In 1982, a young man named Byron Preiss set out to create the largest scavenger hunt in history. He traveled across America with a backpack and shovel and, under the cover of night, he buried twelve ornate boxes inside public parks near major cities. Each box contained a key. When he returned home to Manhattan, he hid the clues that would lead to these keys inside paintings and poems that appeared in a book called The Secret: A Treasure Hunt, which was published later that year by Bantam.
Byron was an ambitious freelance editor, on the lookout for his big break. He thought it would be The Secret. He found inspiration in a story called Masquerade, which had become a publishing phenomenon in the U.K. The book sold over a million copies. Recognizing the possibilities, Byron attempted to recreate the excitement, here. And instead of one treasure – he buried a dozen!
Anyone could play the game. All you had to do to win was decipher the clues in the poems and paintings that appeared in his book. Byron wrote the twelve poems himself. The paintings were created by a young artist named John Jude Palencar (who would go on to become quite famous for his fantasy book illustrations and covers, used in the Eragon series and Stephen King’s The Dark Tower). Each painting had to be matched up with a specific poem – neither contained enough information, alone. Once a poem and painting were connected and understood, the reader would learn the location of one of Byron’s buried keys. Once the key was retrieved, it could be sent to the publisher and exchanged for a real gem, worth about $1,000. Rubies, emeralds, diamonds – real treasure!
Also included in the book was a detailed history of the “Fair Folk” – the elves and trolls and dwarves – who immigrated to the New World to find a safer place to bury their treasures. After they arrived, the magical creatures evolved into new fairies that could blend in with the changing culture – silly beasts like the Tupper-werewolves and the maître demon (who sits you by the kitchen if you’re unlucky enough to encounter him!)
Upon its release, The Chicago Tribune suspected that “Hundreds of thousands of Americans will be galvanized into action by the promise of rubies, diamonds, and opals, and will be captivated by the elaborate fantasy-mythology world that the book’s authors have created as a context for their conundrum.” But, to date, only two of the keys have ever been found. Byron was the only person who knew the exact location of the remaining keys and he died in a tragic car accident, in 2005.