HUNT FOR HIDDEN TREASURE STIRRED DISTRICT IN [EIGHTEEN] FIFTIES
The following article appeared in The Mount Pleasant (Westmoreland County PA) Journal on 4 June 1943. It was extracted and transcribed by the late John M. Kelley of Connellsville PA.
No section of Western Pennsylvania is more abundant in historic lore than the Mount Pleasant district and there are many almost-forgotten incidents which rival fiction in interest. Some of these happenings have grown almost legendary with the passage of the years, and among these the tale of the hidden Latta treasure is especially memorial.
The Latta farm in Mount Pleasant Township, mean Mammouth, was the scene of a search for buried treasure 90 years ago which stirred the entire countryside and attracted attention in even more distant communities.
On the farm resided Moses Latta, a bachelor, and his two spinster sisters, Elizabeth and Jane. The three by virtue of industry and thrift developed a substantial family inheritance into what in those days was regarded as a fortune.
Their farm was one of the most productive in the section and they worked it wisely and well. Besides raising agricultural products, they carried on an extensive cattle business which added to their wealth.
Their accumulation of money was aided by the fact that the farm produced practically everything required for the household. Meat, vegetables, grain for flour and meal, hides, flax which was spun into cloth, maple sugar, butter and eggs, fruit -- all these things were ready at hand and there was very little necessary for paying out any of the money received from the sale of farm products.
By the year 1850 the two sisters and their brother were well along in years and were extremely wealthy. The brother, Moses Latta, was recognized throughout Westmoreland County as an industrious farmer and shrewd bargainer, although he was considered somewhat eccentric.
Although banking facilities were available in Greensburg and Mount Pleasant, the elderly bachelor distrusted them and preferred to keep his cash at home where he could watch over it. He guarded carefully a large metal box in which his sisters on various occasions had observed a huge quantity of gold and silver coin, most of which appeared to be of large denominations. A glimpse of this box new and then obtained by such hired help as were employed at the farm from time to time, and cattle buyers and others who transacted business with Latta at the farm also reported seeing the hoard.
One evening in the late spring of 1851, Latta left the house carrying with him the heavy metal box supposedly filled with coin. He did not return home that night, and the next morning a search was begun.
The searchers had been out only a few minutes when they discovered the lifeless body of Moses Latta suspended by a rope from an apple tree in the orchard, some distance from the farmhouse. The box was nowhere in sight and a hasty inspection failed to reveal it in the vicinity.
Following a proper interval of mourning, Elizabeth and Jane Latta made a systematic search to locate the box, but without success. While each of these sisters had money of her own and they were co-owners of the farm, the bulk of the family fortune had been possessed by the brother.
It was generally believed that the aged man had buried the treasure somewhere on the property, but although a large part of the ground was dug up in the search, the box was not found.
The suggestion was then advanced that Latta might have been murdered and the box stolen, but this theory was abandoned in view of the fact that all evidence clearly indicated suicide.
There were a few in the community, too, who hinted that someone among the searchers might have found the box and made off with it and the contents without informing the Latta sisters of the find. This theory also was discounted in most quarters, however, because the sisters used great discretion in selecting helpers for digging and maintained so close a watch that for anyone to spirit even a part of the treasure off the premises would have been next to impossible.
At various times during the next few years new attempts to locate the treasure were made, but still without success.
After every likely spot on the farm acreage had been dug up, the Latta sisters and the other residents of the community as well, became convinced that the gold and silver was buried somewhere in the cellar of the farmhouse. Spurred by the belief that at least they were on the right track, the sisters made a thorough search of the cellar, even to the extent of dislodging some of the foundation stones, but the attempt was no more successful than those which had preceded.
The legend then became current that the ghost of Moses Latta hovered about the farm at night. Many persons claimed to have seen the figure of the old man, with cloak and broad-brimmed felt hat, moving about the farm. The sisters and hired hands, according to report, became so accustomed to the presence that they thought little of it. The story goes on that on several occasions the figure was watching and following in the hope that it might lead the way to the treasure, but each time it would suddenly and unaccountably disappear.
Later the two sisters died and their deaths were followed by renewed efforts by other persons to uncover the treasure, but all to no avail.
As the years went by the tale of the buried treasure and the unsuccessful searches continued to be told, and was embellished by accounts of weird happenings related by later seekers of the box of coin.
Persons who went down into the farmhouse cellar carrying candles reported that the light was invariably blown out by a gentle but chill breath of air before they could look about. Later a few older spirits went down into the cellar with lanterns, but again the light was mysteriously blown out before any kind of search could be made.
As long as 25 years after the death of Moses Latta, occasional attempts were made to locate the treasure. Digging was resumed on the farm grounds, especially in the orchard. Almost everyone who knew anything of the story at all, however, was firmly convinced that in the cellar lay the solution to the mystery. How this belief became so widespread has never been reasonably explained, in view of the fact that on the night the old man's death occurred his sisters saw him leaving the house while carrying the treasure box. Even the sisters, however, while still active in the search for some reason or other had fixed upon the cellar as being the most likely hiding place.
The reports of lights being blown out in the cellar served to discourage the would-be treasure hunters to a great extent, and after a time all the efforts gradually came to an end. As the years wore on the story of the treasure was forgotten by all except a few of the older people of the community.
The farm passed into new hands and later a portion of it became the site of the Mammoth mining plant, the shaft for which was sunk on what had been the Latta meadow.
In later years a portion of the original Latta tract became known as the Moore farm, and this part was purchased about nine years ago by the Federal Subsistence Homesteads Corporation at the time of the acquisition of farming lands as a site for the Westmoreland Homesteads, now the community of Norvelt.
At the time of the sale there were only a few persons living who remembered the history of the old lands and the curious story of the buried treasure, and possibly they might have wondered if by any change the improvement work scheduled would accomplish what everyone else had failed at the unearthing of the treasure.
But the secret still rests in the land and the mystery remains unsolved. So far as is known, the metal box and its precious contents supposedly buried by Moses Latta more than 90 years ago have never been found, and those who are familiar with the story believe that the box and its contents still rest somewhere beneath the surface of what was once the farm land. ░