By Jack Toomey
In the last edition of the Town Courier the life of Herman Rabbitt was discussed. He had been a frugal man even though he owned several farms, untold head of cattle, and cash that he had secreted away due to his distrust of banks.
Despite his wealth, Rabbitt lived in a ramshackle old farmhouse that had no plumbing on Clopper Road near Longdraft Road. When his longtime housekeeper finally said that she would never come back to work if Rabbitt did not improve the property or build a new house, he built a brick house on Brown Station Road.
At one time, Rabbitt owned thousands of acres of land in the Gaithersburg area, including the land now home to the Montgomery County Fairgrounds. Roger Burdette, a well-known and retired farmer, told a reporter years ago that Rabbitt also owned the land where Criswell Chevrolet stands now.
Burdette knew Rabbitt well and recalled his frugality. Rabbitt would sit outside the barn on Sunday mornings and tell tall tales to anyone who cared to stop by. Burdette said Rabbitt would never purchase tobacco products; if a visitor was smoking a cigar, Rabbitt would simply break it in half and smoke the unused half. Once when Burdette was with Rabbitt and they stopped at a country store for lunch, Rabbitt purchased two hot dogs and received a dime in change. Rabbitt objected and asked for two nickels, reasoning that if he lost a nickel he would still have one coin left. Burdette said that Rabbitt would always wear denim overalls and “looked like a pauper.”
Rabbitt would never have been mistaken for a bookkeeper, Burdette noted. Rabbitt would often scribble financial records on the kitchen wall of his old farmhouse. Once the IRS came calling and Rabbitt pointed to the wall. The agents stared at the scribbling and left.
It had long been rumored that Rabbitt, distrusting banks after the Depression, hoarded cash somewhere on his farms. Burdette said that after his new house was built, Rabbitt would wait until after 11 p.m. and then move portions of his money.
When Rabbitt wrote his will, he left sealed instructions inside a strongbox located in his house. Upon his death, attorneys William and James Miller went to the house and opened the strongbox. Retired Judge William Miller (now deceased) told this reporter that he had suspected that money was buried somewhere; when he found the directions, he thought that he better call a police officer.
Now retired Montgomery County Police Detective Jan Hutchison answered Miller’s call. Hutchison remembers sitting at his desk one rainy morning in October 1972 when his boss, knowing that Hutchison had been raised in Gaithersburg, directed him to report to the Rabbitt farm just off Clopper Road. Hutchison drove there and found the two attorneys, a half brother, and Rabbitt’s only son waiting for him. They went to the root cellar of the house where they saw markings on the wall that seemed to point to a place where something was buried. The men started digging and first discovered a metal plate with a long chain attached. The chain was attached to several pipes that were buried on end. The pipes were opened and inside they found tightly wrapped bundles of non-circulated $100 bills. Then they found other pipes that contained wrapped $50 bills. All were wrapped in newspapers from the 1930s. More digging revealed a 55-gallon drum and two large milk cans filled with silver coins. There were so many coins that coffee cans had to be used to scoop out the coins and place them inside gunny sacks.
Finally, the attorneys were satisfied that all of the money had been found. Since Rabbitt had an account at the Maryland National Bank, the money was loaded into police cars and driven to the bank. Hutchison recalled that when he was driving down Route 355 to the bank that he jokingly told one of the attorneys that there was a huge amount of money in the car and that he was the only person with a gun!
After all of the money had been carried inside, the doors of the bank were locked. The attorneys and bank personnel started counting and soon realized that there was well over a-half-a-million dollars in cash and coin. There was so much money that some of it had to be taken to another bank branch.
Later that evening uniformed officers were detailed to guard the property because word had spread and people had started to congregate on the land. Eventually it was determined that over $735,000 in coins and cash had been found in the cellar. Since all of the coins were silver, the true value was well in excess of the face value of the coins.
Herman Rabbitt’s will was contested and Judge Miller recalled that it took three years for the will to be settled. There was an old map found among his possessions. It was studied by his attorneys and they saw small “X” marks all over his properties. Since they could not pinpoint the exact locations, no attempt was made to dig there. Some old-timers insist that not all of the money was found.
The story of Herman Rabbitt’s treasure has been featured in some treasure hunting magazines over the years. There have been some half-hearted attempts to locate the remaining cash, but to this writer’s knowledge no one has been successful.
Today, shopping centers, apartments, the Motor Vehicle Administration, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and homes are built on Herman Rabbitt’s former properties. Who knows how much money is still buried in the ground?