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Summer Scavenger Hunt: Letterboxing and St. Johns Church Graveyard

"Searching is half the fun: life is more manageable when thought of as

a scavenger hunt as opposed to a surprise party."

- Jimmy Buffett

None one embodies summer more than Jimmy Buffet. So if he says to approach life as a scavenger hunt, well then, those were our marching orders for this week's Wandering Wednesday!

It was a day that started by "letterboxing" in area parks and ended via a Graveyard History Scavenger Hunt at St. John's Church in Church Hill (the oldest graveyard in Richmond and the church made famous by Patrick Henry's "Give me liberty or give me death" speech.)

Ever heard of a type of treasure hunt called Letterboxing?

It is similar to geocaching, but with letterboxing, there is intrigue! Instead of using GPS coordinates like geocaching to find a hidden object, you seek and find hidden "letterboxs" via a whole series of clues which keep kids (and grown-ups) thinking and musing as they search. When you find the hidden box, there is an exchange of images from rubber stamps and written comments instead of the trinkets/swag that are often used in Geocaching. (Given that we are an artistic family, I loved the idea of an outdoor adventure that combined puzzle-solving with art. Again, the prize is usually an image from a miniature piece of art in the form of a rubber stamp—usually a unique, hand-carved creation.)

"Letterboxers hide small, weatherproof boxes in publicly-accessible places (like parks) and post clues to finding the box online on one of several Web sites. However, clues to finding some of the most highly-sought boxes are passed around by word of mouth. There are about 20,000 letterboxes hidden in North America alone. Individual letterboxes usually contain a log book, an often hand-carved rubber stamp and may contain an ink pad. Finders make an imprint of the letterbox's stamp on their personal log book, and leave an imprint of their personal stamp on the letterbox's logbook.

Letterboxing is said to have started in England in 1854 when a Dartmoor National Park guide, James Perrott of Chagford, left a bottle by Cranmere Pool with his calling card in it an an invitation to those who found the bottle to add theirs. Eventually, visitors began leaving a self-addressed post card or note in the jar, hoping for them to be returned by mail by the next visitor (thus the origin of the term “letterboxing;” “letterbox” is a British term for a mailbox). This practice ended in time, however, and the current custom of using rubber stamps and visitor’s log books came into use. It caught on in the US in 1998 after an article in Smithsonian magazine." (Source:

To get started, you’ll need your own rubber stamp, pencil or pen, small sketch book, an ink pad, and targeted letterbox locations that contain the clues. It is easy to locate the location clues to letterboxes near you. The primary web site for letterboxing clues is This is the site we used. Another popular web site is

I targeted three locations (with 6 different possible searches for our scavengering): Robious Landing Park, Huguenot Park and the University of Richmond. Check out the link below for lots of other locations too in the Richmond area, to include the West End and Short Pump.

You can use any rubber stamp, but Letterboxing enthusiasts often have their own unique stamps to mark where they have been. I found a cool "Letterboxing Kids" website that showed kids how to easily carve their own stamp out of a gum eraser. ( I purchased Gum Erasers and a stamp pad at Staples in advance and started our morning early by having the kids carve their own stamps to use on our scavenger hunt. Alex carved a heart and Caden carved a "W" for "Wandering Wednesday."

Wandering Wednesday
Wandering Wednesday

So with their stamps and their "People's Library" journals (from last week's adventure) in hand to record the stamps we would be finding, we set off to our first destination at Robious Landing park. Clues sent us on a trail path along the river, over foot bridges, past rope swings and a 5 foot black snake (yikes!), and in search of a fallen tree shaped like a boat next to a bumpy tree with vines. Cheers went up as we looked under the base of a huge vine and found our first letterbox. It contained a log book and stamp of a "Dreaming Dog". The kids eagerly stamped their books and the logbook and read some of the entries of previous explorers who had been there before us. A second set of clues down a new path led us to another box that contained a pizza slice stamp. I am not sure who was having more fun: my kids who were acting like a cross between bloodhounds and CSI agents trying to find the clues or me, who was loving hearing their laughter as they frolicked and searched in the scenery by the river.

