Are you like me and love a good treasure/scavenger hunt? Just to give you an idea, Indiana Jones has always been one of my favorite characters. I’m a history nerd, so anything that involves traveling and uncovering a mystery is absolutely my cup of tea. I was watching the Travel Channel the other day, which is where I get most of the inspiration for these Fun Fact Friday posts. I was watching Expedition Unknown and living vicariously through my hero, Josh Gates (Go set your DVR to Travel Channel on Wednesday night at 9. I’m not kidding. Do it now. If you are interested in this kind of thing, you won’t regret it) and was intrigued by the topic of the episode.
How would you feel if I told you there is a real-life treasure hunt you’ve never heard of, and it’s been around since 1982? One where you could claim a small treasure as your own? Enter Byron Preiss and his book The Secret (no, not self-help book).
AKA The Puzzle Master
Byron Preiss was a sci-fi/fantasy book publisher when the genre was incredibly popular. In 1981, he took a cross country road trip. He stopped in twelve major cities, taking photographs and notes. He then sent the photos to illustrator John Jude Palencar, asking him to create a painting incorporating each landmark he photographed for each city. Those illustrations would then be matched to a verse in his book, The Secret. Before his book was published, he went back to each city and, dressed as a construction worker, buried a Plexi-glass box in a predetermined location.
Now how does this whole thing work, you ask? The illustrations represent a major city, and the verses are clues that give precise directions as to where to find the box. In each plexiglass box there is an ornate ceramic box containing a matching key. The lucky finder of the key would then mail it to Preiss and he would in turn give them a precious jewel that matched an image in that illustration.
|The treasure box found in Chicago in 1983
In 1983, a trio of uber-smart teenagers found the first box in Chicago. Another one was found in 2004 in Cleveland by two coworkers at a law firm from New Jersey.
Preiss expected that all the boxes would have been found within months, underestimating the difficulty of his riddles. Unfortunately, he took the locations of the other ten boxes with him to his grave, having been killed in an auto accident in 2005.
In this Expedition Unknown episode, Gates gets to speak to Preiss’s daughters. They tell him that he was very interested in immigration from 1890s-1900s. His parents immigrated to America through Ellis Island, and his heritage was very important to him. The actual plot of the book is about fairy creatures that leave Europe to come to America and bury treasures wherever they settled. So each of the locations where the boxes are buried would be places known for a particular group of immigrants. Gates also spoke to illustrator John Jude Palencar. Palencar says that he doesn’t know where the boxes are and is legally bound not to reveal anything he knows. As Preiss’s good friend, he says that he would never tell anyone where they are even if he did know, because he feels he would be betraying Preiss’s legacy. He therefore burned all original photos.
Well, Get Digging!
Although this online community has been able to work out some of the clues, the boxes might never all be located due to constant construction, frequent renovation, and even Mother Nature’s destructive temper tantrums.
Oh and just as some motivation for my local friends, Boston was a big deal for immigrants in the late 1800s- early 1900s. That box has yet to be found. Here’s the clue most of the hunters on the website thinks represents “Beantown:”
If Thucydides is
North of Xenophon
Take five steps
In the area of his direction
A green tower of lights
In the middle section
Who pass the coliseum
With metal walls
Face the water
Your back to the stairs
Feel at home
All the letters
Are here to see
Lit by lamplight
In truth, be free.
So if you have roughly $30 hanging around and a ton of extra time on your hands, pick up a copy of The Secret, get out there, and start digging, people! You never know what you could find.