Last summer, landscapers uncovered a small waterproof box hidden among the bushes at the City Hall parking lot.
Mystified, they opened it to find an intricately carved stamp of City Hall. With it were two books, each page stamped with a different, handmade picture.
They flipped through images of Snoopy, an otter, a flower, each dated and signed. On Aug. 4, the stamps stopped.
The workers realized they’d found a treasured belonging, lost just before they’d arrived.
And so the box began to travel around Schenectady, in search of its owner. It took eight months to find out that it had been deliberately placed where it was found.
First, the box went to the parking booth, where the attendant faithfully showed it to everyone who passed by. Her theory was that it must have been dropped by someone parking in the lot — perhaps someone in a hurry on their way to the nearby YMCA or Schenectady Light Opera Company.
No one claimed it, although many people admired the pictures.
Then it went to City Hall. Since the stamp illustrated that building, workers hoped the owner could be found there.
No dice. No one claimed the ability to carve such a picture. No one recognized the box at all.
Finally, it wound its way to The Gazette, with one instruction: Get this to its owner.
And that’s where Linda Edwards came into the story.
Edwards, of Niskayuna, did not carve the stamp. But she knew what it was: part of a series of “Scenes of Schenectady” that she and others carved for the county’s bicentennial and hid near historic spots.
There’s a stamp for Victorian ice skaters somewhere in Central Park. There’s a stamp for GE. There’s even a stamp for the Stockade-athon.
It’s part of a game called letterboxing, a more artistic version of the better-known geocaching game.
Letterboxing comes with its own code of conduct and strict rules of secrecy. Players carve a stamp that they use in place of their name and stamp into the logbook in every box they find. They also keep their own book, in which they record each box’s stamp, Edwards said.
The stamp in each box is to be left for the next player, not taken or vandalized. That’s why secrecy is so important — players are generally worried that if outsiders find a box, they’ll destroy or steal the one-of-a-kind stamp, not realizing how much time and effort went into making it, Edwards said.
Some geocachers have found letterboxes and mistaken them for a geocache, which is a box filled with small trinkets to take, Edwards said.
“Geocachers sometimes find the box and take the stamp, thinking it’s a trinket,” she said.
Geocachers follow GPS coordinates to their boxes. Letterboxers leave clues online that must be solved to find their stamps. The main site for beginners is Atlas Quest.
Edwards has carved and hidden 200 stamps in the United States, and sent three to England and Ireland. In 2009, for the county’s bicentennial, Edwards and others made a series of stamps to direct visitors to Schenectady’s historical places.
She had no idea the City Hall stamp had gone missing. Now she plans to hide it again — in a different place — and leave new clues to help fellow letterboxers find it again.