Hibbard and the Treasure Tree
By Eugene Lee
1925 I was living with my father and mother in a summer cottage
on Lake Ripley. Lake Ripley is a small (518 acres) glacier lake
in southern Wisconsin. It is one mile east of the small Village
all practical purposes Cambridge is just a service area for the
prosperous farmers surrounding the village and the summer visitors
who come to Lake Ripley during the summer months.
father, Edward Edson Lee (Leo Edward), was very busy writing his
books and endless short stories for children. Grosset & Dunlap,
the American Boy, The Target, The Classmate and other publishers
were constantly on his back for more material. "Words" were what
they wanted as they stated in their letters. Even with this rush,
he always found the time to guide and instruct me.
had definite ideas about eh people I should meet and the experiences
I should have.
of the experiences I should have was to work in a small-town General
Store. I know that this idea came from his first published book,
Andy Blake in Advertising (circa 1922). The hero, Andy Blake,
started his advertising career in a small town General Store.
we were eating our Sunday morning pancakes on a shiny morning
in late May, Leo spoke up.
I talked yesterday to George Post at his general store. He tells
me that he needs a boy in his store for the months of June, July
and August. He told me he would be interested in hiring you. You
are to go down to his store on Monday morning to find out when
you start work. Mr. Post told me that the pay is twelve dollars
and fifty cents a week and you will be required to work six days
of the week and Wednesday and Saturday nights. Also you would
be required to drive the delivery truck out around the lake each
day when the summer people arrive. Mr. Post knows about the special
driving license I secured for you so you could drive your mother
around when I am out of town on business. I know he had a number
of other boys that wanted the job but selected you because you
had a driving license."
had learned long ago that when Leo said I should "do" something
that this was an order. So I immediately replied:
you drive down to get the mail on Monday, I will go along and
go see Mr. Post. Thank you for thinking of me and securing such
a fine job for me for the summer."
would like to say at this point that I did not want the job in
the store for twelve dollars and fifty cents a week. I could become
a huge financial loss for me.
left to myself at the lake I could easily make fifty dollars or
more each week selling minnows, worms, crabs and other fishing
bait. Quite often I took "sports", as we called the tourist fishermen,
out on the lake to show them where and how to catch the best Bass,
Crappies and blue gills. For this I would receive pay as well
as selling them bait.
in some cases I would sell the "sport " all the fish I caught
so he could make a larger show when he went home.
mother loved my father as much as I did. She saw at once that
I did not want the job, but had too much love and respect for
Leo to turn him down. So when Leo left the table to go out to
his studio to write she said to me:
you take the job in the sore, Beany, I will be glad to sell your
bait to all your customers. I'm sure you will have time in the
early morning to seine minnows. I will get up early and get you
a good breakfast. Also, on Sunday you will find the time to take
your 'sport' friends out to fish. During this summer I will not
insist you go to Sunday School."
mother was one of the kindest and warmest people I have every
known. She was loving and caring up to her death at 80.
started at the George E. Post General Store on Tuesday morning.
After a general description of my duties I was put to work sweeping,
cleaning and placing items on the shelves. Each item was hand
marked with the price. I was shown how the prices were calculated
from the invoices. Math was my best subject in school and I had
little trouble with percentage mark ups.
you entered the door, the first thing on the left was a large
basket of Lutefish. This is a dried fish that was much loved by
the old Norwegian families. It was usually eaten with a homemade
bread product called Lufsa.
remember my mother trying to prepare a supper of Lutefish and
Lufsa with the help of a Norwegian friend. We were unable to eat
the resulting meal. When I tried feeding some of it to my pet
bantam hen, which usually ate everything, she just jumped up in
the air and said, "squawk!" and ran under the house to hide.
next item was a very large glass case full of all types of cigars.
