LORENE MILLS: Hello, I’m Lorene Mills and welcome to Report from Santa Fe

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27-04-2013 Report From Santa Fe Click Here
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Video transcript on Report From Santa Fe with Lorene Mills with Forrest Fenn - 3rd Appearance LORENE MILLS: Hello, I’m Lorene Mills and welcome to Report from Santa Fe. Our guest today is quite a celebrity in Santa Fe, and worldwide, Mr. Forrest Fenn. Thank you for joining us.

FORREST FENN: Oh it’s always a pleasure, Lorene. Thank you.

MILLS: Well, you’re well-known in the art circles and in Santa Fe, you had one of the finest art galleries that Santa Fe has ever known. You were quite a sophisticated art dealer and collector, but then you wrote a memoir, and I want to show it here, called “The Thrill of The Chase.” And your life has changed dramatically since then. Tell us how you came to write this and why people are obsessed with it.

FENN: Well, you know, The Thrill of The Chase is my eighth book, but I never thought I was a writer, really. I wanted to - I wrote my autobiography but I never did publish it. So, I read Salinger’s book Catcher in The Rye. A very celebrated book by a wonderf - everybody thought was a wonderful author. And I said, after I read that book, I said, if this is a good book, I can do that. And so I sat down, and some of the stories I had in my mind like the story, “My war for me.” I wrote that a couple of years ago. But, I sat down and a six weeks later I had written that book. And I’m very proud of it. It’s kind of personal. I didn’t think anybody would want it though. And my first issue was a thousand copies because I didn’t know what I was going to do with all of these books. But it turned out that people liked it and two weeks later I published another 3200 copies.

MILLS: Well not only is it, um, a gripping autobiography, a memoir as you say, but it does turn out the title comes from what you say has been your kind of guiding principle in your life - the thrill of the chase. And you had, you had a crisis, an illness crisis, and a conversation with Ralph Lauren. Tell me how these two things led to the important part of this book.

FENN: Well it seems that all the lines crossed at the same time. In 1988 I was diagnosed with what everybody thought was terminal cancer. I lost a kidney. My doctors told me I had a 20% chance of living three years. And about that same time, Ralph Lauren, who had been an old client of mine, and friend for many years, was in my house and looking at some of the things that I had. And he said, “I want to buy that.” And I said, “Ralph, I don’t want to sell it.” He said, “Well, you can’t take it with you.” And I said, “Well, Ralph, if I can’t take it with me, I’m not going to go.” And we laughed about that, but I started thinking about that afterwards. And I got sick, and if you got to go, I decided I was going to take some of it with me. That’s when I decided to buy that beautiful treasure chest. I gave $25,000 for that treasure chest. And I started filling it up with wonderful things: gold coins and gold nuggets and pre-columbian gold and necklaces and lots of rubies and emeralds and diamonds and two Ceylon sapphires. I just said if I’ve got to go, I’m going to take this with me. I thought I was going to die. And I had an elaborate plan that I’m not ready to talk about but I really ruined the story when I got well.

MILLS: I’m very grateful that that did not have the anticipated ending. So, now, you have influenced other writers. I just want to show your friend, Douglas Preston, a wonderful writer - New York Times top of the best selling list, wrote this book, “The Codex” rough basely, uh, roughly based on a possible scenario that you had sketched out in your own life.

FENN: I gave that idea to Doug many, many years ago. I thought it was a good idea. I wanted Doug to write The Thrill of the Chase for me. It was my story. And he took the story, and changed it around some, and took it to the Amazon jungle and he wrote The Codex. It was a best-selling book. Doug is one of the great writers, I think.

MILLS: I think he is too. But not only Doug has been influenced by you, as since - in the last time that we have done our interview, you have been in the United Airlines magazine, Huffington Post, The Associated Press, Newsweek, The Daily Beast calls you “A real-life Indiana Jones.” I mean, everywhere I go, because people know we’ve spoken on air many times, they say, “What’s the latest with Forrest?” So, what is the latest? Give us an update.

FENN: Well, you know, I look around and I wonder who they’re talking about, because I don’t see myself in all these things. I think that’s the way I am. I mean, one thing led to another. People liked my book and last week I passed 15,000 emails in my inbox. It’s hard to keep up with the stuff that’s happened. Every writer think their book is the world’s greatest. But rarely does somebody light the fuse that really makes it be that way.

