Last month we told you about people who stumbled upon their fortune. If you haven’t found your own copy of the Declaration of Independence or a few thousand Ancient Roman coins, let me give you a push in the right direction with these tales of lost treasures that are just waiting for you to find them.
Arthur Flegenheimer, who went by the alias “Dutch Schultz,” was a New York mobster during the 1920s and ’30s known for his brutality and hard-nosed business tactics. By the time he was 33, Dutch had taken on the Mafia in numerous gangland wars, fought the U.S. government twice on tax evasion charges, and amassed a fortune thanks to his lucrative criminal operations.
As his second tax evasion trial began to take a turn for the worse, it appeared Schultz might be looking at jail time. In preparation, he placed $7 million dollars inside a safe, drove to upstate New York, and buried it in a hidden location so he’d have a nest egg when he got out of prison. The only other person who knew where the safe was buried was the bodyguard who helped him dig the hole. Shortly after, both men were gunned down by hitmen inside the Palace Chophouse Restaurant in Newark, New Jersey.
On his deathbed, Schultz began hallucinating and rambling after the rusty bullets used by the assassins caused an infection. A court stenographer was brought in to record his statements and some believe his incoherent references to something hidden in the woods in Phoenicia, New York, might be a clue to the location of his buried loot. Of course the meaning of his words is cryptic and not 100% reliable, but that hasn’t stopped hundreds of people from looking. So far, though, Dutch’s safe has not been found.
Before Edgar Allan Poe was Edgar Allen Poe, he was just another struggling writer who couldn’t catch a break. In 1827, he hired Calvin F. S. Thomas to publish 50 copies of his manuscript, Tamerlane and Other Poems, in the hopes that it would kick-start his career. Unfortunately, Tamerlane received no critical consideration at the time (and has only received middling reviews since), so Poe’s rise to fame would have to wait until he published The Raven nearly 20 years later in 1845.
Because the book had such a small, first editions have become one of the most sought after pieces in American literature. In all, only 12 copies are known to still exist, mostly held by libraries and museums. But there could easily be more that have gone unnoticed, because, for reasons unknown, Poe’s name does not appear as the author of the book; it is only attributed to “A Bostonian.” Without a familiar name on the cover, many people dismiss Tamerlane as a worthless collection of poems by some anonymous writer no one’s ever heard of. It was this fact that allowed the last copy, found in 1988, to be purchased for a mere $15 from an antique store. At auction a month later, the book wound up fetching $198,000.
While yes, a dime could once buy you a phone call or a cup of coffee, today most people probably wouldn’t even bother to pick one up if they saw it lying on the ground. But what if you found a few thousand dimes sitting around? And what if those dimes were over 100 years old?
A wagon train left Denver in 1907 carrying six large barrels filled with newly-minted “Barber” dimes, nicknamed after Charles Barber, the designer of the coin. The dimes were being delivered to Phoenix, Arizona, some 900 miles away, but the shipment never arrived. One theory is that the wagon train was attacked by bandits and, despite their armed escort, were unable to fend off the attack. Others believe the party might have plummeted hundreds of feet to the bottom of Colorado’s Black Canyon while navigating the treacherous mountain trails. All that can be said for sure is that neither the coins, nor the men carrying them, were ever seen again.
Now, a little over 100 years later, a single 1907 Barber dime in excellent condition fetches around $600. Assuming the barrels weren’t destroyed and the coins haven’t been exposed to the elements all this time, these missing coins should be fairly flawless. If you estimate 5,000 coins at $600 each, you’re looking at $3,000,000. With that kind of dough, you could make an awful lot of phone calls.
In 1820, a mysterious stranger left a locked iron box with Robert Morriss, an innkeeper in Bedford County, Virginia. The stranger, who went by the name Thomas Jefferson Beale, said that a man would be coming to retrieve the box some time in the next ten years. However, if no one ever came, Morriss could keep the box and the contents inside.
