Modern Day Treasure Hunts, Part 1 of 3

Do you think treasure hunts are a thing of the past? Think again. This is the first of a 3 part series which will examine modern day treasure hunts and their consequences. The first up is the behemoth of modern day treasure hunts, Kit Williams tricky, drama-filled Masquerade-based treasure hunt.

Masquerade is a picture book, written and illustrated by Kit Williams and published in 1979. This book sparked a treasure hunt by concealing clues to the location of a mysterious golden and jeweled hare. This book pioneered the genre of armchair treasure hunt books. Thousands upon thousands of this book sold worldwide and sparked treasure hunters all over the world to start looking for this fortune.


But, what is the story behind the creation of the book? Well, Willaims set to create a book of paintings that readers would study rather than flip through and discard. The book’s objective, the hunt for treasure, became this means to an end.

It chronicled the story of Jack Hare (original, right?) who seeks to carry a treasure from the moon-depicted a woman- to her lover, the sun. Upon arriving, Jack realizes he has lost the treasure...and the reader is destined to find its location. To go along with this, Williams crafted a hare from 18 carat gold and jewels in the form of a large filigree pendant on a segmented chain. he sealed the hare inside a ceramic rabbit casket. the casket was incredible with the legend "I am the keeper of the jewel masquerade which lies waiting safe inside me for you or eternity. in 1979 the hare was hidden in a secret location and claimed his book would lead to the treasure within a few inches.

The book sold hundreds of thousands of copies worldwide. However, this didn't always have great consequences, these treasure hunters dug up public and private property acting on hunches. it was so bad in one place called Harefiled Beacon that Williams paid for a sign to notify searchers that the rabbit was not hidden here.

In March 1982, Williams announced that Ken Thomas had won the contest. People were both excited someone had solved the riddle, but sad that the contest had ended.

Some addicts were too obsessed to even accept the idea that others had won the prize. Furthermore, they were more single-mindedly continuing their own pursuit of the hare quite regardless of the news that it had been found. Their own theories, allegedly, had come to seem so convincing that no exterior evidence could refute them. But many "Masqueraders", as they're called, had  grudgingly accepted that a hare of some sort was dug up at Ampthill.

Optimistic expeditions were still setting out, with shovels and maps, throughout the summer of 1982. And these optimists wouldn't be too off base. The dramatic reveal of the winner spun out a lie that had been going on for weeks.

On December 11 1988, the Sunday Times printed a story accusing the winner of being a fraud. Ken Thomas was revealed to be a pseudonym Dugald Thompson.Thompson's business parter was John Guard the current boyfriend of Veronica Robertson, an ex-live in girlfriend of Williams. Robertson collected the answers and keys to the project silently and soon gave up her knowledge to her new beau. Guard and Robertson were able to convince Thompson to help them because both were animal rights activists and the money was promised to be donated to animal rights charities.

Even another twist digs the knife deeper into treasure hunters everywhere. The correct solution was unraveled by two physics teachers, Mike Barker of William Hulme's Grammar School and John Rousseau of Rossall School. Barker and Rousseau had actually unearthed the prize themselves, but had not noticed it inside its clay box; Thompson, who was loitering in the area, discovered it in the dirt piles they left behind. What could be worse than that?

Williams was shocked to discover the truth and said, "This tarnishes masquerade and I’m shocked by what has emerged. I feel a deep sense of responsibility to all those many people who were genuinely looking for it. Although I didn’t know it, it was a skeleton in my cupboard and I’m glad its come out".

The treasure's whereabouts remained unknown for over 20 years, until it came to light in 2009.

This picture is provided via Flickr User This is licensed under public domain.