Hunt Hampton: The Thrill of the Chase

Hamptons billionaires—even millionaires, actually—could learn a thing or two from New Mexico antiquities dealer and adventurer Forrest Fenn.

Years ago I wrote about how it was a dream of mine that über wealthy people in the Hamptons would randomly set up fantasy “missions” in which they would “accidentally” drop a suitcase filled with clues to buried treasure. Regular folks would find the suitcases, decipher the clues and unleash their inner Indiana Joneses.

My idea never caught on here. I’m not really sure why, especially given the history of Captain Kidd’s treasure on Gardiners Island. But Fenn has taken his version of my dream and brought it to life with a $2 million treasure hunt of his own.

Three years ago, the 82-year-old multi-millionaire starting piling a trove of loot he’d
collected—including gold jewelry, ancient gold coins, Pre-Columbian animal figures and precious stones—into a classic-looking treasure chest. When it reached about 40 pounds, he closed the lid, locked it and then went up into the mountains north of Santa Fe and hid it. He planned that the only people who would ever have any chance of finding it would be those who picked up a copy of his self-published memoir, The Thrill of the Chase.

The story goes that Fenn put nine hints within a poem in The Thrill of the Chase that, if interpreted correctly, will lead to the treasure. The final stanza reads:

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.

Of course there have been rumblings that this is all one big marketing/PR stunt. And while there is no way to determine for certain that Forrest did in fact bury $2 million worth of treasure in the mountains just because he gets a kick out of the idea, his reputation as an eccentric millionaire—in addition to eyewitness accounts of those who claim to have seen the treasure before he buried it—is enough for many thrill-seekers to take his plan seriously.

Fenn is the owner of the Old Santa Fe Trading Company, an emporium where he showcases artifacts ranging from Sitting Bull’s peace pipe to Sioux war shields. Not all the items he shows are for sale, but all are there, as he says, because “they represent 60 years of loving and collecting the West.”

After retiring from the Air Force in 1970, he and his wife, Peggy, built a gallery in Santa Fe, where they focused on works by great Taos painters and masters of the American West such as Frederic Remington, Charlie Russell and Thomas Moran. He has since retired from the art business, but as his $2 million treasure hunt proves; he clearly remains driven by a passion for rare and interesting artifacts and sharing his love of antiquities and adventure with kindred spirits.

Plenty of those spirits are out there. I’ve even considered booking a flight to Santa Fe for a long weekend. But there’s absolutely no reason Fenn’s concept (and my dream) needs to be relegated to New Mexico. This kind of thing can surely catch on here in the Hamptons. All we need is for a few of our wealthy neighbors to embrace the idea of how much more exciting life could be here on the East End with genuine treasures in our midst, just waiting to be dug up.

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