On to was a device to snap off the ends of cigars. A constant
burning lighter was next. It became my job to light it each morning
and extinguish it each night at close up.
the wall in back of the cigar case was stacked every brand of
chewing tobacco and snuff. Cigarettes were sold at the drug store.
was a large red machine with two large wheels, a manually operated
came a counter with a cash register and all the canned goods on
the shelf in back of it.
items such as flour, sugar, cookies, salt, corn meal, coffee,
etc., came in bulk. The barrels and boxes containing them were
arranged along the wall together, with a small scale with a metal
sugar, rice, etc., you just dipped the metal basket into the barrel
and then put the basket on the scale. For items such as cookies
or candy you dipped in with your hands and put the items in the
basket. Sanitation was not a big item in small town America, 1925.
the right side of the store was a small area that sold boots for
an ornamental facing was the local Post Office. This was mostly
operated by Mrs. Post.
the front of the store was a section of work clothes for men.
Next to it was another section for ladies clothes and other items
ladies might want.
there was the small pile of boxes wrapped in newspaper and stacked
on the end of the counter behind a large display of spools of
thread. I wondered what was in these mysterious boxes wrapped
did I realize that the product name of the items in these boxes
would lead to making the best friend I have ever had. From this
friend I would learn everything about fishing in Lake Ripley.
I would have a fantastic adventure and save the life of my good
friend. Finally, I would receive a most wonderful gift.
Post picked up one of the mysterious boxes, removed the newspaper
cover, and said to me:
this product is Kotex. It is a very new product but I think you
know what it is. Your first job each morning, before we open up,
will be to check the number of wrapped boxes on the counter. I
try to have at least twenty-four boxes on display each day. You
will find the large shipping box in the storeroom. Never throw
away any shipping boxes. Open them carefully so they can be used
to pack groceries in for our customers."
Mr. Post glanced around the store to be sure no one was around
to hear what he was about to say.
user the word of this product in the store. I am the only dealer
in Cambridge that handles it. The ladies that want the product
know what is in the packages wrapped in newspaper. Most are quite
shy about the product. Some are so shy that they do not want it
packed in with their groceries."
Mr. Post went on to tell me about "Penny" Hibbard, only he called
him Mr. Hibbard.
Wednesday and Saturday night," said Mr. Post, "Mr. Hibbard will
come to the store for his supplies. It will be your job, Beany,
to wait on him. He will hand you a list of what he wants and give
you a ten-dollar bill. Also, he will give you a leather pouch."
will fill his order, and place the items in one of our strongest
and best shipping boxes. Then leave the box by our front door
for Mr. Hibbard to pick up. Whatever change he has due him you
will place in the pouch, in pennies only. Then place the pouch
in the box with his groceries."
Post put on a big smile, which he seldom did, and went on.
guess this is the reason why most Cambridge people call him Penny.
He always demands pennies for his change. He lives on the island
across the bay from you. I expect you know him?"
replied that I knew him very well, and told Mr. Post how I had
been thrown off the island. Also how Mr. Hibbard had seen my father
in town and told him:
Edwards, I had to tell Beany to leave the island. I was afraid
he might scare some of my cows or sheep. Would you tell him not
to come on the island again?"
Hibbard is one of my best customers. He started dealing with me
fifteen years ago when I opened the store. He pays only by cash—no
you fill his order, put in only the best. If he has bulk items,
be sure you give him at least two ounces more. He expects this."
next night, Wednesday, Mr. Hibbard came into the store. I took
his list, the crisp new ten-dollar bill, and the leather pouch.
Without saying a single word he left the store. I proceeded to
fill his order and fill the leather pouch with the change in pennies.
strongest and best shipping box I had was the box that Kotex had
come in. Printed on the box on all sides was the word Kotex in
bright blue script letters. I thought it would be fun to put Mr.
Hibbard's groceries in this box. It worked as I thought it would.
he carried the box to his truck I heard some of his buddies call
out to him:
Penny, are you using the stuff now? You got some young female
thing over on that island fortress of yours that needs that stuff?"
Penny was quite embarrassed, and I felt happy to pay him back
for making me leave his island.
week went on and came Saturday. Mr. Hibbard came in the store
again. This time he went directly to Mr. Post and talked with
him for some time. Mr. Post then called me over.
Mr. Hibbard tells me that when you packed his groceries last Wednesday,
you put them in a box with those words on it. Why did you do this?
Mr. Hibbard tells me that he was much embarrassed."
acted very innocent and replied to the question:
told me to use the best and strongest box I had for Mr. Hibbard's
order. The box I gave him was the best I had."
was a small lie. Even at the young age of fifteen I had learned
that the small lie often seemed to keep a person out of much trouble.