Wandering Wednesday

Wandering Wednesday
Wandering Wednesday

Our second destination was Huguenot Park. We tried two sets of clues which were marked as "super easy" which yielded nothing. We were not sure if we somehow missed them or they were no longer there. But again, the thrill of the hunt made the adventure worthwhile! (It's funny that we seemed to find the more challenging boxes without too much trouble.)

We decided to try a third set of clues by someone named "Brandoodles" at Huguenot Park, which turned out to be our favorite find of the day.

Here were the clues:

Huguenot Park, 10901 Robious Rd, N.Chesterfield VA 23235 "Locate the white gazebo and the trek to find Brandoodles is on its way! Walk the small paved path that leads to black fencing. Standing w/ the black fencing to your back, a footpath will be visible. (a large pine tree guards it) It will take you to the main path. Go RIGHT. To ensure you are trekking in the correct direction a HealthTrail station will be on your LEFT. Follow the 2nd path afterward - on your LEFT. Continue on this path you will see a sign directing you to a Shelter -- DISREGARD and keep walking, running, skipping which ever your fancy. And what do you know? Another HealthTrail Station will present itself. This time check out the fitness examples and the info that is provided. Are you an expert? Are you a beginner? Are you in between? Well lucky you, you get to be all three! You do not need to be super fit to locate Brandoodles but a little math will guide your way! While reading the fitness info you can reach out and be able to touch a tree. This tree indicates the launch of your foot work: Take TWO beginner "chinup-rep" steps Take ONE expert "chinup-rep" steps Take TWO intermediate "chinup-rep" steps These calculated steps will lead you to a low lying hollowed out stump. Alas! Brandoodles is in your presence! Please close box correctly and give it a leaf blessing."

Decoding the riddle made sense once you were there, and we found the "Branddoodle" box. It gave us pause as the journal it contained was filled with some truly interesting illustrations by a young graphic artist named Brandon, who passed away several years back from a sudden illness. His friends hid this letterbox of his artwork and his story as a tribute to him. It was beautiful and touching, and we were honored to be able to hear his story.

Wandering Wednesday

From Huguenot Park, we headed to the University for Richmond to search for a final set of clues and then into the city to our next scavenger hunt destination at the historic St. John's Church (built in 1741). In searching recently on their website, I happened to notice that school groups (with a small donation fee) are allowed to take a self-guided scavenger hunt though the graveyard to learn about all of the patriots buried and history contained there. I called their Visitor's Center to see if we could do the same and they happily obliged. As we explored the graveyard, we discovered some rather wonderful stories.

Our favorite gravesite showed incredible passion and honor for the men who carved the way to freedom. A young man named Edward Carrington was at the church during Patrick Henry's speech and was so moved and inspired by Mr. Henry's stirring words and patriotism, that he turned to his friends and said "Bury me here in this very spot!" (at the window where he heard the speech.) Mr. Carrigton went on to be an American officer during the Revolution and was later Mayor of Richmond. When he died in 1810, his friends buried him under the appointed window as promised.

Wandering Wednesday
Wandering Wednesday
Wandering Wednesday
Wandering Wednesday
Wandering Wednesday

We are excited to come back to St John's Church this summer on August 7, 2016. From 6:00-7:00pm on 8/7, the Plymouth Fife and Drum Corps, a youth corps from Plymouth, Michigan, will be travelling through Virginia and will make a special stop here to perform. After their performance will be a public reenactment of Patrick Henry's famous speech. We plan to be in attendance!

Final thoughts:

-- The kids and I made a pact that we would assemble our own letterbox this summer, hide it, and register it on the site for others to find.

- To quote Jimmy Buffet again: "Wrinkles will only go where smiles have been." I guess that means the kids and I are gonna end up with tons of wrinkles after today. ;)

One last thing: St John's Church Foundation has started a fundraising campaign to make much needed repairs to preserve and protect this oldest, and most historic church in Richmond. We hope many folks will give to this worthy cause. Ch 8 news happened to be reporting on this story while we on our scavenger hunt there and we ended up on the local evening news tonight in the background. You can see us at :37 seconds in the top right. ;) Link below.

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