Forrest has been understandably secretive about when he hid the treasure chest. Scrapbook 163 discusses the fact-checking questions that were asked of Forrest prior to publication of Taylor Clark’s story “The Everlasting Forrest Fenn” in the California Sunday Magazine (which appears inside the L.A. Times and the San Francisco Examiner). That story, by the way, was my first exposure to Forrest Fenn and his treasure. A few of those questions dealt with when Forrest hid the treasure:
Fact-checker: “Even your wife didn’t know when you buried the treasure, correct?”
Forrest Fenn: “I have never said I buried the treasure so please don’t say that. I hid the treasure, but that does not mean it is not buried. I just didn’t want to give that as a clue. My wife’s name is Peggy.”
F-C: “You hid it in 2010?”
FF: “I have never pinned it down that close. I just say I was 79 or 80 when I hid it.”
F-C: “So you were 80 then?”
FF: “I was 79 or 80. I have a reason for not wanting to give an exact date.”
A year-and-a-half earlier during the Moby Dickens Bookshop Q&A in Taos, an anonymous fan posted a question to Forrest’s online fan base: “Was the car, you walked back to after hiding the treasure, rented?” Forrest replied, “You know, that’s the first time I’ve been asked that question. But, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought about that. That’s why I’ve told people that I buried the treasure … that I hid the treasure chest when I was either 79 or 80 years old because I don’t want the exact date to be known because I’m afraid someone will go check the rental car records and how many miles did Mr. Fenn put on the truck or car, and so I don’t answer those kind of questions. But shoot that person that sent that email.”
So if that had been as precise as Forrest was willing to be, then it would mean he hid the chest some day between August 22, 2009 (when he turned 79) and August 21, 2011 (the last day he was 80) – a 730-day span. However, The Thrill of the Chase was released in the fall of 2010, so it is reasonable to assume the chest was already hidden by then. Any lingering doubts about that were removed by Douglas Preston’s forward to Forrest’s soon-to-be-released third memoir, Once Upon A While. If Doug’s account below is accurate, then we now know that Forrest was 79 when he hid Indulgence:
“And then finally, one lovely summer day in August 2010, I visited him and he brought me into the vault. The chest was gone! “I finally hid it,” he said. He was about to turn eighty years old and still in excellent health with no sign of cancer, and he decided to stop waiting and hide the chest now.”
So that cuts the window by more than half. Doug doesn’t give the exact day he visited Forrest in August, but it was no later than August 21st, which means the absolute latest Forrest could have hidden the chest was August 20th. But thanks to some middle school kids’ questions that Forrest responded to in February this year, we can say more than that:
Q: “Could you also tell was (sic) time of year you hid the treasure?”
A: “Yes, it was summer.”
Q: “What time of year did you hid (sic) the treasure?”
There is some ambiguity as to what dates Forrest considers to fall under “summer,” but I doubt it’s a strict astronomical definition based on the summer solstice and autumnal equinox. Most likely, it’s just the three months that most school kids would consider summer in the U.S.: June, July and August. But to be safe, I retained September since technically fall doesn’t start until late September. So we’re left with two Indulgence-hiding windows: August 22, 2009 – September 30, 2009, and June 1, 2010 – August 20, 2010. So 40 days in 2009 and 81 days in 2010.
So why does any of this matter to anyone other than unscrupulous rental car agency employees? Because I wanted to show just how limited the possibilities are. I’ve winnowed down 730 possible days to just 121. And I’m about to knock that down to a single day because I think Forrest actually hid the date in the poem itself!
There are no years or months mentioned in the poem, and few words that could be construed as numbers to be used for dates, so how could he hide a date in the poem? One way would be to use letters to stand in for numbers, e.g. A=1, B=2, … Z=26. So today’s date (October 25, 2017) could be encoded as 10-25-2017 or J (10) – Y (25) – T (20) – Q (17), or alternatively as JBETQ if the 25 was split into individual digits.
Now, not all dates can be encoded this way. For instance, October 30, 2017 won’t work because we don’t have a letter to correspond to either 30 or 0. The year 2009 presents problems, too, because of the consecutive zeroes. The best one can do is encode that year as “TI” and assume the decoder will figure out that 20-9 means 2009 and not 209.
With the exception of the four days in our window that fall on the 30th of a month, every date can be expressed as either a 4-letter code or a 5-letter code, sometimes both. There are 456,976 possible 4-letter combinations, only 103 of which encode a date in our window, so the odds of a random 4-letter combination producing one of our dates is about one in 4437. The odds are even longer on a matching 5-letter combination: 1 in 162759. But there are a lot of ways to pull letters out of the poem: consecutive letters in a word, initial letters of consecutive words, final letters in consecutive words, first letters of poem lines, and so on. But if Forrest was really going to do this and expect it to be found, why bury it somewhere obscure? Why not stick it in plain sight by using only the capitalized letters that begin each poem line?
There are 24 lines in the poem, and therefore 21 different 4-letter codes that can be generated using consecutive lines (without wraparound from the bottom back to the top). The first is AAIA from the words As, And, I & And. That would work okay if Forrest had hidden the chest on January 1, 1991 (1-1-9-1) with the 1900 implied. But let’s cut to the chase. Despite the long odds, there is exactly one date in our 121-day chest-hiding window that can be found using this system:
From there it’s no place for the meek,
The end is ever drawing nigh;
There’ll be no paddle up your creek,
Just heavy loads and water high.
FTTJ = 6-20-20-10 = June 20, 2010. Not only does it encode the last two digits of the year, it encodes the full year. And the code is completely contained within one stanza. It also immediately follows the word Brown: the only capitalized noun in the poem. Arguably it is the second most prominent location to hide a four-letter code, exceeded only by using the first four lines. If Forrest really did secret the hiding date within his poem, that might explain one of his enigmatic puzzlers from Mysterious Writings Weekly Words a little over a year ago:
“I could have written the poem before I hid the treasure chest, but I didn’t.”
On a final note, Forrest wrote in TTOTC that two people can keep a secret if one of them is dead, so there has been speculation that perhaps one other person, now deceased, might have known where Forrest would hide the treasure. I think this date tells us that person’s identity. June 20th in 2010 fell on a Sunday. Father’s Day.