MILLS: Well you have lit the fuse, and in some way there have been unintended consequences because in the last six months, there’s been a Texas woman on the treasure hunt who got lost in Bandelier, had to be rescued, there was a gentleman, uh, over in Pecos who dug up under an iron cross, a descanso, and then it turned out that it’s illegal to dig on… One major thing, it’s not even a hidden clue, you never said it was buried!

FENN: I said that I hid the treasure somewhere in the Rocky Mountains north of Santa Fe. That’s not to say that it isn’t buried. It’s just that I didn’t want to say that it was.

MILLS: Yes, exactly. Well, so it turned out the Forest Service and other government agencies that have had to step up and say, “If it’s on Federal, State, County, or City land, it’s ours.” So, I don’t know that you can say if it’s on private land or not…

FENN: I think they overcooked that story a little bit.

MILLS: Yeah.

FENN: There’s a man who dug a hole 18 inches deep and nine inches wide and it made the New York Times? It made NBC News. It made the headlines in the paper. Please, tell me what’s going on here. I can’t believe that they would prosecute somebody that dug a hole 18 inches deep.

MILLS: It’s because you’ve tapped into this passion for mystery and for treasure hunts and pirate booty - all these things. People - you have just happened to have tapped into a vein not of gold, but of magic and mystery that people are really hungry for.

FENN: And I’m one of them. I’ve lived my life like that, and it’s the thrill of the chase. You know, I’ve had so much fun for the last 70 years collecting things. One of my reasons for hiding that treasure chest was to give someone else the same opportunity that I’ve had all these years.

MILLS: Well there have been some unintended consequences. You’ve had stalkers. You’ve had people digging in your neighbor’s yard. Is that true? (Forrest nods). You’ve had threats, enticements, intimidation, and you just put out this magical, wonderful thing to share the thrill of the chase.

FENN: But, you’ve named three or four instances out of the 30,000 people that are out there looking. There are always exceptions. I applaud these people that are in the chase. They get their kids off the couch, out of the game rooms and away from their little texting machines. They are out in the mountains smelling the sunshine. I think that’s a wonderful product - uh, byproduct of this book.

MILLS: I’ve read some of those emails, and they say - one of them said, uh, “My dad and I weren’t very close so we decided we would drive to New Mexico and spent a weekend looking for the treasure” and it was the bonding experience of their life. They were away from -

FENN: I did not anticipate that, but I probably have five or six thousand emails where people have said, “You know Mr. Fenn, we know we’re not going to find your treasure, but I want to thank you for getting me and my kids together as a family out into the woods.” And it’s very rewarding to me.

MILLS: Well, um we’ll come back - tell me about some of the emails, too (Mills stares intently).

FENN: Well, of all the emails I’ve received, there are some people that are mad at me. The clues are not explicit enough. This one man says, “I want to know where the treasure chest is, and I want to know right now.” In big bold letters! I mean, MILLS: Well that defeats the thrill of the chase. And now, I will tell our readers they can go online and find this. They can buy this book, this beautiful “The Thrill of the Chase” at Collected Works in Santa Fe. And you have a very beautiful poem in which the clues are hidden. I have advanced degrees in literature and I knew after reading that poem, that I was not going to find the treasure from that poem. But you’ve had cryptographers, you’ve had code specialists, you’ve had psychics, you’ve had all kinds of people trying to decipher the clues.

FENN: You just described the American people. We’re a diverse group, and everybody has a different opinion, and it’s wonderful to see what these people are doing.

MILLS: Um, so, you are also leaving other vestiges of your life in these bells. So I want you to tell me a little bit about these bells. We have one here.

FENN: Well, I talked about that at some length in my book. Why is it that we study history, we study a lot about the past, but we don’t know anything about the future? And seemingly, we have no influence on the future. Well, I found that, in my opinion to be unsatisfactory. So I started making bells, and I have quotes around the edge of my bell. I sign all of them and put the date on them. And I’ve taken eight of these things out in different places in New Mexico and I’ve buried them. Three to four feet deep so that a metal detector cannot find these bells. Maybe in a thousand years a machine can find these bells. But I have another, I think, 28 bells that I’m burying. Not only bells, but I have bronze jars that have screw on lids. So I’ve written a 20,000 word autobiography, and I put my autobiography in those jars and screwed it tight - screwed the lid on real tight and I bury those. My philosophy is that I am influencing the future. A thousand years from now when someone is building a footing for a house and they turn up one of those bells, and read that autobiography, they’re going to think, “God, here’s a guy who wrote that thing a thousand years ago. Isn’t this interesting?”

