They say you can’t take it with you, and Santa Fe artifact collector and author Forrest Fenn lived by that motto – leaving behind a million-dollar-plus treasure chest to one stranger and an unmatched thrill-seeking legacy still shrouded in mystery.
Fenn, 90, died last week at his Santa Fe home surrounded by his family, including his wife of 66 years, Peggy. His death came just three months after he confirmed a man from “back East” had sent him a photo proving he had found the antique copper treasure chest filled with gold nuggets, gold coins, pre-Columbian gold figures, rubies, sapphires, emeralds and diamonds.
Fenn promised in 2016 he wouldn’t reveal where he hid the chest in the Rocky Mountains. He also vowed never to identify the person who found it, leaving those details up to the finder. In late July, Fenn confirmed only that the treasure chest had been recovered in Wyoming.
Unless the treasure finder comes forward, the treasure’s once-hidden location may remain unknown forever, leaving open the door for skeptics to still question whether there ever really was a treasure. But those unanswered questions keep the mystery alive – something Fenn obviously embraced.
Fenn was always a a thrill-seeker. He enlisted in the Air Force in 1950. He flew missions during the Cuban Missile Crisis and piloted 328 combat missions in Vietnam, getting shot down twice and earning the Silver Star. For most people, that would have checked off the bucket list for thrill-seeking. But not Fenn, who wanted to share his love for adventure and devised a method to get people to explore the outdoors.
It worked. In the past decade an estimated 350,000 people worked to decipher the nine clues in his Treasure Poem, published in his 2010 memoir. At least five tragically lost their lives in the hunt. Fenn cautioned there was no need to take perilous risks, telling NPR, “The treasure is not hidden in a dangerous place. I hid it when I was about 80 years old.”
A decade later, while only one found it, thousands of other serious and amateur treasure hunters explored the great outdoors.
Fenn said in 2013 he had no desire to be buried. He said he preferred “to go into the silent mountains on a warm sunny day, sit under a tree where the air is fresh and the smell of nature is all around, and let my body slowly decay into the soil.”
RIP Forrest Fenn, wherever you chose your final resting place.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.