Longform

Two Long-Lost Maps Spark a Quest to Find Forgotten Pyramids in the Florida Swamps

Upstairs at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science, past smiling employees at the front desk and cubicles full of researchers and staffers, lies a secluded room behind a password-protected door. Inside, unmoving taxidermies of bears, snakes, and birds stand next to rows of sterile bones, shells, and antique instruments of science.

The L-shaped room with industrial ceilings and wooden floors has been dubbed "the Curious Vault." Shelves and drawers are crammed full of every kind of weirdness from the natural and human world, most donated by the public over the past 60-plus years.

On a quiet weekday afternoon in April, I was working in the vault with Kevin Arrow, the museum's art and collections manager, digging through old files. As a writer and researcher for the museum, I've discovered and told the stories of objects that the public has never seen, from a bizarre weather-recording device owned by the Deering family to 1920s paintings made underwater using an experimental pre-scuba machine. With the museum preparing to move everything to its new facility on Biscayne Bay downtown, we've been diving into the darkest corners to catalogue what's hidden there.

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Nathaniel Sandler