MILLS: Now, most municipalities and schools, they will bury a time capsule with everything that’s happening then. You’re sort of putting a time capsule, but with a touch of the infinite because some of the things that you have inscribed on the bells are things like, “Ring the bell loudly for he who dies with over fifty dollars is a failure.”

FENN: That was an Errol Flynn quote.

MILLS: Ahhh! And an Albert Einstein quote, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” I think that’s what you have on there (Mills gestures toward the bell Fenn is holding).

FENN: But I altered it a little bit.

MILLS: Better.

FENN: “Imagination is better than knowledge” and I misspelled knowledge.

MILLS: Another one that I just love, “If you should ever think of me a thousand years from now…”

FENN: “...please ring my bell so I will know.”

MILLS: mmmm.

FENN: And a thousand years from now, Lorene, when somebody digs that bell up and rings it, I’m going know.

MILLS: You’re gonna know. You’re gonna know. But we’ll do, insert a couple of closeups of the bell. It’s beautiful, the sound is beautiful, and I think the sound almost has a magical quality to it.

FENN: (ringing the bell) I made these things out of wax. And I take them to Sedona Foundry in Tesuci and they cast them for me. I probably made - I want to think - 40 of these things, and I have another 28 that I’m gonna bury. I’ve buried 8 so far. If I can live long enough, I’m going to bury all of them.

MILLS: You don’t actually dig the four foot hole yourself do you?

FENN: Sure I do.

MILLS: Well, you’re very fit Forrest.

FENN: I don’t want anybody to know where they are.

MILLS: Oh that’s right. Well now that’s the other question that people are always asking about the treasure. Who else knows where it is, and what’s your mafia quote?

FENN: “Two people can keep a secret if one of them is dead.”

MILLS: Yeah, ok.

FENN: The fact is, there are no secrets. There are just some stories that haven’t been told yet.

MILLS: Yeah. Yeah. And how will you know - the other question people always ask is, “How will you know if it’s been found?”

FENN: The type of guy that’s gonna find that treasure chest is the type of guy that can’t keep it quiet. That’s my theory. And I think that theory will hold, but who knows? I mean, we’re a very diverse population. Everybody has a different idea. Whoever finds that treasure chest, the IRS is gonna want their part of it.

MILLS: Well, we’re speaking today with the treasure hider and definitely a guru to many, many treasure seekers, Mr. Forrest Fenn. Now, at one point you said, and it’s written on one of your bells, “It doesn’t matter who you are, it only matters who they think you are.” So, Forrest, who are you and who do people think you are?

FENN: I hope nobody ever finds out.

MILLS: Ahhh! The real Forrest Fenn.

FENN: I think, uh, you know I don’t know that I’m different from anybody else, but I can look at myself and look at what I’ve done and tell myself I’m a number of different people. And I think that’s good. You know, I was a fighter pilot, I was an art dealer. I don’t know that I’ve done more things than other people have done, but I know that I’ve enjoyed what I’ve done, and it’s all part of the human makeup. I think if you haven’t been consumed by something in your life, then I think you deserve another turn.

MILLS: Ah, ah. Well, in your biography, your memoir, you talk about you fought - you flew how many fighter missions in Vietnam.

FENN: I flew 328 combat missions in Vietnam.

MILLS: And once or twice, you were shot down.

FENN: Shot down twice.

MILLS: And you had, you described this extraordinary experience that you had being shot down in this little valley with a waterfall and tripping over something.

FENN: I tripped over a grave marker. It was a stone grave marker about 14, 15 inches wide. It was face down. And I didn’t know what it was really, except there were a lot of little aluminum grave markers around in the tall grass where I tripped. And I turned it over and it was an inscription on a French soldier’s name and then in English it said, “If you should ever think of me when I have passed this veil, and wish to please my ghost, forgive a sinner and smile at a homely girl.” And one thing led to another. I came home two days later, and I didn’t think much about it because the homecoming and being missing in action, and those things took some of my time, but the secret of that thing crept back into my mind. It changed my life over a period - over the next couple of years.