Post then told me to wait on Mr. Hibbard. I filled his order and
placed it in a strong and plain box. I filled the pouch with the
required change in pennies, and put it by the front door.
Mr. Hibbard came to get the box I went over to him and said:
am very sorry, Mr. Hibbard, that I did something last Wednesday
night that caused you embarrassment. I will never do such a thing
to you again. I would like to repay you for the trouble I caused
you. If there is any job I can do for you, free, over on your
island, just call my father. I will then come over and help you."
have never seen such a change in a man. His normally sour face
broke into a large smile. He actually put an arm over my shoulder
I know you did not intend to hurt me. Any boy with such a fine
father could not be bad. When your father learned I liked cats,
he gave me an autographed copy of his second published book, --
Jerry Todd and the Rose Colored Cat.' He also told me how much
you liked to fish, and your desire to learn more about fishing
on the lake."
he picked up his box of groceries and I followed him out to his
truck and he turned to me with another big smile and said:
is Sunday, Beany. Paddle your canoe over to my house about 4 in
the morning. Bring your best rod and a good supply of large and
small shiners. If you have any small crabs, bring a few of them.
We will go out on the lake in my new boat and I will show you
a few tricks on catching the large bass."
was the start of the most lasting friendship I had ever had. I
fished all summer every Sunday with Mr. Hibbard. He was to teach
me how to follow the fish about the lake in their daily migrations.
also spent many evening at his farm helping him with his chores.
He taught me how to milk a cow. I learned how to saddle and care
for and ride a horse. I became quite friendly with his strange
Maiden sister who people said was "crazy." She and her brother
were just two lonely people.
remember Mr. Hibbard throwing his arms about my neck once and
you are just like a son to me. How lucky we were to meet."
learned many things about this brother and sister. They had been
born on an island called Anguilla. This is a small island close
to the popular French and Dutch island of St. Martens.
father was in the boat building business on the island. At an
early age the son took up the trade of building boats.
a trip to the States, the elder Mr. Hibbard visited Lake Ripley
and purchased the island. He intended to build a home on the island
and retire there.
was to change those plans. Both the parents were killed in a boating
accident. The result was that the boating business was sold and
all monies placed in a trust fund to be paid monthly to Mr. Hibbard
and his sister.
and his sister moved to the island on lake Ripley. He built the
small house, barn and out buildings. He also built the wood working
shop. In this shop he built, one at a time, the wonderful clinker
type boats that he had learned to build on Anguilla. He used native
Tamarack timber from his swamp. Each boat was a masterpiece of
construction, and always built for a specific customer.
all the tings I was to learn about Penny and his interesting life
I never was able to find where he hid his penny hoard. I never
mentioned the pennies as I felt it was none of my business.
summer waned towards fall. In early August Penny did not show
up for his supplies on Wednesday night. That evening I paddled
across the bay to see his sister.
sister said that her brother did not come home on Tuesday night.
His truck was parked in the yard. His boat was tied to the pier.
She had no idea where he was.
I left the store on Wednesday night Mr. Post told me I could have
Thursday, Friday and Saturday as a vacation. He intended to close
the store for three days to check and do inventory. Then he said
you have worked very hard all summer and need a vacation before
school starts. Maybe you will have some time to find out what
happened to Mr. Hibbard."
had one thing in my mind to do and it was not fishing. A very
friendly "sport" from Chicago had showed me how to build a box
kite with wings. This was a type of kite I had seen in pictures
but never had the plans and material to build one. The "sport"
had left me accurate plans and all the sticks and white paper
I would need.
help from my mother I had the kite built in two hours. It was
my intention to fly it off our pier out over the lake. It was
a perfect day for this as the wind was directly from the south
and the kite would fly out over the bay and the island.
I few the fancy kite, I thought it would be nice to have it decorated.
