By Tony Dokoupil, Newsweek Magazine

 

I’m sure not going to die in a hospital bed,” Forrest Fenn likes to say, and at 82 years old his is not an idle promise. He has spent his life as a treasure hunter, a real-life Indiana Jones who has bought, sold, traded, and dug his way to a peerless collection of artifacts. Now he is determined to avoid becoming “the leftovers of history” himself. And he recently set in motion a plan he thinks will make headlines - a thousand years from now.

Behind the adobe walls of his Santa Fe compound, inside the red, pantry-size steel vault that protects some of his most valuable pieces, Fenn says he opened an antique lockbox and began to fill it with more than a million dollars’ worth of treasure. He tossed in ancient figurines, a 17th-century Spanish ring, and turquoise beads excavated from a cliff dwelling near Mesa Verde. He added American eagle gold coins, gold nuggets, a vial of gold dust, two gold discs, and “a lot of jewelry,” including rubies, sapphires, and diamonds. Among these wonders he included a copy of his own autobiography, rolled and stuffed into an ancient olive jar. Then he went “into the mountains north of Santa Fe,” Fenn says, and hid the lockbox, to be found by anyone who can decipher the clues embedded in a 24-line poem that ends: “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.”

But Fenn isn’t done. When the time comes he hopes to shove one more element in with the bounty: his own dead body. “When people find the treasure, they’ll find my bones,” he explains, with the sound of his native Texas in every syllable. “But my bio will be inside so at least they’ll know who I was.” A man who most certainly is not going to die in a hospital bed.

As bizarre as it sounds, Fenn’s plans for his death mirror the way he has lived. For nearly two decades, he ran one of the world’s finest art galleries, catering to people atop the totem pole in Washington and Hollywood, from President Gerald Ford and John Wayne to Jackie Kennedy and Cher. They came for major works by Remington or Russell or O’Keeffe. Or for Native American antiquities that surpassed the Smithsonian’s. Or for the mirage like experience of it all, the private planes and chauffeured limos, the guest houses with gold fixtures, catered meals, and in-house masseuse service. Or just to see Fenn hand-feed his favorite pet, a Louisiana alligator named Beowulf.

Fenn became a celebrity in his own right, feted by Forbes and People magazines. His story even inspired a mass-market thriller, The Codex, about “a notorious treasure hunter and tomb robber” who accumulated “priceless art, gems, and artifacts before vanishing,” and was twice optioned for film. But Fenn never lost his rogue’s way with rules and regulations. The signs in his gallery encouraged people to touch everything, to put their hands on the past - just as Fenn has done since he found his first arrowhead and began his great American climb.

The same ethos is on display in his home, which operates like a museum, but with no guards, better inventory, and a price list. On a recent tour, I rapped the shell of a mummified falcon from King Tut’s tomb (not for sale), slipped a finger through a jade mask older than Jesus ($12,500), and beheld Sitting Bull’s peace pipe, spiritual centerpiece of Custer’s Last Stand (appraised at $1.1 million). After an undercover agent took a similar tour in 2009, the federal government raided Fenn’s house as part of the biggest ever suspected case of grave-robbing—code named Cerberus Action, after the mythical three-headed dog that guards the underworld. The case is ongoing, according to the FBI, which declined to discuss it.

Fenn’s relationship to the law can be hard to pinpoint. He denies all wrongdoing in one breath, only to brag of his exploits in the next, swaggering toward self-incrimination in the process. He says he can’t discuss the FBI case, for example, because his lawyer told him, “if you talk about it, you could lose it.” (Fenn later told me he misspoke.) He hasn’t exactly gone into hiding either. In 2010 he self-published The Thrill of the Chase—a slim, episodic memoir that announced the hidden treasure and, as he later put it, invited people to have “as much fun finding it as I have had all these years collecting it.”

 

adobe

vepřovicový, z nepálených cihel

arrowhead

hrot šípu

atop

na vrchu

brag

chlubit se, chvástat se

cater to

uspokojovat (něčí potřeby)

cliff

útes

compound

(uzavřený) areál

decline

odmítnout

dwelling

příbytek

ethos

charakter, ráz

falcon

sokol

feted

oslavovaný

fixtures

vybavení

gem

drahokam

hand-feed

krmit ručně

idle

planý

in his own right

vlastním přičiněním

jade

nefrit

jar

sklenice, nádoba

leftovers

zbytky

lockbox

uzamykatelná skříňka

mirage

fata morgána

pantry

spíž

peerless

jedinečný

pinpoint

přesně určit

put sth

říci, formulovat něco

raid

udělat razii

rap

zde: zaťukat na něco

rogue

dareba, rošťák

shove

strčit

stuffed into

nacpaný do něčeho

surpass

předčít, překonat někoho

swagger

naparovat se

syllable

slabika

title

(vlastnický) nárok na něco

tomb robber

vykrádač hrobek

totem pole

totemový sloup

treasure hunter

hledač pokladů

vault

trezorová místnost

vial

lahvička

 

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