Grayson Ozias's travel diary
 Grayson Ozias's Travel Diary
Grayson Ozias kept wax cylinder records of his adventure across America. For the clues contained in the wax cylinders, see Wax Cylinders.
 Intro video
I left my home and all I knew because I feared the complacency that was growing in me. I feared that I would be content to never experience anything of America beyond the city in which I was born. But after hearing Whitman, this complacency became unthinkable, and my comfort became my greatest burden.
This great man's portrait of our land emboldened me to conquer fear and go forth, and I have never regretted it, even now. Which is why it is my hope that these words may in turn inspire another to conquer fear, and abandon comfort, and seek their unknown.
Therefore, I commit the fortune I have made in my travels back to the earth from whence it came. I leave all I have to America, so that America might set out and find it.
Yours most sincerely,
Grayzon Ozias IV
"In September of 2009, Levi's verified the existence of $100,000 that Grayson Ozias IV buried.
He left it there for you.
And so did we.
 Cylinder 1
Listen: Cylinder1 Audio
It all starts with the memory of lights on the Hudson and a wild cacophony of voices all around me. The sing-song banter of a thousand dialects hovered about my ear, calling to me. I'd departed the day's work at my father's offices hours before, having that day learned I was set to inherit the business. The effect of the news had brought about such impatient wandering that I could hardly remember how I'd come to be at that green door by the river.
Inside Brown's Tavern, I huddled alone. Two men at the next table, one Irish, one Dutch, spoke low to each other about old gold fields played out and new finds to their south, about the Panamanian passage and malaria's fallen. About places in America that might as well have been Siam, for all I knew of them. My mind drifted to the future I'd soon be tied to. Of endless ledgers and contracts, papers and responsibilities that would turn my city into a prison that might never release me. I saw that accepting this destiny would mean never knowing or seeing anything that the wild American voices around me spoke of. I realized that this, to me, would be a kind of death.
I looked over and the two men had left without my noticing, and under the table by the Irish man's chair was a postcard he'd dropped there. I reached over and picked up the card. On it were words that, though written to another, spoke directly to me: "It is all here for us, brother, if we go forth and seek it. Tarry not a second longer."
See Clue 1
 Cylinder 2
Listen: Cylinder2 Audio
I remember my father's reaction to the news of my leaving. He looked like he'd been informed of my death, with me standing there before him. It was impossible to make him understand it. I'd wager he never did, and I guess I'm sorry for that.
But Nathan Strauss, my closest friend, understood immediately. He nodded and smiled like he'd been expecting it for years without ever saying so. Nathan was the last of my old friends that I saw before leaving. We met near the steamer on which I'd soon depart, in front of the place his forbearers had once arrived in America. He told me that the name of it had sounded to them like "Kesselgarden", a place of noise and confusion, in their native tongue, and it certainly was that.
Nathan told me that he would look forward to my correspondence, and that his letters would be with his uncle Levi in San Francisco when I arrived there. Then he handed me that book, a book I'm holding right now as I speak these words to you. We said goodbye, and I turned towards the sea.
See Clue 2
 Cylinder 3
Listen: Cylinder3 Audio
After steaming from pier three and beyond the harbor, we made south along the coast. As we traced the land that first night, I found it impossible to sleep for all my excitement. I watched the dark outline of the shore slide past, occasionally daubed by a fellow traveler's fire gleaming through the trees.
After (obscured) the time we landed at (obscured) following a night of talk and drink, I left my compatriot and headed back across the slumbering campus. In a secluded green I found a gentleman sitting alone beside a flickering votive, lost in thought. I begged pardon for the intrusion but he waved off my apology and invited me to sit.
The man was memorializing a shipwreck that happened off that very coast thirty-odd years before. The ship, traveling the reverse of my route, had been caught in a hurricane and took more than 400 souls down with it. Though he'd survived the tragedy, the man's parents had not, and he'd wandered the town distraught, sleeping in this very spot until taken in by a kindly professor. This was the beginning of his new life.
