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Buried Treasure on the Gulf Coast: The Sign of the Bird As told to Dave Ellis by Mark Allen Rawles


Sketch of Will Graef.

44 October 2008


ne of the most interesting characters I met during my adventuring days was Will Graef. He had all kinds of tall tales. But there is one story that made me take a little more notice than some of the yarns he used to spin. Old Will got to meet a lot of people when he ran the bait and fish house in Safety Harbor at the

upper end of Tampa Bay. Among them was a fellow named Joseph E. Franklin. He had been a member of the staff of the Marine Museum at Baton Rouge, LA. However, it was now time for Franklin to retire, and he had his eye set on the quiet little town of Safety Harbor as the place to do it. One day in the ’50s he happened to stop at the fish house for some fresh snapper. I suppose he hit it off with Will the way so many other people did. Over a period of several weeks, the two of them did quite a bit of fishing together. “We were out fishing one day, Joe Franklin and me,” old Will recalled to me. “I don’t remember how we got started talkin’ about treasure, but before I knew it, he was takin’ me into his confidence and told me the darndest story I ever heard.” Seems Franklin first learned of a treasure location back in the early part of 1923. He was working at night in an ice plant in Biloxi, MS. This ice plant was right next to a shipyard. One day a two-masted coastal schooner in bad need of repair sailed in to have work done on her hull. When the people at the shipyard pulled the boat out of the water, they discovered that the ship’s entire bottom had to be reconditioned. This was going to keep her in drydock for quite some time. While the schooner was being repaired, Franklin and the skipper became friends. Many nights they sat next to the stove and spent long hours swapping stories in the ice plant. This gave them an opportunity to get to know one another. From what the old captain said, his biggest interest was disproving the legend regarding pirates and their treasures. The old captain believed that no pirate lived very long or expected to. Therefore, he had no reason to be deeply concerned about the future. The captain stated again and again that he was satisfied all the rubbish he’d heard was fictional,