Annual Hatchet Hunt a reminder of truth, honesty

  • The staff at Kessler Investments, of Athol, recently donated a new bicycle to the annual Hatchet Hunt, held each year on Presidents Day at the Athol Community Elementary School. Along with three hatchets, there are many prizes area kids can hunt for as well. Left-to-right — Catey Deveneau, Director of Client Relations, and Kimberly Stewart, Director of Planning for Kessler Investments, and Hatchet Hunt organizer Jason Robinson Submitted photo

  • The three hatchets up for grabs at the 96th annual Hatchet Hunt, being held Monday beginning at 9 a.m. at the Athol Community Elementary School. This year’s hatchets were mounted and engraved by the L.S. Starrett Co.  Photo by Jared Robinson—

Staff Writer
Friday, February 16, 2018

ATHOL  — The current forecast for Presidents Day calls for it to be 50 degrees and cloudy, making it one of the most mild days for the annual Hatchet Hunt that the organizers can remember.

“There have been hunts where it’s sub-zero temperatures and hunts where the snow is coming down hard, but this one looks like it might be the warmest in recent years,” said Jason Robinson, one of the organizers of the annual hunt for prizes that attracts hundreds of area children every year.

Since 2011, husband and wife Jason and Laura Robinson have organized the annual reminder of truth and honesty, first created in 1922 by Johnnie Johnstone, director of the YMCA for more 50 years. Johnstone founded the Hatchet Hunt as a lesson and reminder of the honesty and integrity of our nation’s first president, who, as legend tells, was given a hatchet as a gift on his sixth birthday. Testing the hatchet, the future leader damaged his father’s cherry tree, believed to be the only one of its kind in the new country. When confronted about it, George Washington is said to have told his father, “I cannot tell a lie … I did cut it with my hatchet.” Washington’s father, forgetting his anger, replied, “I would rather lose a dozen cherry trees than that you should tell one falsehood."

The famous legend of Washington, the hatchet and the cherry tree turned out to be a false one. It was a fabrication created by Mason Locke Weems, a minister and early biographer of Washington. Upon the late President’s passing, the public was clamoring to learn more about the man, and Weems took it upon himself to deify the man by writing more on his private virtues than his public accomplishments, hoping to present the first president as the perfect role model for young Americans, and chose to focus on Washington’s relationship with his father, which few knew very much about, as the man died when Washington was 11 years old. 

Legend or falsehood, the hatchet became synonymous with Washington, to the point where the independent school newspaper for George Washington University is “The GW Hatchet.”

Now in it’s 96th year, the Hatchet Hunt still stands as a reminder to the integrity of the young boy in the story – that honesty is worth more than anything that can be bought with mere money. But, some of the traditions of the hunt itself have changed over the years. For example, the hiding of actual hatchets over the years has long been abolished, instead prize tags are hidden with the name of the hatchet written on it. The number of hatchets hidden has grown to three, as well; the George Washington and Johnnie Johnstone Memorial Hatchets were joined by the Lt. Robert Shepardson Hatchet in 2012 to coincide with the town’s 250th anniversary and the retirement of long-time event organizer and Athol Fire Lieutenant Robert Shepardson.

Along with the three hatchets is more than 50 prizes donated by area residents and businesses wishing to help bring a little late-winter joy to kids participating. Prizes range from toys and games to new bicycles.

Kids ages preschool to 14 years are welcome to participate, with there being a special place for the preschoolers to search for prizes.

Prize tags are hidden in the early mornings before the hunt and each tag’s location is tagged using GPS so that hints can be given out later should some prize tags go unfound.

The event is sponsored primarily by the Athol Area YMCA and Athol Fire Department, with assistance from the Athol Lions, who will be giving out free hot dogs and cocoa to the kids that was donated by Hannaford.

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