MILLS: And I can certainly see that the bells are a direct result of that experience, except you haven’t urged anyone to forgive a sinner or smile at a homely girl. But we will take that to heart. Now, you say that you’re writing a sequel.

FENN: I’m writing a book called, “Too Far To Walk.”

MILLS: Isn’t that a line from the poem?

FENN: No. But it’s the theory - it is a line from the poem, as a matter of fact, yeah. And I’m tying - this is kind of a sequel to my memoir, but I’m picturing a lot of vintage photographs and I’m writing lengthy captions. One caption is a page and a half long, so it’s kind of a homespun human-interest thing like my memoir I think.

MILLS: So you’ll write a little story almost about a photograph.

FENN: Sure.

MILLS: Yeah. Well I’m looking forward to it. When will it come out?

FENN: I hope to be in - we’re designing it now. I haven’t really finished writing it, but my designer’s already working on it. I hope to be in print this summer.

MILLS: Well, I hope you print enough because the history of the film “The Thrill of The Chase” was it in January, they were back ordered by 4,000 books?

FENN: Collected Works bookstore sold 20,000 copies of my memoir.

MILLS: And then you recently re-printed 15,000?

FENN: No, I think 8,200, but three weeks before that we printed 7,700.

MILLS: Yeah. Yeah. So it’s just - you know - so many people give each other as a gift. It does light that passion for, for mystery and for the thrill of the chase in all types of people.

FENN: Well, a lady asked me, she said, “Mr. Fenn, who is your audience for this book?” And I said, “My audience is every redneck in Texas that’s lost his job, but has a pickup truck, a wife, and 12 kids and has an adventurous spirit.” That’s who I wrote it for. Put some gas in your pickup truck, grab your sleeping bag, and strike the trail. And I think 40,000 people have done that. And I asked, we had 6,000 people in Santa Fe as a result of the book and this summer I expect, who knows, 30,000 or 40,000 people probably.

MILLS: And you’ve been on Good Morning America and the Today Show. Big national morning shows with a huge audience, and you’ve been revealing some clues. Some of these clues, Forrest, you’re not giving a lot away in these clues. What do you say, “If you’re looking in a grizzly bear, make sure the grizzly bear is not in there?” Now that’s not quite a clue.

FENN: If you’re looking in a cave, be sure the bear is gone.

MILLS: Yeah.

FENN: Well that’s a real good clue! You should observe that!

MILLS: That’s true, that’s true. But, so, in Santa Fe, we actually run into people that say they’re here for the treasure. And surprisingly on email and on Facebook, there have been people that have announced, “Don’t worry, I’ve already find it - found it, but if you give me X amount of money, I’ll split it with you.” Or they say, “Forrest, you better go see if it’s still there,” and I’m sure they’re waiting to go follow you to go.

FENN: Well I’ve had 31 people tell me that they have found it, and it’s in their possession. And I asked them, well, will you sell that one bracelet back to me that was in the treasure chest? And they say, “What bracelet?” This one lady, she says she knows exactly where the treasure chest is, but her truck is broken. She wants to know if I will drive her out to where the treasure chest is…

MILLS: Now that’s chutzpah.

FENN: But that’s thinking, you know?

MILLS: But she doesn’t know what they’re, what she’s up against. I think you once said that you’re - you wanted your epitaph to be, and this could have changed, “I wish I could have lived to do the things I was attributed to.”

FENN: One thing that I’ve enjoyed in my life is that I’ve been accused of a lot of things. Some of them I’ve done, most of them I haven’t. But those that I haven’t done, I still aspire to.

MILLS: Well, um, you recently had a book signing at Collected Works, and you had, to assist you in the question and answers, you had two of our finest writers: Doug Preston and Michael McGarrity. And they have each seen the treasure. That’s something that people are always asking, “Well, how do we know there’s even a treasure?” And you have insulated yourself from accusations that you only made up the treasure thing to sell books because you give a percentage of the profits to a children’s cancer organization or some cancer benevolent fund…

FENN: That’s right, but I gave all the books to the Collected Works Bookstore. I don’t make a penny on the book. I don’t even get my publication costs back. Because I didn’t want this - anybody to say that the treasure story is a hoax to sell books. They’ve sold 20,000 books at $35 a book. Amazon buys books from the Collected Works for $35 and sells them for $45 and they were $4000 backed up when the book went out of print.

