Cracking a Real Code to Hidden Confederate Gold

Masonic mania: The action flick "National Treasure," starring Nicolas Cage, is certain to renew interest in two secret societies beloved by conspiracy buffs: the Knights Templar and the Freemasons. It's also giving a boost to a book by Washington journalist Warren Getler, who spent six years researching Masonic cabals and arcane codes to tell the true story of a Confederate underground that hid gold caches in remote outposts in the South and Southwest.

Published last year, "Shadow of the Sentinel: One Man's Quest to Find the Hidden Treasure of the Confederacy" will be reissued in paperback Dec. 1 under the new title "Rebel Gold," and Getler is in demand to talk about how he and co-author Bob Brewer pursued the mystery with help from the National Archives. Their book details Brewer's efforts to unravel stories passed down by his uncle and great-uncle about gold buried by a secret society, the Knights of the Golden Circle, in hopes of funding a second War Between the States.

Getler, 43, a former Wall Street Journal reporter (and son of Post ombudsman Michael Getler) calls "National Treasure" great entertainment but historically far-fetched. There's no evidence that the European Knights Templar treasure ever made it to America in Colonial times. However, during the Civil War and thereafter, "high-ranking Masons did bury treasure in America that is being found today through a coded system of clues, some of which are inscribed above ground and some of which are buried," he tells us. "Our book is founded on tangible evidence."

In the movie, Cage swipes the Declaration of Independence to obtain a clue. At the National Archives, Getler and Brewer discovered a Masonic-Confederate code in the inside cover of a pocket-size Bible seized from a Knights of the Golden Circle leader arrested by Union forces near the end of the war. "I'm not accusing anybody of ripping off our book," Getler says, "but the parallels are fascinating."

David Sedaris's Upcoming Page-Turner: A Helper Monkey

* Reading David Sedaris's strange, self-absorbed stories is funny enough, but hearing him recount them onstage is nonstop hilarity -- as a sold-out crowd at Georgetown University attested with ringing laughter Thursday night during the best-selling author's appearance for the New Yorker magazine's college tour. Now imagine Sedaris reading at the lectern with the accompaniment of "helper" monkeys.

It could happen soon. "If I could have monkeys turning pages for me, I would be set," he told us. "You can't go wrong with monkeys."

Then he explained, in all seriousness, how he recently met with a nonprofit organization in Boston called Helping Hands, which trains capuchin monkeys to assist paraplegics with daily tasks. "I'm going to do fundraisers for them," he said, "and they will fly out monkeys for me."

Before the student audience, Sedaris joined fellow humor writers Andy Borowitz and Christopher Buckley in readings and recollections of career highlights. Buckley reminisced about "the golden age of satire," 1992 through 2000. "Life was low-hanging fruit. I think we'll look back on the Clinton years as very good years."

Borowitz, who also does commentary for CNN, told of finding himself in the network's green room recently, introducing Archbishop Desmond Tutu to Amy Fisher. "And who walks in but Alyssa Milano, who played Amy Fisher in a TV movie!"

Sedaris, of course, cited "being in a room with eight monkeys" in Boston. "Monkeys were climbing all over me. I've wanted that all my life."

SQUIBS

* Never too early: C-SPAN, the official Washington wonk network, is proud to announce the debut of "Road to the White House 2008" this evening with its coverage of recent remarks by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) at an awards dinner in Manchester, N.H. "Note: Sen. McCain has not announced that he is running for President in 2008," C-SPAN publicists helpfully point out.

* How many politicians out there practice what they preach? Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) certainly does. The Hill newspaper, in an interview in last week's edition, queried the 31-year-old lawmaker about bedroom ethics, asking: "Do you believe that premarital sex is immoral?" Nunes replied: "Being I'm Catholic, yes." The reporter pressed on: "So does that mean you didn't consummate your marriage before you got married in January?" Nunes: "My wife is going to kill me, but yes, that is the answer." The Designer Is Now a Marquee Name * Breaking with tradition has always been a goal of Joy Zinoman, the major-domo at Studio Theatre. She took a risk in the '70s by setting up around 14th and P streets NW, in the midst of declining businesses and boarded-up buildings. And last night Studio broke from tradition again by naming its new theater not for a deep-pockets donor but for longtime designer Russell Metheny, The Post's Jacqueline Trescott reports. For 28 years Metheny has been a part of the growth, the risks and the look of Studio, now a complex of four theaters. A new double-height theater with up to 240 seats will carry his name. "He is the designer of every inch of this space. We have done 60 plays together and so this is a tribute to his talent and lifelong friendship," said Zinoman, Studio's founder and artistic director.

With Anne Schroeder