I happened to have a stub of candle among my belongings, which I lit and added to his vigil. After a time, the man checked his watch and saw that it was eleven past eleven, telling me he must get back to his wife and child. He asked if I needed shelter; I gratefully accepted.
See Clue 3
 Cylinder 4
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Leaving Charleston after a time, I headed west. There remained many indications of our Civil War's wreckage to be seen as I traveled through the South. Atlanta still showed the scars of the nation's feuding, and there was a weary aspect to many whom I met. But I duly saw signs of a great inventiveness, not least in the Lightning Route of Montgomery, which I rode incessantly.
But the place I had long sought, that (obscured) town on the (obscured) ...might join them to play on the street, short of funds(?) I was. They obliged, and the next day I arrived at the spot with my violin. They at first laughed at my classical, stiff-backed way of playing, but I soon learned the improvised fiddle rags they required of me. Atlanta still showed the scars of the nation's feuding. I heard wild tales of privateers and such told between sazeracs. However our specific corner more often reminded me of my time spent in the pews.
"Show us the father, and that will be enough for us," I recalled, as I played.
See Clue 4
 Cylinder 5
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On the riverboat our band was a minor attraction compared with the many notables on the manifest. Indeed, one night I had the extravagant honor of joining Papa Jack Laine's Reliance Brass Band  I borrowed the horn of a member who had found himself a touch overcome by drink and then struggled mightily to keep up with Jack's prodigious players. The band and myself passed time at cards with some of our more affluent shipmates, plying tricks honed at Lafitte's and earning quite a return for our trouble.
Taking my share of the winnings, I disembarked in Davenport giving prompt (in audible)... After some time I found myself there craving I suppose a bit of the pomp of my recently departed life. And the setting was grand indeed - which surprised me for a city perched on Ojibwe's great water. I first indulged in a shave at their barbershop which I swear was tiled with silver dollars.
Then, still attired in my bandstand finery, I cut a suitable appearance in the ballroom that evening, and soon found myself dancing with a young woman of the most charming appearance and demeanor. My lips, unfastened by wine and song, I regaled her with tales of my intentions, and she admitted that she'd also long dreamt of escape and adventure. We lost ourselves in the enchantment of that evening, and that is all I'll say on the matter. Her father, the hotel's owner, was none too pleased with our dalliance, and I found myself making use of that fire-proof lodging's escape ladders earlier the next morning than was comfortable.
See Clue 5
 Cylinder 6
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Perhaps not knowing her father was the hotel's owner was a preventable misstep, but not knowing that a Missouri sheriff, forewarned of my arrival, was her second cousin -- that seems, even now, entirely beyond computation.
Whatever the gears of fortune, there I sat in that immense tomb, alone but for an unwakeable cellmate who showed no evidence of being more than a corpse. His presence and condition must have been unremarkable there, as the jailer who brought food and water made no gesture towards him, or even acknowledged his existence.
Late on my second night in that place, the man awoke. He told me his name was Knowles, and asked if I'd like to play a hand or two of poker. While we played, he told me of the sadness the war was causing him, turning brother against brother. Indeed, trying to disrupt such an altercation had been the cause of his imprisonment. It seemed strange that he spoke of a conflict near 30 years ended as if it were happening right outside, but I attributed this to his having just woken from such a slumber, and put it out of my mind.
I recalled that we played until I laid down a particular hand, which Knowles stared at, as if trying to remember something. "That's the last thing Hickok saw," he said, and suddenly returned to his cot without another word. The next day I awoke to my cell door being opened. Knowles was gone. I asked when he had been released, and the jailer looked at me like I was a madman.
See Clue 6
 Cylinder 7
Listen: Cylinder7 Audio
Maybe they figured my confinement with a spectre qualified as punishment enough, and I was soon released from the Jackson county jail. I headed west, drifting more or less without direction until I ended up in a hole in the wall town oddly dubbed "Never Sweat".
