“The chest has been found!!!” announced Forrest Fenn in an unassuming blog post published on Saturday 6 June. Over 10 years ago, the eccentric antiques dealer created one of the most notorious treasure hunts in recent history after burying a chest full of valuables worth between US$1-2 million (£780,000-£1.6 million).
Following the 2008 economic crash, Fenn decided to hide a 20lb (9kg) treasure chest in the depths of the Rocky Mountains. He hoped the prospect of its discovery would boost morale and in turn encourage people to “get off their couches” and discover the great outdoors.
“I found a beautiful little Romanesque treasure chest and I started filling it up with gold coins and gold nuggets and about 280 rubies. There are two salon sapphires, there are eight emeralds, a bunch of diamonds, but mostly gold,” revealed the 89-year-old millionaire during an interview a few years ago. Pre-Columbian artefacts and Chinese carved jade figures were also included in the bounty.
An estimated 350,000 people have since searched for the treasure, with many quitting their jobs and spending large amounts of savings trying to solve the mystery. At least four people have died in the search. Authorities asked Fenn to call off the treasure hunt after a second person lost their life in 2017, but he instead released a statement pleading with searchers to be more safety conscious.
Fenn embedded several clues detailing the treasure’s location in a poem he published in 2010. Called ‘The Thrill of the Chase’, nine hints were scattered amongst six stanzas of the poem.
“I do not know the person who found it, but the poem in my book led him to the precise spot,” explained the New Mexico based dealer. “It was under a canopy of stars in the lush, forested vegetation of the Rocky Mountains and had not moved from the spot where I hid it more than 10 years ago.”
The man requested that his name not be released and confirmed his discovery by emailing a photograph to Fenn. According to a report by the New York Times, Fenn is a former Air Force fighter pilot who now owns an art gallery in Santa Fe.
Other searchers have begun to criticise the find, however, with lawsuits already taking shape. “He stole my solve,” accused Barbara Anderson, a real estate attorney from Chicago who is filing an injunction in US District Court claiming that she is the treasure’s rightful owner. “He followed and cheated me to get the chest.”
This is not the first time that the law has gotten involved with the treasure hunt either. Colorado-born David Hanson also claimed that Fenn had provided misleading clues and unsuccessfully sued him for US$1.5 million in February 2020.
When Fenn was asked how he felt about the conclusion of his 10-year mystery, he said “I don’t know, I feel halfway kind of glad, halfway kind of sad because the chase is over.” Fenn added: “I congratulate the thousands of people who participated in the search and hope they will continue to be drawn by the promise of other discoveries.”