Finding a 54-year-old treasure

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He was 14, it was the last day of Easter vacation and he and three classmates at the late Bennington High School, known locally as "Benn-High," set out to find two local landmarks, Everett's Cave and - "Initial Rock."

"I had learned about it from kids at school," Bird, now 68, said of the rock. "Everyone used to know about it."

The foursome found the cave before lunchtime and continued on to mark the 40-by-15-foot slab of Canadian limestone that had become a rite of passage for local teenagers.

Four names

They found it a short time later, had a picnic lunch and then used George Holman's jackknife to carve, "TB, GH, MB, SW," for Bird, Holman, Mary-Ellen Burnhardt and Sally Wellington, respectively. "I distinctly remember seeing 1890 as the oldest date I could find," Bird said.

Now, 54 years later, Bird has lost touch with Holman and Burnhardt, Wellington is living in Phoenix and Initial Rock has lost its mystique, covered up by at least 40 years of debris.

But even though most people forgot about one of Bennington's lost traditions, Bird never did, and last spring, he set out - once again - to find it. "I'm absolutely fascinated with anything to do with my own past," Bird, now an Arlington resident, said. "Sorry, I can't put that in a more modest way, but I am."

Bird called on the help of Donald Wassick, a Bennington resident and native who owns Wassick's Tire Service Inc. on North Street.

Wassick's father used to shop in Bird's music and camera store on Main Street; his sister was a classmate of Bird's.

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Bird had heard Wassick, 50, spends a lot of time hiking on the mountain, but to his own surprise, Wassick had never heard of Initial Rock. "He didn't like there being something up there he didn't know anything about," Bird said.

"That's exactly right," Wassick said.

Wassick began his search in March using six panoramic photographs Bird had taken from the rock in 1964. They showed the Bennington Battle Monument and the Old First Church; Wassick used the landmarks to line himself up. "It was kind of like using a treasure map," he said.

Wassick came across a rock that matched Bird's description, but there was one problem - it didn't have any initials on it. Later, in early April, he found another. It had initials but not as many as Bird remembered and - not Bird's.

Finally, on April 17, on about the 10th attempt, Wassick was hiking with his dog, Izze, when he noticed an area without any trees. "It was driving snow, snowing so hard," he said, "and I got up to where I thought it might be and Izze was standing right on top of it. I got really excited."

Wassick marked the spot with birch bark. Only two to three feet of the rock was showing.

On Oct. 18, Wassick returned to the spot with his wife, Bird, Bird's girlfriend and Izze. Earlier, he and Bird had spent an hour clearing the rock to its 1954 form. They tried putting water on it to make some of the old initials, some as late as the 1960s, come out better, but many were still faded.

Wassick brought a cordless power drill and used it to carve, "REDISCOVERED 4-17-08, D.Wassick, T.Bird, Izze." Bird is hoping the mark will inspire others. "I'd hope the tradition returns," he said, "but I don't know if people do that type of thing as much as they used to."

Initial Rock can be accessed via an old logging trial that "zig-zags" up the mountain from Camelot Village, according to Bird. It is about a 30-minute hike and can be hard to find.


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