In a general store there I came up a bit short for some sundries I aimed to purchase. The kindly owners were about to give it on credit when a jocular man with whom they were familiar payed my entire bill. Referring to himself only as Robert, he said that if I'd help him load his wagon and haul his provisions back to his ranch, he'd happily put me up for as long as I needed.
During the many fine days that followed, Robert and I occupied a great deal of time playing horseshoes, often with his friend Elzy. Some days the three of us made perfunctory attempts to work his ranch, which was about as unproductive as any I'd seen in my life. However, the financials of the ranch seemed of little, if any, concern to Robert. And we were always soon back to horseshoes.
See Clue 7
 Cylinder 8
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Although my time spent at the ranch in Never Sweat is among my fondest memories, I soon felt a need to continue on my way. Robert presented me with an excellent painted colt on which I'd learned to ride during my stay. Objecting that this was too generous a gift, Robert winked and assured me that horses were ones' for the taking in that part of the world, and to think nothing of it. Thanking him, I rode west in to the Rocky Mountains.
By the time I set foot in that young town in the San Juans, it seemed to me that its river must have deposited those for whom it was named somewhere further down.
Those skinny locomotive tracks in and out of town and the stories and fortunes they carried kept the mood as high as the altitude. And though the scenery was as stirring as anything I'd yet seen in my travels, my eyes were heavy after so many weeks of riding to the Rockies. So I decided to drop off for a spell, and found myself drawn to a newer establishment with a marquee declaring lodging for the people, though it had a peculiar way of saying it.
See Clue 8
 Cylinder 9
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I was worn clear through from my many hundreds of miles riding through the vaguest of trails and sleeping mostly out of doors; but soon the Pacific was drawing me near and my excitement fortified me. I liveried my pony and set out into that strange arboreal necropolis.
After finding modest lodging, I sought somewhere warm and dry for a meal and draught or two. The Snug Harbor was filled with an equal portion of logging men and sailors. I soon found myself in the amusing company of a diminutive man who told me he hailed originally from Liverpool. A convivial sort, he kept the tavern keeper busy on our behalf, preventing me from ever adding a coin to the steadily growing pile before us. Needless to say, I soon felt a pressing need to get back to my boarding house while I was still able, but my new friend warned me that it was bad form in that region to leave a gift of draught unconsumed. Not wishing to insult him, I finished what was before me.
The next thing I remembered after that, I was in some dank cavern with the sound of snoring all around me. My shoulder ached as if from a fall; the light of a single, sputtering torch shone off the slick, stone walls and I was able to make out that we were behind rusty iron bars.
A group of men arrived and were directed by that Liverpudlian to gather us up for transport. They proceeded to wrap us in burlap as if for a burial at sea. I fained unconsciousness seeing that there was no chance for escape in that dungeon. They lowered us like logs onto a cart and started wheeling us down a cramped and stinking tunnel; the sound of ship bells grew louder as we went.
After a time, the cart stopped and the men began passing us down a gangplank like cargo. When they got to me, I suddenly set myself to convulsing until they lost their hold. Then I fell for what seemed an eternity before hitting the icy water. Their muffled yelling came down to me through the black water as I struggled to free myself from the burlap, which I finally managed to do only moments before my burning lungs forced my mouth open.
Given that the villains had seen fit to rob me of every coin, the following day, I reluctantly sold the horse Robert had given me. And though I thought to arm myself with the money and return to Snug Harbor to exact revenge, I eventually returned to my senses.
See Clue 9
 Cylinder 10
Listen: Cylinder11 Audio
(inaudible, ending in what sounds like "ouse" or perhaps the ending of Strauss) I finally felt fit enough to begin my explorations.
On one excellent day I wandered though the park finding my way to that glorious theater of nature. Such extraordinary examples of the natural world's cunning did I find there; a gruesome plant that traps and then feasts on insects not least among them.
