What if we told you that, across the United States, there are eight opportunities to find buried treasure? Oh, and we have an entire book full of clues to help you find them. We’re going to let you in on a secret. But not just any secret, The Secret.

The Secret is actually a book, and inside its pages, a real-life treasure map. But this isn’t your typical, “two paces to the left and stop when you see the waterfall,” kind of map. The Secret is a true puzzle.

Burying Preiss-less Treasure

In 1982, a publisher named Byron Preiss buried 12 casques in the ground of 12 different states. And, as one might imagine, no secret box secured in the earth is going to be easy to find. Each clue in Preiss’ book contains a drawing and cryptic message, leading to where one may be able to find said buried treasure.

At the time of the book’s release, the treasure hunt was simply a publicity stunt. Preiss needed a way for the book to gain attention and build traction around the mystery of its pages.

In doing so, he believed that the treasures would be found fairly quickly. But to his dismay, this wasn’t quite the case. To this day, 38 years later, only three of the 12 treasures have been uncovered. The first hit the surface just one year after The Secret was published.

Then, the hunt went cold for 21 years until the second box was discovered in 2004 in Cleveland, Ohio. And the third and latest box was found just a few months ago by a family and group of construction workers, in Boston, Massachusetts.

Doing Some Digging

Let’s start with casque number one, discovered by three teenagers in Chicago, Illinois. Many Chicago locals would have a hard time decoding the image. These not-so-average Joes spend their time dissecting each piece of the intricate drawing. They saw beyond the illustrated windmill veins to its base—Chicago’s Water Tower. This structure, along with an upside-down Taurus (or Chicago Bull), the art institute’s Spirit of the Lake Statue, and the Illinois state outline were all key factors to discovering the location of their treasure.

The Secret, Image 5, depicting Chicago, Illinois

The Secret, Image 5, depicting Chicago, Illinois

After solving the pieces of the illustrated puzzle, they began decoding the poem, attempting to make sense of the lines. With initial spring off point at the statue of Man and Beast (AKA M&B) on Congress Parkway, the boys were well on their way to buried treasure.

The Secret, Verse 12, Chicago, Illinois

The Secret, Verse 12

You can only imagine how frustrating and rewarding this find must have been for these three young men, especially based on the complexity of their explanation. But it goes to show, this puzzle is solvable. The real question is, is it worth solving? Let’s talk about what all of the hard work and perseverance gets you, aside from a job very well done.

Preiss’ Prizes

Upon reaching your final destination—wherever you may believe it to be—your reward is located about two feet down in the ground. The lucky clink of your shovel is hopefully more than rock or rubble and instead resembles that of a plexiglass box. Inside this 8-by-8 encasement of plexiglass is a ceramic, closed bowl.

And inside of this box, within a box, lies a key. A key to unlock a very shiny, valuable prize: Jewels! In each of the 12 illustrations, a different gemstone is hidden somewhere in the picture, alluding to what you will find buried in each city. For anyone who’s reading and thinking about the easy way out of this puzzle, we’ll stop you right there—there is no easy way.

Unfortunately, Byron Preiss passed away in a car accident 15 years ago, taking the answers to our many questions with him. His daughters have provided great intellect and passed-along “fatherly” advice to hunters, but even they don’t know the treasures’ locations. The artist behind each of the 12 illustrations was a truly loyal confidant to Preiss. He burned all evidence, down to the original imagery from which he painted.

Lucky Number 4?

After discovering the gem (pun intended) that is The Secret, our team is setting out to be lucky number 4 in Preiss’ daring dozen. We’re headed to America’s oldest city—St. Augustine, Florida!

The Secret, St. Augustine verse and illustration pairing

The Secret, St. Augustine verse and illustration pairing

Before traveling up the Florida coast to this historical stop, we did a bit of research on The Secret. Read articles, analyzed past hunts, brushed up on St. Augustine history, and binged a few episodes of Expedition Unknown. Turns out, we’re not the first people to search for St. Augustine’s hidden Secret! Josh Gates and his crew of treasure hunters followed the clues to where they believed treasure number three might be hiding. But unfortunately, the only thing they dug up was dirt.

Many treasure hunters believe that this page in the story leads them to The Fountain of Youth, but our team is convinced otherwise. Could another option be the grounds of… Ripley’s Believe It or Not!? While we are extremely hopeful that we do uncover the plexiglass square in Ripley’s backyard. It’s hard to be so sure after the many attempts and unlucky digs in St. Augustine. We need your help, Strange Things! Join our team as we hunt for buried treasure and be sure to leave your questions, theories, and ideas in the comments below.


Discover hundreds of strange and unusual artifacts and get hands-on with unbelievable interactives when you visit a Ripley’s Odditorium!