Originally posted to: /r/HobbyDrama
Background information: The Secret is an “armchair treasure hunt” book published in 1982 by Byron Preiss, containing 12 short verses and 12 elaborate fantasy paintings, which would pair in a way that would provide clues to finding 12 ceramic casques, buried in plexiglass boxes in various parks in major cities around North America. Each casque contained a key that could be redeemed for a jewel worth $1,000 (source: wikipedia). One box was found in Chicago in 1983, and another in Cleveland in 2004, but the remaining 10 have never been found.
The author died in a traffic accident in New York in 2005, leaving no further hints as to the location of the remaining casques. Discussion about the book remains lively to this day, though changes in landscaping and property ownership may have destroyed the casques or rendered them impossible to retrieve. Nevertheless, many fiercely dedicated puzzle enthusiasts regularly discuss the clues in various Facebook groups and a forum called Quest4Treasure, and there’s even a podcast.
In October 2018, a man calling himself Meteor began posting on the Quest4Treasure site, claiming to be a well-established French treasure hunter (we’ll call him GG) who had already solved 38 similar hunts, earning more than $440,000 from his findings, and stating that he’s figured out the location of several of the undiscovered casques. Meteor announced that he would be travelling to San Francisco in February 2019, and planned to search for the casque at that time. He also posted an excerpt from a 1997 article about a different treasure book, in which the author of said book identified GG as “the best treasure hunter in France.”
Meteor returned to the forum on February 15th, 2019, again confirming his plan to search for the casque during his upcoming trip to the US. Then on February 26th, he announced: “I am very happy to tell you that a new casque had been dig out on Feb 25th at 9 h 55 am somewhere in the USA under the look of a park guard ranger.” Some members of the Secret community contacted the SF parks department, who confirmed that something HAD been dug out of the ground on that day, just as Meteor had described.
Needless to say, everyone in the community was super excited. After all, it’s been 15 years since anyone has found a casque! But within hours, there were rumors swirling that the discovery wasn’t quite what it seemed. Certain aspects of the find called its authenticity into question: 1) other searchers had previously dug in the very same spot where it was supposedly found (next to a statue of Verdi in Golden Gate Park) and found nothing, 2) all 12 casques were made from the same mold, but this newly discovered one had a different design. Comparison of real vs. fake
The Parks Department reached out to the sculptor who created the casques back in 1982, and soon the Parks department issued a statement confirming that the find was a hoax. It seems that GG obtained the dig permit, created a fake box, and buried it himself, then came back with a park ranger to witness and report its unearthing.
As far as anyone knows, the hoaxer hasn’t returned to any of the online forums since that day. Meteor’s posts to the Q4T forum have been mirrored here on the podcast website. There are rumors that this hoax was part of his plan to create a TV series about the hunt for the remaining boxes. However, the Parks Dept doesn’t allow anyone to film the digs, so there likely wasn’t any video footage of them finding the fake casque.
On March 4th, a community member posted that his FOIA request confirmed that GG was indeed the person who applied for the permit and conducted the dig that day. They also sent two pictures from the dig, one showing a man (presumably GG) posing with the unearthed box. Some years and Chinese characters on a piece of paper are visible through the clear casing. Oddly, the pictures were taken at a different location (Huntington Falls) in Golden Gate Park from where the dig supposedly took place. So far there’s been no explanation for the discrepancy, and the Parks Dept has ceased to respond to inquiries.
A local news outlet has published an article about the hoax.
I’ll update this post if any new information comes to light.