But what was inside the box? Beale reluctantly revealed that there were three pages covered in numbers. These “ciphertexts” were coded messages that could only be read by using corresponding documents as a key. Beale promised to send the three keys to Morriss when he arrived in St. Louis, so that, should the box become Morriss’, he could decipher the messages and learn the location of a treasure Beale had buried nearby.
Twenty years later, no one had ever come for the box, nor had Morriss received any key documents from St. Louis. He went ahead and opened the box, and spent the rest of his life trying to decode the pages to no avail. After his death, Morriss left the box to a friend, who, surprisingly, was able to decipher the second page using a particular copy of the Declaration of Independence. The page described the treasure itself—2900 pounds of gold, 5100 pounds of silver, and thousands of dollars worth of jewelry. The message then went on to say that the exact location of the treasure was found on the first page, so you would have to decode it to find the loot. The first and third pages have never been deciphered, despite people working on it for nearly 175 years.
All of the pages are available online (the first page is pictured above), so you can try your hand at deciphering them yourself. But if you find the Beale treasure, you better give me a cut for pointing you in the right direction.
The film Metropolis, directed by Fritz Lang, is considered a classic of the silent film era. However, upon its initial release in 1927, it was not well-received, even in its native Germany. Some critics said the story was boring, the acting was terrible, and the special effects were a joke. In America, its reception was even worse when 40 minutes of the film were cut to accommodate the 90-minute running time preferred by theater owners. The resulting film was nearly incomprehensible.
Because the movie was not a blockbuster, surviving promotional items from the film’s release are very rare. Perhaps the most famous of these rarities are the posters, called “one-sheets,” which hung in theaters while the film was showing and torn down and thrown away soon after. There are only four known original Metropolis one-sheets that survived the film’s German run in theaters – one at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, another in Berlin’s Film Museum, and two held by private collectors, one of whom bought the poster for the record-setting price of $690,000 in 2005.
But here’s the kicker: there are no known surviving posters from the film’s American release. No one is even sure what the American poster looked like. It could have resembled the German one-sheet, which features Maria, a stylized female robot, and a beautiful Art Deco cityscape above her. But there were also different designs for France and Hungary, so it’s possible the American version could have been based on those, too. Experts agree on one thing, though—if someone were to dig up an original American Metropolis one-sheet, it is very likely that it would become the first $1 million movie poster.
Fabergé Eggs have long been seen as beautiful examples of excess wealth. Between 1885 and 1917, 109 unique egg sculptures were fashioned out of solid gold and precious gems for some of the richest families in Europe and Asia. Of that number, 54 were “Imperial Eggs” created exclusively for the Russian Imperial Family.
During the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, most of the Imperial Eggs were confiscated by the new government and moved to the Kremlin Armory to be cataloged and stored. By the time Joseph Stalin decided to begin selling them in 1927, a handful of eggs had disappeared from the inventory. More went missing as they were sold to private collectors, who usually insisted upon anonymity. In all, eight of the 54 Imperial Eggs are currently considered lost.
It’s theorized that, thanks to the anonymous nature of many of the sales, the true pedigree of the lost eggs was forgotten as they’ve been passed down as heirlooms. So it’s very likely that some oblivious person could have received a Fabergé Egg in their Great-Great-Great Aunt Ruth’s will and not even known it.
Finding one these lost Eggs would make you an instant multi-millionaire. In 2007, a Fabergé Egg, which was also a precision clock once owned by the Rothschilds, sold for £8.9 million, becoming the most expensive timepiece ever sold. In 2002, the Winter Egg sold for a still very respectable $9.6 million. And these two Eggs hadn’t been missing for 90 years. The publicity alone for finding one of the lost Imperial Eggs would elevate the final price to an astounding level.
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Does your hometown have any legends of buried treasure just waiting to be found? Maybe you’re searching for a rare comic book or record album. Tell us about your treasure-hunting experiences in the comments below.
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