During his 90s, Forrest Fenn was a lot to a lot of people.
Art dealer. Author. Fighter pilot. Historian.
It turns out he was in the dream business too.
Almost a year after the discovery of Fenn’s treasure, it is clear that the fantasies of finding fortune and / or fame have not subsided for the thousands of people who remain obsessed with mystery and man.
Despite the discovery of Fenn’s cache in 2020 – and soon after, the death of the eccentric Santa Fe entrepreneur who hid a chest of gold and other valuables somewhere in Wyoming – the Frenzy he created is as alive as ever.
“In some ways the story is about Forrest Fenn, but it’s also about this thing that he created and what it made people do, what it made people do. ”, Said journalist Daniel Barbarisi. “He created this crazy phenomenon that in some ways shouldn’t have happened, but it did.”
But there is no time spent on treasure hunting; the passion for Fenn’s treasure remains omnipresent. Although a medical student named Jack Stuef discovered the treasure last year, researchers are still heading to Wyoming to search for the undisclosed site where he found it. Among them is Cynthia Meachum, a longtime treasure hunter from New Mexico; she left for Yellowstone Park on Monday.
The Fenn heritage isn’t just found in the wilderness; it’s in the books and movies being produced. This month, Alfred A. Knopf will publish Barbarisi’s book, Chasing the Thrill: Obsession, Death, and Glory in America’s Most Amazing Treasure Hunt.
Meanwhile, Sonya Sherman, a film student at the University of California at Santa Barbara who began searching for treasure in the mountains around her hometown of Boulder, Colorado, is making a documentary titled Fenn. She and her team recently came to New Mexico to interview people and shoot pictures.
All of them, like so many others, still pass through the intersection between Fenn and his treasure. Traffic is unlikely to slow down anytime soon.
“It’s so crazy,” Meachum said on the eve of his trip to Wyoming to find the treasure site. “For some of us it’s like a spiritual journey. It’s a spiritual journey Forrest Fenn.”
It’s not just keen researchers who are still obsessed with the thrill of the chase – the title of Fenn’s autobiography, which contained a 24-line poem full of clues to where the chest was.
The blogs linked to Fenn continue to offer up-to-date thoughts and news about the treasure and the man behind it. At least one Hollywood studio has announced a feature film based on a man’s search for treasure. Barbarisi said he heard about several potential documentaries in the works on the quest.
It’s no wonder, said Barbarisi, given Fenn’s impact.
“How could he not forever be the guy who let the treasure hunt down on the modern world?” he said.
The hunt, he said, “captured a lot of people who were looking for something, and it gave them something to strive for, to strive for.”
In that sense, he said, Fenn managed to do something few people can do: he created a community of hundreds of thousands of people, all with one goal in mind.
“There’s something very American about it in the sense that everyone believed they could win this thing,” Barbarisi said. “But only one guy in the end gets the prize.”
This quest fascinates Sherman. She interviewed treasure hunters, friends of Fenn, search and rescue personnel, law enforcement officials and others for her documentary.
She drew the attention of her film teacher and other students to support her film proposal with one line: “There’s this story about a $ 2 million rocky mountain scavenger hunt.”
It did. Of 16 film projects proposed for funding and support in his class, his was one of four to gain approval.
Sherman thinks she knows why.
“It sparks the inner child in all of us, the idea of a treasure hunt,” she said.
But in summing up the whole story, she, like Meachum, said two words to describe it all.
Sometimes nobody wins
The decade-long search for Fenn’s treasure spawned an annual gathering of campers at Hyde Memorial State Park known as the Fennboree, as well as several documentary films and hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles. The state’s Department of Tourism even produced a video on the research and posted it on a state website.
In 2015, the city of Santa Fe went into the act, proclaiming May 25 as Thrill of the Chase Day, in recognition of “visitors who have traveled from around the world to Santa Fe and surrounding areas in an attempt to research the treasure Forrest Fenn hid … increasing the prosperity of his accommodation and service businesses.
While the hunt sparked excitement for the wilderness and attracted outdoor treasure hunters to the Rocky Mountains, the hunt also brought tragedy. At least five people died in search of the treasure. Many more got lost in the wild, prompting dangerous rescues.
An unknown number spent time and savings on a research which, with the exception of Stuef, was unsuccessful.
Hunting also presented dangers for Fenn and his family. A man broke into his house in 2018, convinced that the treasure was hidden in a chest full of laundry. Another man was convicted of harassing Fenn’s granddaughter.
Before Fenn’s death and even after, lawsuits abounded, usually filed by treasure hunters who believed Fenn had betrayed them or given unfair clues to the hunters he favored.
Some have said it was all a hoax.
Some still don’t believe Stuef found him. The New Mexican always receives emails from hunters who say they believe their solution to the poem is correct. One man urged the newspaper to stop publishing “fake news” about the discovery of the treasure, saying it is still there.
Maybe it’s because these people got emotionally invested in the trip and can’t think of going back, said Kaelin Rooney, cinematographer for Sherman’s documentary.
“They always want to believe their solution is true because they want the story they tell themselves to always be true,” he said as he took a break from filming in Santa. Fe.
“People feel grief,” he said. “Something died that they couldn’t control, something that became a part of their life. It’s like breaking up a relationship and you realize that something in you has changed and you can’t come back. backward.”
For Meachum, not knowing the location of the treasure “drives a lot of us crazy. The only way you will know you have solved the poem is to find the Cursed Chest. solution of the poem. “
For better or worse, it could all be due to Fenn’s own dream: to hide an old chest laden with riches somewhere in the Rockies and send people on an adventure, perhaps much like his childhood escapades. to explore the waterways and wilderness of the West.
Santa Fe writer Doug Preston, who befriended the art dealer about 30 years ago, said he believed Fenn believed the research would outlive a life of his own. Fenn told Preston that the clues to his poem were so difficult that “it will take someone about 900 years to find the treasure.”
Fenn, he said, appeared disappointed to learn that Stuef had discovered the breast in June 2020.
Fenn in turn was immediately besieged by equally disappointed treasure hunters, Preston added.
While Fenn is also remembered for his military service, art galleries, and vision, he wanted to leave a legacy beyond that.
“Overall, you watch this hunt, and tens of thousands of people have had fun looking for this treasure,” Preston said. “For 99.9% of them it was a positive experience. He wanted to take people to the woods, to nature, far from their phones, to go in search of the beauty in nature, to enjoy the excitement of the thrill of chasing her. “
Barbarisi said there are many lessons to be learned from Fenn’s story and his scavenger hunt.
“People are trying to believe in something,” he said. “And once they settle on what it is, it’s hard to get rid of it.”
The publicity led Fenn’s family to shy away from attention. His wife, Peggy, died shortly after her husband. Their daughters did not return a call asking for comment on this story.
As for Stuef, the man who found the treasure, he tried to bypass the notoriety that accompanies the discovery. He mostly avoids media interviews but knows he will always be a part of Fenn folklore – and everything that goes with it.
“I guess that’s not a bad thing to remember, all things considered,” he wrote in an email to The New Mexican. “But I only see myself as a small part of the whole story.”
Of Fenn, Stuef wrote: “It was a very rare thing to peak in the public imagination in the eighties, and that’s part of what made his story so great. his retirement several times, only to move on to a more interesting and daring effort each He was a compulsive memoirist in his later years, and those stories will always be there for those who wish to read and understand it.
“The story of her hunt has become a part of American treasure folklore, so it won’t be forgotten anytime soon.”