Researchers say Hackley Park layout pays tribute to Confederacy

Posted at 10:17 PM, Mar 10, 2017

MUSKEGON, Mich. —It's a story so unbelievable it could be the plot to a movie.

A group of history buffs out of Muskegon say there's more than $140 million worth of gold and silver sitting at the bottom of Lake Michigan somewhere. They believe the treasure came from the Confederacy during the Civil War and somehow made its way to Muskegon.

The group of men first heard about the treasure from a man on his death bed in 2010. After years of research, they believe they tracked the gold down to a group of Union officers and their friend, Charles Hackley.

This is where it gets complicated. Hackley is a prominent name in Muskegon, giving millions of dollars to the city. One of his donations possibly hints at his fortune being tied to Confederate gold.

It's almost like the plot to the movie National Treasure: A death bed confession leading to a treasure hunt, only this time the treasure is still out there.

"It's just a neat story," said Frederick Monroe. "I don't know where it's going to end up."

Frederick Monroe first heard the story back in 2010 from a friend who was on his death bed.

"He heard it from his grandfather, who heard it from a lighthouse keeper in Frankfort," said Monroe.

It was a story where $2 million worth of gold and silver fell off a box car into Lake Michigan. That amount in 2017 is now worth more than $140 million.

"There were 60 kegs of silver and 100 boxes of gold," said Kevin Dykstra, a history buff and facilities director at Calvary Christian Schools.

Dykstra heard the story from Monroe and started doing research. His coworker at Calvary Christian Schools, Brad Richards, was soon on board.

"There's just too many connections and too many ties that after a while you start to listen and look at all the information and say, 'Wow, there's probably something here'", said Richards, a history teacher at Calvary Christian Schools.

The pair began their research, tracking six wagons of gold leaving Irwinville, Georgia. The gold was travelling with Confederacy President Jefferson Davis.

"Basil Duke recorded that he had loaded six wagons full of gold off from the train with Jefferson Davis that was heading down south, so we know from Duke's records that there were six wagons full of gold and silver," said Dykstra. "23 hours earlier, it's recorded that there's 14 wagons. At six o'clock in the morning, these men are captured and inventory is done and there's only eight wagons, but there's 25 to 30 mules recorded. That tells me there's six wagons hidden in the woods."

Dykstra and Richards believe a few Union officers hid the fortune, leaving it alone until they could safely transport it north. The amateur historians say the gold eventually made its way to Muskegon and into the hands of Charles Hackley. Hackley in turn spent millions of dollars on the City of Muskegon, building schools, hospitals and Hackley Park, where the story takes us to now.

"The park takes the shape of a Confederate flag," said Dykstra. "There's a lot of people saying that a lot of parks take that shape with the crossing sidewalks and I'm totally good with that. The reason I felt it was is because I realized where the funds were that built the park. Charles Hackley would've paid some type of a tribute to the people of the south."

Dykstra says Hackley wasn't giving a nod to the South, but rather honoring the lives lost who helped him earn the gold fortune.

"I know that gold came at a price," said Dykstra. "People lost their lives and he benefited from it."

"I grew up in Muskegon and Hackley was an incredible philanthropist and benefactor to Muskegon."

The group continues to search for clues as to the whereabouts of the treasure in Lake Michigan. If they find it, it won't be a national treasure, but rather would belong to the state of Michigan.

Dykstra and Richards will be telling the story on Saturday, April 22 at 6:30 p.m. at Calvary Christian Schools.