2018-07-01 Forbes

$3 Million Dollar Treasure Remains a Mystery

By Margie GoldsmithContributori

Jul 1, 2018, 01:00am 

Imagine an antique bronze treasure chest with 265 gold coins, a 17th century Spanish emerald and gold ring, hundreds of cherry-sized gold nuggets, diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires, Pre-Columbian gold animal artifacts, ancient Chinese carved jade figures and an important turquoise bead bracelet excavated in 1898 from Mesa Verde. Total worth: estimated somewhere between two and three million dollars, although some claim it to be as high as six million.

So, who buried this treasure? Forrest Fenn, an 89-year-old Indiana Jones-type millionaire who once ran the most successful art gallery in the Southwest and collected these artifacts over the years. But in the late 1980’s, Fenn developed cancer, and after endless rounds of treatment, was told it could recur. He sold his art gallery and decided if he was going to die, he would do it with a bang and not a whimper. So in between bouts of chemo and radiation, he cobbled his treasure together and placed it in an antique bronze box. He planned to take a bottle of single-malt scotch, 52 sleeping pills and walk out into the desert mountains carrying the treasure chest; there, he’d end it all. But, the cancer never returned.

In 2010, since Fenn had already put the treasure together, he decided to go ahead and hide it --- note ‘hide,’ not ‘bury,’ he is quick to point out. Then, he wrote a self-published memoir, The Thrill of the Chasehttps://www.amazon.com/Thrill-Chase-Forrest-Fenn/dp/0967091780/ref=sr_1_... contained a 24-line poem with nine clues on how to find the booty. Fenn jokes that the treasure can be found somewhere in the Rocky Mountains north of Santa Fe, higher than 5,000 feet above sea level, not in Nevada, Idaho, Utah or Canada; and more than 300 miles west of Toledo, Ohio.

The adventure-loving octogenarian has received over 200,000 emails requesting additional clues. One seeker wanted to know, ‘is the gold going to rust?’ When two men fighting for the same parking space in Jackson Hole discovered they were both looking for the treasure, they searched together. A mother, writing that her son wanted to look in Grebe Lake, asked, ‘Does Yellowstone Park control the alligators?’ A few think the bronze chest will melt if there’s a forest fire and the gold will spill out.

One man who claimed that he found the treasure, is now saying the story is a fraud and that Fenn never hid the treasure. So what proof is there? Douglas Preston, a New York Times #1 best-selling author and friend of Fenn’s claims to have seen the contents of the chest before Fenn hid it. 'I held it with my own hands, and I can assure everyone this is no publicity stunt. He put things in there that would survive a long time and that would be interesting and unusual -- not just gold bars, which are kind of boring.  The chest itself is rare, 16th century Italian.'

Fenn says that one hunter got within 200 feet of the treasure, but so far, no one has found it. ‘The treasure is not easy to find,’ says Fenn, ‘but it certainly isn’t impossible. All someone has to do is solve the clues in the poem and the chest can be theirs.’ Fenn admits that one clue is the most important clue in the poem: Finding where warm waters halt.

Seven years ago, Dal Neitzel, a Washington State TV station manager and searcher started a  blog  https://dalneitzel.com/   to share clues with fellow treasure hunters. Since its inception, the blog has garnered nearly 17,000,000 views with Fenn’s own tales being the most popular (Fenn has now posted 240 stories). None of his tales offer additional clues, but the searchers analyze every word Fenn writes, always hopeful. On the blog’s discussion pages there are a quarter of a million comments.

In the last eight years, around 350,000 people have searched for the treasure. A few have gotten lost or stuck, such as a man stranded in the snow and found the next day by helicopter. Six have died searching: one was caught in winter weather, three drowned and two fell. Fenn has since added tips about staying safe. The treasure has also created problems for the feisty Fenn who has received a number of death threats including one from a man who said, ‘Tell me where the treasure is, or I will kill you.’

The search isn’t limited to the Rocky Mountains, either.  New York City cops caught a man digging in Central Park near the Alice in Wonderland sculpture because he’d heard that Fenn could quote from Lewis Carroll’s book. Another searcher asked, if his truck broke down in the mountains, would Fenn come and take him the rest of the way to the treasure?

No one except Fenn knows the location of the treasure– not his children, his grandchildren, not even his wife, Peggy, who says, ‘I’ve never asked because I know he wouldn’t tell me.’ Searchers flock to Santa Fe, especially in summer and fall, armed with shovels, pickaxes, satellite maps and metal detectors. Some arrive with pages of the nine clues and ‘clueless’ map ripped from his book.

Say Fenn, ‘I think I will be a little disappointed if someone finds the chest this summer. I have said many times that I didn’t care if someone finds it because the ambience of mystery will be gone, and a lot of people will be disappointed.’ He grins like the Cheshire cat and adds, ‘It is possible that someone will find the treasure this year, but they will have to figure out the clues first. They are not going to happen upon it.’

Sunday, July 1, 2018