I thought at once of a girl of my age in Cambridge who wav very
clever in drawing and painting. Her name was Betty Gates and she
was a close friend of my family. As I had to go to Cambridge for
string, I took the kite along and went over to see Betty. I found
her curled up in a chair reading a book, and asked her if she
could decorate the kite. She admired my kite construction and
then showed me the book she was reading. It was Leo's latest published
book, ‘Poppy Ott and the Tittering Totem.' She then said
she had a great idea.
me decorate the kite to surprise Leo. He came to see me yesterday
and gave me this autographed copy of his latest book. I have been
reading it and it is great."
the wing of the kite I will paint a totem pole just like the one
on the cover of the book. On the other wing I'll paint a simple
picture of Hi-Lee Cottage. On the body of the kite I'll letter,
‘Poppy Ott and the Tittering Totem, by Leo Edwards,' and
try to make sketches of Poppy Ott and Leo. It should only take
me an hour.
while you are walking down town Beany to get the string and pick
up the mail I should have it nearly done by the time you get back."
I got back from my errands in town the kite was done. Betty and
I then walked out to the lake to fly it. It flew just great out
over the lake. Leo was not writing at his studio and when he saw
the kite was greatly please with it. He and Betty were great friends.
came disaster. I had underestimated the pull of the kite and had
not got strong enough string. When the string broke the kite soared
thru the air and landed in the very top of the huge bass wood
tree that grew on the very top of the island. We just could not
let such a good kite go, so Betty and I took the canoe across
the bay to the island. It was my intention to climb the tree to
secure the kite.
bass wood tree is easy to climb. The limbs are very strong and
close together. In a matter of minutes I had rescued the kite
and lowered it down to Betty. On my way down the tree I noticed
that there was a large hole where the limbs joined the huge trunk.
It was obvious to me that the tree was hollow. The hole was large
enough to let a person crawl thru it. There was a broken rope
tied to a limb and the rope dangled thru the hole. I called down
I think there is something inside this hollow tree! Would you
please get my flashlight out of my tackle box in the canoe?"
climbed up and handed me the flashlight. When I looked down inside
the tree I could see what looked like millions of pennies. Lying
on top of this mountain of pennies was by best friend, the vanished
called to him to see if he was alive. Finally he moved and a very
weak voice came up to me.
is that you? How did you ever find me? It is a miracle. I climbed
down here on a rope to look over my penny collection. The rope
broke and I could not get out. I thought for sure hat I was going
to die inside this tree."
you go in my barn, you will find a number of good ropes. Lower
one to me, and I will tie it around my waist. I am so weak I could
not climb up a rope."
called down to Betty, asking her to get the ropes and bring back
the sister. I did not want to leave Penny. The flashlight was
kept on him and I talked to him.
was obviously suffering from fright, thirst, and hunger.
climbed up the tree bringing the rope. We lowered the rope down
to Penny who tied it around his waist. Without much difficulty
we pulled him up through the hole and lowered him down to his
excited and grateful sister.
about ends my story about the Treasure Tree and Penny Hibbard.
Betty and I took Penny in the canoe over to our house. My mother
fed him and hovered over him. My father called my Uncle Amundson,
the Cambridge Doctor, to come out and check Penny over. All that
was wrong with him was recovery from pure fright.
the next few days Penny, Betty and myself hauled tubs of pennies
out of the tree. These were all taken down to Cambridge to my
Uncle, Dr. Amundson. The dr. had a huge coin collection and knew
much about coins. In due time he checked over all these tubs of
pennies and was to find many worth much more than their face value.
the fall, Leo and my mother went south for the winter. I remained
in Cambridge with my Uncle who lived next door to the kite decorator,
the winter Betty and I would walk out to the like to skate on
the ice. We would always skate over to the island to see Penny
and is Sister. He seemed to be very busy working on some mysterious
project in his workshop. We know better than to ask what it was.
beautiful day in the spring, Leo and I were down on the lakeshore.
We could see Penny rowing his boat across the bay and towing another
boat behind it. He pulled up to our pier. The boat he was towing
was one of the most beautiful boats I'd ever seen. On one side
of the bow was lettered, "Hi-Lee Cottage," and on the other side,
was not a person for long speeches. He turned to Leo and spoke.
built this boat this winter for Beany. I've taught him all I know
about ho to catch the largest fish in Ripley. I sort of figured
he needed a new boat."