From time to time there are cases of folks digging in remote areas of national parks, either for fossils, archaeological artifacts, or whatever. It's seldom that you hear of instances in which treasures were buried at a park site, but that's exactly what seems to have occurred nearly 18 years ago after a theft at San Juan National Historic Site.
Earlier this month some maintenance workers at the historic site were at work developing a new trail extension of the Paseo del Morro trail when their shovels uncovered three historic medals that had been stolen back in February 1992 from the park's Military Museum. Also taken was an 1898 Spanish carbine. A month after the museum break in, the carbine was recovered but the medals, in spite of all the investigative efforts, could not be located, according to a park release.
The medals in question had been awarded by the Spanish government to Colonel José Antonio de Iriarte y Travieso, commanding official of Castillo San Felipe del Morro, in recognition of merit and valor in combat during the 1898 Spanish-American War. Colonel Iriarte was also the last military governor of El Morro. The medals were donated by the descendants of Colonel Iriarte to the National Park Service in January 1963 to be exhibited in the Military Museum as a legacy to the future generations of Puerto Rico, according to the park.
The three medals represent the following distinctions for Colonel Iriarte: the Cross of María Cristina, for actions in combat given in lieu of a promotion for operations in Cuba in 1896; the Cross of María Cristina, for meritorious service during the bombardment of Puerto Rico in 1898; and the Cross of Military Merit, awarded for distinguished action in the war against Cuba.
If you're interested in seeing the historic medals on your next trip to the park, you can view them at the Cultural Resources Division, located in Castillo San Cristobal. The division is open from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
San Juan National Historic Site is comprised of Castillo San Felipe del Morro, Castillo San Cristóbal, Fort Juan de La Cruz (El Cañuelo), the San Juan Gate, and most of the City Wall. El Morro and San Cristobal are open everyday from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Admission to one fort is $3.00 for adults and $5.00 for both; children 15 and under are free.