Sanibel Ghost Stories: The Treasure of Oliver Bowen – Pirate Gold, Diamonds, Grave Robbers and the Body in the Well.
Sanibel Island is rich in history, with a long and diverse past. Most of the year, Sanibel is seen as a sun-drenched island of dreams. But as All-Hallows Eve approaches, the days get shorter, the shadows lengthen, and the smell of pumpkin spice fills the air. It is during these long dark nights of Halloween, that the dreams turn to nightmares, and the ghosts of the past come out to roam the Islands.
One of the spookiest and most mysterious chapters in the Islands history is the bizarre story of Captain Oliver F. Bowen. Oliver Bowen was born in 1828 in the deep south, and as a young man became a Mississippi River Boat Pilot. When the Civil war broke out, Young Oliver enlisted in the Confederate Army as a River Pilot, running men, supplies and treasure past Union Blockades. After the war ended, Captain Bowen left the US to seek his fortune plying the waters between The West Indies and Africa. During these years, Captain Bowen maybe have taken part in some very shady dealings, including possibly piracy, human trafficking or smuggling. Little is actually certain about his activities in the post-war era, but there is a record that he spent a short period as a supervisor at a South African diamond mine.
While Bowen left after the war with very little, he soon returned a man of some considerable means. He made his home on Sanibel Island as a homesteader, intent on starting an agave plantation. He arrived on the Island with his new wife Mary, whom he met and married in Trinidad. He also brought all the supplies he would need to build his estate, including timber and slate roof tiles, as well as a substantial crop of Agave imported from Trinidad. Mary took care of most of the estate at Wulfert, while Oliver spent his days lazing around, or experimenting with the agave and other exotic plants with Thomas Edison. By this time, surely many Sanibel residents wondered just where Captain Bowen made and stashed his fortune, and speculation was rampant that he had a treasure in stolen diamonds and gold from smuggling and other illicit activities. This speculation was further fueled by Captain Bowen’s eccentric behavior.
He soon began construction of a deep well on his property and was seen guarding the well day and night from a hammock which he strung directly over the mouth of the well. Within the next year Oliver died unexpectedly and mysteriously and was buried in this well by his wife Mary. Mary claimed that her husbands’ final instructions were that he wished to be buried in the well, which would then be filled-in and the location kept secret. Many may have wondered if maybe Bowen was murdered for the treasure, and his body dumped into the well to cover up the crime. Others may have believed the treasure was buried on the beach, or still hidden in or beneath his coffin, and was still in the well waiting to be discovered.
Mary and her children returned to the West Indies soon after Oliver’s death, but several years later, two of Oliver’s sons were observed returning to Sanibel with two other men. Witnesses reported seeing the group headed to the site of the former homestead with shovels and other excavating tools. Shortly thereafter, the four men were again seen leaving the Island carrying what was described as “bulging suitcases”. Could this have been the treasure? Were the suitcases filled with millions in diamonds and gold, as many speculated? Did Oliver’s sons rob their own father’s grave? What is certain, is that none of the Bowens ever returned to the Island again, except for son Albert, who came back nearly 60 years later to erect a tombstone in his Father’s memory. This tombstone can still be found in the Wulfert area and is now a registered historic landmark.
Surprisingly, this was still not the end of the strange events surrounding Captain Bowen. More than 20 years after the tombstone was erected, in July of 1982, a journalist received a call from a family who had been exploring the area. It seems they had stumbled across the tombstone of Oliver Bowen and found that grave robbers had recently dug up the coffin. It is likely that these grave robbers were searching for the lost treasure and may have been disturbed in the act. The Sanibel Police were called and found that the coffin was still intact and still contained the remains of Captain Bowen, but no treasure was found. In the more than a hundred years since Oliver’s mysterious death, many people have reported eerie sensations while out in this area, as if they are being watched, even during daylight hours. Others have seen strange unexplained lights and shadows among the agave and palmettos late at night, said to be the ghost of Captain Bowen looking for his stolen treasure. So, whether you are ready for ghost hunting, treasure hunting, or just hunting for the perfect vacation on Sanibel Island, call Select Vacation Properties now!