3 Apr 2013

Forrest Fenn: 'Nobody is gonna accidentally trip over this thing'

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 2:10 pm on 3 April 2013
Forrest Fenn

Photo: John Burnett / NPR

Back in 2010, millionaire art dealer Forest Fenn sparked a massive treasure hunt with the claim that he'd hidden a bronze chest full of gold, gems and "thrilling artefacts" somewhere in the Rocky Mountains.

His self-published memoir of that year, The Thrill of the Chase, included a poem containing nine clues which Fenn said would lead to the treasure.

In the years since, tens of thousands of treasure hunters have tried their luck to no avail and sometimes to their peril.

After two deaths in the last 18 months, the New Mexico State Police chief says Fenn (who is now 83) should call off the hunt.

Jim Mora spoke to Fenn back in 2013.

Fenn tells Jim Mora he has been a collector all of his life.

"I found my first arrowhead in Texas when I was 9. And it was such a thrill it launched me on a wonderful trip of discovery for all these years."

After a tour of Vietnam and a very successful career dealing art and antiquities, in 1998 Fenn was diagnosed with kidney cancer and given a 20% chance of survival.

"After that soaked in a few days, I just decided I've had so much fun collecting these things over the last 70 years … why not let some other people have the same thrill of the chase that I've had all these years?

"Part of my motive for writing the book was to get kids off the couch and away from their texting machines and out of the game room and out into the mountains."

So what is in the chest?

"There are 20.25 pounds of gold, there are 265 gold coins (most of them are American eagles and double eagles… there are pre-Colombian gold pieces that are 2,500 years old, there's some ancient necklaces, there are hundreds of rubies, diamonds, emeralds, two beautiful Ceylon sapphires..."

It also contains a mummified falcon from Ancient Egypt, Sitting Bull’s peace pipe and Fenn's own autobiography, printed so small that it can only be read with a microscope, he says.

"I thought that somebody who might find my chest whenever that is would want to know something about the crazy guy that did this thing."

Fenn says he has never given the value of the treasure because he doesn't know it, but people who saw the chest before he hid it estimated 1 to 3 million US dollars.

"The person that finds that treasure chest and raises that lid for the first time he is just gonna take a big gulp."

As well as the poem containing nine clues, The Thrill of the Chase also has hints to help with the clues.

"Nobody is gonna accidentally trip over this thing. They're gonna have to figure out the clues."

Since kicking off the treasure hunt, Fenn has received countless emails, including 18 marriage proposals, he says.

"My wife says 'What do you tell these 18 women who want to marry you?' I said 'The first thing I ask them is if they have an aeroplane.' … My wife didn't think it was that funny."

He hopes the person who finds the chest is someone who needs it.

"I've been rich and I've been poor, and I think that having enough money is a lot better than having a lot of money."

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