Sunday, April 21, 2013

Treasure Hunting

We have an eccentric neighbor living down the street and you may have even heard of him due to his appearances on the Today show.  His name is Forest Fenn and he is a writer, an amateur archeologist and a dealer. His recent book called, “The Thrill of the Chase” is a memoir and within it lies an enticing tale with clues to a treasure he has assembled and hidden.

In some circles he is famous and in others infamous. To briefly touch on the latter, he was among those raided a few years ago by Federal agents.  They were looking for artifacts that were illegally being taken out of the ground and sold.  One problem with taking on Forest was that he did much of his digging on a site that was privately deeded to him and so he was never indicted.   Others said that he should not be digging at all and that should be left to trained archeologists or better yet the artifacts should be left in the ground for future generations to excavate with more advanced tools… whenever that might be!

Our first interaction with Forest was when we were asked to visit his home to evaluate a 16th century painting and decide whether it was Spanish or South American.  Every inch of every wall in his home was coved with objects he had collected.  The painting, however, was quite small and was kept in this large walk-in vault.  This past week, years after we visited his home for the first and last time we found out one of the reasons for the vault, that was where he assembled his treasure.

Two renowned authors recently came together in a panel to question the less well known author Forest Fenn.  They packed  the room at Collected Works, Santa Fe’s private bookstore, one of the best anywhere, that  hosts lectures and panels on the arts and particularly welcomes authors.

Michael McGarrity, Douglas Preston, & Forest Fenn

All three panelists were Santa Feans. Few of you will not have heard of the author Douglas Preston who has written or co-written about twenty thrillers, covering all kinds of subjects from an Italian serial killer to one centered around the ancient Incas.  Many have been #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list.  He is also a journalist and written for magazines such as “The New Yorker”, “The Smithsonian”, and “National Geographic”.

Another well known author is Michael McGarrity the author of a dozen crime novels many of them best sellers as well.  He was a deputy Santa Fe County sheriff and held other positions in law enforcement.  He was a case worker for the public defender’s office as well as a trained psychotherapist all before he turned to writing full time.

They were there to testify that they had actually seen the treasure chest in Forest’s vault (we had not) and Preston gave a vague description of its contents.  But they were also there to tease Forest and ask questions about the treasure and where it might be hidden. He was masterful at answering giving amusing responses without any information therein.   Watching his wife and family who happened to be sitting in my row I deduced that they were used to his tall tales and sense of adventure. It is, however, generally believed that the treasure actually exists. Forest has been interviewed about it for many venues beyond his recurring Today show appearances.  If you look on the internet you will find over 20 pages relating to Forest and his treasure.  There was recent press on a woman rescued after she got lost in the mountains searching for it.

We learned that in 1988 Forest was given a 20% chance of living another 2 years but as evidenced by this panel he is still with us.  He decided then that he would like to give something back in a rather novel way.  He bought a Renaissance bronze casket 10X10x 6 inches for which he paid $25,000 to fill with enticing treasures. For years he bought gold nuggets one being reported to be as large as an egg.  There is also jewelry and other precious items having been reported to be worth anywhere from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars.  He hid it somewhere North of Santa Fe in the Rocky Mountains, and more he will not say.   He wrote a poem which appears in his book with clues to help lead to the treasure that he says may or may not be buried.

He told us he has received over 16,000 emails with 31 of the individuals claiming to have already found it, and giving a great deal of detail showing that they actually had not. He said somewhat facetiously that he had hidden the treasure for every redneck in Texas and he hoped it would be found by a redneck driving a truck with his 12 kids in the back.  In other words he hoped it would help a less fortunate family.   But what he was most serious about was that he hoped the hunt would inspire young folk to get out more and explore nature.  They should get their faces out of their computers and come out of their basements and their game machines and go into the great outdoors.

There were many questions and responses but in my opinion the best came from a young boy standing through the entire hour clutching an autographed copy of Forest’s book.  He wanted to know if a person’s life would be changed if they found the treasure.  Forest replied, “it is better to have enough money than a lot of money”.

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