MILLS: As a fan of independent bookstores I am very happy to hear that and Collected Works is one of the finest bookstores in Santa Fe.

FENN: It’s a great organization.

MILLS: Yes, um, so people all - they’re tuning in right now and they’re wondering well are we going to get any more clues or advice? At this point I think that people who come to New Mexico who don’t know the terrain can be tricky, and there are temperature gradients that you can come out in shorts in a summer day and by night it could dip down to freezing. So, can you in the interest of human kindness give some warning to people who are coming here, you know, hopefully just going to trip over the treasure they think. But give some common sense advice. I’m not even asking for clues.

FENN: Well you know New Mexico is no different from Colorado and Montana and Wyoming and Utah and Idaho. It’s the Rocky Mountains. There are certain rules that you need to observe when you go into the forests. There are mountain lions, there are bears and you know there are porcupines. There are skunks, and it gets cold at night. And you can fall over a rock. But you know the American people should not have to be told those things. When you walk into a forest you can take one look and - I remember the first time I went to Alaska fishing. I got off the plane and I looked around and I said, “The human being is not supposed to be here.”

MILLS: Especially with the mosquitos this size.

FENN: Water Angels. Mosquitos carry you away in the water every place. To me it was a foreboding - I love to fish up there. But people should use, uh…. I think you need to use more caution in the summertime than you do the wintertime. Santa Fe is 2,000 above Denver. I mean, this is a high desert. It gets hot in the summertime particularly if you’re in the desert you need a lot of water. It gets cold at night. It may be 90 degrees in the summertime, but you need a jacket at night. But I think most people know that. There are always some that don’t and they learn the hard way.

MILLS: Um, that’s our practical physical level advice, but there is such a metaphysical level, such a spiritual level to this, and one of them is is that even though everyone wants the treasure it can be the journey can be the goal itself. Not only the treasure but the journey itself could be the treasure. Could you -

FENN: There’s a quote in a new book on Joe Devine. “They never knew it was the chase they sought, and not the quarry.”

MILLS: Well there it is.

FENN: The fun is in doing it. I can’t remember how many times that I could hardly wait in Yellowstone to go trout fishing on the Madison River, the Gallatin, the Firehole, the Gibbon, the Yellowstone and I’d rush out there and it was so beautiful. I’d just sit under a tree for an hour just watching the Osprey catch fish and it’s so wonderful to be out in the mountains and I would urge parents - we have a problem in this country with our youth. We’re obese, we sit on the couch too much, we’re in the game room. Our youth today, our teenagers today are going to be the President one of these days, our Congressmen, our Senators and we’re not doing enough to groom those people.

MILLS: Well there’s a movement actually called The Last Child Left Outside because kids are now they’re frightened because they’ve seen so many scary movies that take place in the deserted cabin that they can’t experience the peace and the glory that is nature without seeing the human footprint everywhere - actually we respond with fear.

FENN: There’s so much to be learned. I was talking to a man the other day by email because his kids said they know everything there was to know because they lived outside so much so I asked him, I said, “Which direction do ants circle when climbing a tree in the southern hemisphere and why?” They didn’t have a clue.

MILLS: Well I must demand the answer.

FENN: It’s Coriolis Force. Coriolis Force is the force that is equal and opposite to the rotation of the earth. That’s why it’s easier for you to turn left at the corner in your car than it is to turn right. That’s why people in London drive on the left side of the street in New York they drive on the right side of the street.

MILLS: Well, you are a veritable font of wisdom and mystery and a life really well-lived. I want to show our audience again this book, it’s called “The Thrill of the Chase a Memoir” by Forrest Fenn. I also want - you have so many other books, I couldn’t bring them all, but this is one of your masterpieces, “The Secrets of San Lazaro.”

FENN: This is the record of my archeological excavations at San Lazaro pueblo.

MILLS: And it’s - look at that mask. That incredible mask -

FENN: Those are the only two pre-historic Kachina dance masks ever found.

MILLS: Well we have a lot to learn from you and we’ve run out of time. So I want to thank our guest today, Forrest Fenn. Thank you joining us.

FENN: Well it’s my pleasure. It’s always good to see you.

MILLS: It’s always wonderful.

FENN: Thank you.

MILLS: And it’s a pleasure to see you, our audience today on this special edition of Report From Santa Fe. We’ll see you next week.