By Tony Dokoupil | TheDailyBeast.com
Forrest Fenn has hidden a million dollars’ worth of antiques—and he wants you to discover it. Is he a modern-day treasure hunter or a grave robber? Tony Dokoupil digs into the mysterious scheme.
“I’m sure not going to die in a hospital bed,” Forrest Fenn likes to say, and at 82 years old his is not an idle promise. He has spent his life as a treasure hunter, a real-life Indiana Jones who has bought, sold, traded, and dug his way to a peerless collection of artifacts. Now he is determined to avoid becoming “the leftovers of history” himself. And he recently set in motion a plan he thinks will make headlines—a thousand years from now.
Behind the adobe walls of his Santa Fe compound, inside the red, pantry-size steel vault that protects some of his most valuable pieces, Fenn says he opened an antique lockbox and began to fill it with more than a million dollars’ worth of treasure. He tossed in ancient figurines, a 17th-century Spanish ring, and turquoise beads excavated from a cliff dwelling near Mesa Verde. He added American eagle gold coins, gold nuggets, a vial of gold dust, two gold discs, and “a lot of jewelry,” including rubies, sapphires, and diamonds. Among these wonders he included a copy of his own autobiography, rolled and stuffed into an ancient olive jar. Then he went “into the mountains north of Santa Fe,” Fenn says, and hid the lockbox, to be found by anyone who can decipher the clues embedded in a 24-line poem that ends: “So hear me all and listen good,/Your effort will be worth the cold./If you are brave and in the wood/I give you title to the gold.”
But Fenn isn’t done. When the time comes he hopes to shove one more element in with the bounty: his own dead body. “When people find the treasure, they’ll find my bones,” he explains, with the sound of his native Texas in every syllable. “But my bio will be inside so at least they’ll know who I was.” A man who most certainly is not going to die in a hospital bed.
As bizarre as it sounds, Fenn’s plans for his death mirror the way he has lived. For nearly two decades, he ran one of the world’s finest art galleries, catering to people atop the totem pole in Washington and Hollywood, from President Gerald Ford and John Wayne to Jackie Kennedy and Cher. They came for major works by Remington or Russell or O’Keeffe. Or for Native American antiquities that surpassed the Smithsonian’s. Or for the mirage like experience of it all, the private planes and chauffeured limos, the guest houses with gold fixtures, catered meals, and in-house masseuse service. Or just to see Fenn hand-feed his favorite pet, a Louisiana alligator named Beowulf.
Forrest Fenn has hidden a million dollars of his treasure—and he wants you to find it.
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