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A Farmer's Failure 125 Years Ago Leads To The Discovery Of Ghost Apples

Jennifer Wing
Apple hunter, David Benscoter, looks for apples thought to be extinct on Steptoe Butte in Eastern Washington.

This story originally aired on October 28, 2017.

What if something was thought to be gone forever? Would you still go looking for it? There is a man named David Benscoter, who does just this.

Benscoter spends a lot if his time exploring an area of Eastern Washington known as the Palouse. He searches abandoned homesteads, looking for varieties of apples that are believed to be extinct.  

“These trees, they’re just going to go away someday. And if I don’t do it there’s no one who’s going to search for them,” says Benscoter.

It turns out, some of these fruits that only existed as watercolor paintings in the pages of botany books, are still alive.


Benscoter has rediscovered three apples that were thought to be lost forever: the Nero, the Dickinson and the Arkansas Beauty.


It was on the slopes of Steptoe Butte, a 3,600 foot pinnacle of earth that looms over the Palouse in Whitman County, where David found the ultimate lost apple mystery.


“On that early fall day,” recalled Benscoter, “I came and sat at a table, just as we're sitting here and I looked at the ground and the ground was absolutely covered in apples, and I was totally perplexed because these were apples on the ground in early September.”


Where most people would have only seen a fragrant pile of rotting fruit, David saw evidence of a colossal failure.


In this story, find out how one farmer’s tragedy and loss 125 years ago is leading to a treasure trove of new discoveries.


Jennifer Wing is a Producer for our weekly show, Sound Effect.