…presumably the builders’ daughters or wife and daughter or sisters. Cryptic quotes, strange little messages and odd equations illustrate the concrete walkways with mystery. The owner has stated emphatically that there haven’t been any paranormal happening in his home, but I wouldn’t rule it out.
The real mystery of Laurel Lodge lies at the back door. Underneath the grand back porch that overlooks the river there is an unassuming door. Tarnished brass knob and key hole, with an early 20th century glass window. Its one of those windows you can tell were hand blown, bubbles and odd streaks that give things an odd “Funhouse” bend to them. They mystery lies on the slab before it. It’s the riddle I cannot finish. For some it may be simple, it’s a basic equation. But for me, there’s something deeper to it. There has to be. Why would a man, obviously enamored with all things macabre (a collector of disaster relics) put such a simple equation down for all to see without it having a meaning?
To put it simply…he wouldn’t.
There’s a lot of local folklore that surrounds Laurel Lodge, if you know who to talk to (I do). The stories range from the plausible to the completely absurd. One tale of the place includes elements of witchcraft, murder and demonic possession. This tale, totally unfounded in anything resembling truth is one of my favorites. (But that is for another time) Another story related to Laurel Lodge tells how it was at one time in its history a Masonic Temple and the carvings and other mathematical equations scattered around point to the resting place of John Brown’s gold. Which, again, is utterly ridiculous. But entertaining none the less. (*Author’s note: History and logic tells that there is no gold belonging to John Brown or any of his raiders…they were raiding harpers Ferry for weapons. Logic dictates that if John Brown had any gold to hide, he would have bought weapons instead of trying to steal them)
Presented here are some photographs from Laurel Lodge taken by myself this very morning. Perhaps with some examination we can dust off this mystery and shed some light on it.
What could this mean? Is the man who built the place from Missouri? What prayer? This makes me wonder, because most people say “DID you say your PRAYERS?” Is there a specific prayer this man (or woman) from Missouri has in mind?
Who or what is SKIBOS and why do they, he, she, or it never worry?
This column pictured, and the one behind it are quite the interesting things to see. You will notice that amidst the stones and mortar are bits of machinery and other things. (some I can identify, some I can’t even recognize what it was) These are items collected by the builder from the ruins of the old Hilltop House, after the fire of 1912.
What I find intriguing is the stone marked F.A.S *-9-14 . Presumably this is the builders initials and a date. Note however the “F.A.S” it is missing the final period following the “S” that would normally denote initials. This might mean something else. A masonic code? Perhaps even directional coordinates? But the key? what is the key to deciphering the code?
The artistic side of me, indulges in the builders’ almost witty use of industrial and natural elements in the construction of Laurel Lodge. Odd bits of metal and glass thrown almost into chaotic juxtaposition next to wood and stone makes me feel oddly uneasy but comforted at the same time.
And finally…the Riddle.
It’s barely legible anymore, faded and worn down, but it’s there. It reads…
BOOST BOOST BOOST
12 times 1401
ARE HOW MANY
Now, The date is obviously when the slab was laid. But what about the “boost”? What is that in reference to? and the next line…14-15-16. Are those years? Coordinates? What is it in reference to? And the next “12 times 1401” Simply stated is 12×1401=16812.
Such a simple equation, yes? Working in the paranormal field for the last 20 some odd years I have had friends, who can see all kinds of things in the language of numbers. I am not one of those people. I have had them tell me they could be anything from astrological coordinates to geographical coordinates to any number of things. Perhaps this is the key to understanding this riddle? I wish I knew.
So I ask, what does it all mean? Is it just the ravings of a man obsessed with disaster? Or is there some meaning to it all? Is there a vital clue I’m missing? Perhaps buried somewhere in one of the columns, or maybe the key to it all was engraved on one of the bayonets long taken by someone and is sitting on a desk somewhere? Or could there be a clue inside the house I know nothing about. My memory of the interior is 20 years old and its foggy at best.
I wish I knew.
Perhaps I will never know the answer to the riddle at the end of the street.