In the late 1970s, a jewel encrusted golden hare was buried in England, the location of which was hidden by a series of clues, concealed in a children’s book called Masquerade. The real-life treasured hunt obsessed the nation of Britain and ended in scandal when someone cheated, using insider knowledge obtained from an acquaintance of the author to find it. Nevertheless, it became the inspiration for a genre of books known today as armchair treasure hunts, several of which remain unsolved to this day. And since we’re all cooped up during the ongoing pandemic, this could arguably be the perfect opportunity to get to the bottom of some of them. Today, we’ll looking at some of the most intriguing unsolved treasure hunts to date…
The Golden Owl
This remains the world’s longest running unresolved armchair treasure hunt. La chouette d’or (the golden owl) was buried in a secret location somewhere in France 28 years ago by Régis Hauser at 3:30 am on 24 April 1993. It is buried about 80 inches deep and is covered with stones and earth. Hauser, who also goes by the pseudoym “Max Vaentin” left a collection of riddles of its whereabouts. All but one riddle has been solved and Hauser, before he died, checked on the secret location, confirming it was still buried there. He never intended the hunt to go on for more than a year, in fact, he once said that if everyone looking for it put their heads together, it would be found in a number of hours. The treasure is a golden, diamond encrusted owl, currently held in a vault in Paris, worth up to $500,000. The 11 enigmas are supposed to lead to a town, possibly in the French commune of Dabo, and then there is a hidden 12th enigma made up of left-over bits of the 11 that pinpoints the exact spot. However, you will be looking for a ceramic owl, which if found, can be exchanged for the real one. If a big shiny solid gold owl doesn’t interest you much however, you might be keen to know there is an interested party who has offered a bounty of a bitcoin to whoever receives the owl if they don’t intend to keep it.
Here is one of the unsolved riddles:
Back to the West, look for the Sentinels
8,000 measures away, they await you
Find them, you will need to inspect them
Find more clues here.
First published in the 80s, The Secret is a hunt by Byron Preiss containing twelve keys scattered all throughout cities in the USA. The keys are hidden inside dozen buried ceramic vases which are referred to as “casques”. If found, each key can be taken to New York where they can be redeemed for a jewel that is held in a bank.
It’s been almost 40 years since the boxes were first laid to rest but unlike many other armchair mystery books, only three out of the twelve have been discovered to date. That’s not to say that many haven’t tried though, there are entire communities online dedicated to exchanging clues and insights in the hopes of uncovering another box. Treasure hunters think they know roughly where at least two of the Secret casques are, but that they’re located on land where you can’t get permission to go digging anymore.
Each treasure is linked to a poem and an illustration in the book. If you want to see how someone else found one, the Discovery Channel series Expedition Unknown has a episode about unearthing the key from Boston.
You’ll need a copy of the book, of course to get started (but there are some PDF versions available online), which incorporates a series of puzzles that will ultimately point to the location where the owl is hidden (presumably buried). You can check the Wikipedia page for a list of what parts of the mystery have already been solved and then, try to solve what’s left.
The Beale Ciphers
If you fancy yourself more of a Sherlock than Indiana Jones why not try your hand at the Beale Ciphers. Many of the top codebreakers in the world have tried to crack the series of mysterious ciphers leading to a fortune valued at over $60 million in gold, precious jewels and silver buried somewhere in the American wilderness. Don’t let this deter you though, the only cipher which has been decoded was solved by an amateur codebreaker. Decoding the ciphers isn’t the only mystery surrounding this treasure hunt, some believe that they do not actually lead to buried treasure but rather, a ruse created by Edgar Allan Poe! The original story of the ciphers is the stuff of legend – the treasure was claimed to have been found by one Thomas J. Beale in the early 1800s when he and a group of 30 men found a mine full of gold and silver while hunting buffalo.
Beale buried his fortune in Virginia for safekeeping and a local innkeeper was then chosen by Beale to guard the ciphers which contain the location, contents and the rightful inheritors of the treasure. Beale promised the innkeeper he would return in 10 years to collect the ciphers, however, Beale was never to be seen again and the keys never arrived. The innkeeper spent 20 years trying to decode the ciphers to no avail. There is a animated short film about the ciphers which is a fun watch in and of itself.
With only one of the ciphers cracked, the other two stating the location and the treasure’s owners (and next of kin) are still waiting to be solved.
The Unicornis Manuscripts
At a first glance the Unicornis Manuscripts might seem like your run of the mill fantasy novel but buried inside its pages is a call to action for those who dare to go hunting for the silver unicorn horn hidden by author Michael Green in 2008. Of all the aforementioned treasure hunts, this is the one closest to being cracked. Back in 2013, a couple found a spiral on a rock that is said to mark the location of the sword. But they were not able to uncover the silver so they left empty-handed. Some say that others may have unearthed the horn already, or that it has been washed into the lake due to a broken beaver dam.
Any good at scuba diving? Who knows, maybe it’s down there just waiting for you. Check out this interview with a lifelong seeker of the treasure.
Best of luck explorers!