Then I heard the sound of music, of a great band playing. I thought at first that I was dreaming, given the strange cast of mind that the garden's oddities had put me in; but then seeing many of the patrons hurrying towards the music's source, I realized it was real. Once outside I saw a crowd of astonishing size had gathered for a groundbreaking. From the auspicious place given the large and talented band and the proceedings, I gathered that this ceremony was music-related, and a local confirmed for me that this was indeed the case; that this would soon be a place where the city could enjoy concerts together.
Given the greed and ruthlessness that was behind so much of the West's existence, I admit that I was much reassured by this city's many acts of public-mindedness.
See Clue 10
 Cylinder 11
Listen: Cylinder11 Audio
It did cross my mind on more than one occasion that i might stay in San Francisco and make it my home. And the terrible news... terrible news from back East had brought Levi and myself closer together, making him feel like a second father to me.
However, I began to feel many of the same emotions that had driven me from New York all those years ago. I remembered my sense that I was taking this journey for Nathan as well as myself. I remembered the passage from Whitman that he'd quoted in his letter to me: "Be it as if I were with you. (Be not too certain but I am now with you.)" Maybe he now was.
But I also began to fear that I was fit for nothing but wandering, and pondered whether I would ever really be at home anywhere. Choosing to leave such questions to time, I said my farewells to Levi Strauss, and to San Francisco.
I had for some time been fascinated by the intoxication I saw gold cause in so many. This simple, earthly element had an unequalled power to get at the truth of men's souls - or perhaps it recreated their souls in its image. Whatever its true nature, I felt in me both a need to be tested further than I had been, and to attempt to carve out a fortune that I owed to no one but myself. And I saw in gold a chance to do both.
One day, whilst provisioning in a small-town Chinese mercantile in the Sierra foothills, I overheard two men speaking about a new find. Becoming aware of me standing nearby, one hushed up the other. I commenced pretending to inspect some shovel or another as they hurried away. Despite their attempts at stealth, I heard enough to give me some sense of their direction, and I knew it wouldn't take long to piece the rest of it together. As the Suns of the store's name wrapped my purchases for travel, the younger flashed me a conspiratorial grin. I was already hard at work on the puzzle of the find's location, and my focused expression must have given me away.
See Clue 11
 Cylinder 12
Listen: Cylinder12 Audio
Coming down out of the Sierras into what the old-timers still called Whiskey Flat, I felt myself transfigured... like I was leaving behind an old life and an old self, never to see either again. It wasn't the first time I'd felt that way, but this time was different. Behind the usual optimism and sense of possibility, there lurked a melancholy. "How many times could I transform," I wondered, "before there was nothing even I could recognize?"
Just up river from town, I bathed in the Kern and washed out the clothes Levi had given me upon leaving San Francisco. The surrounding country was beautiful. Ranchers had used the river's water to create a lush mesa that fed them and their cattle.
Lovely as it was in that valley, I had not come to that part of the world to be a rancher, and after a few days I assembled my things and departed for the hell that lay below us. Life in the desert was the most difficult I'd ever known. The savagery of the swings in temperature made it seem as if the land itself was committed to our extinction, and our attempts to pull gold out of it amounted to a daily war. The aptly-named mountain that loomed above us seemed like a devilish sentry to our endeavors, ready at a moment to squash us all on a whim.
But there was something else to the harshness of the place: a kind of purity. There was no ambiguity there - it was live or die, succeed or fail. I rose to its challenge, and I succeeded admirably at my find until selling out to Mooers, that he might add it to Yellow Aster.
See Clue 12
 Cylinder 13
Listen: Cylinder13 Audio
I suppose this odyssey all told is the cause for doing what I'm about to do, because somebody back those six years ago got me to leave my home and it's comforts behind -- and if it hadn't, I'd still be who I was: a ghost of a man walking through a half-lived life.
So as I now sense the road closing in on me, I want what I leave behind to help someone else likewise escape their sleepwalking life, because whatever happens to me from here on out, I regret nothing. Even the worst of a journey is better than wondering what the journey might have been. Six years ago, someone helped me see that.
Now I owe that much to another.
See Clue 13