In 2017, Daniel Barbarisi found himself sucked into “an honest-to-God treasure hunt.”
It was the search for a chest full of jewels, gold coins, and artifacts hidden by eccentric art dealer Forrest Fenn, who had stashed his bounty somewhere in the Rocky Mountains in 2010, leaving only a poem and his memoir as clues to the whereabouts. When a friend told him about it, Barbarisi said, his first thoughts were mixed. “My dual impulses were ooh, I want to go be a treasure hunter, and oh my god there is an amazing story here,” he said. “I kind of couldn’t fathom that no one had written a book about it yet.”
In “Chasing the Thrill,” Barbarisi writes about both his own participation in the hunt and the community of searchers who devoted years of their lives to Fenn’s treasure quest, five of whom died pursuing their goal. He never expected to find the treasure himself — apart from a few fevered moments. “For the most part it was about trying to use the format to capture and understand the experience of the treasure hunters, and to empathize and relate to the feelings they were having,” he said.
Talking to the searchers, Barbarisi found that most weren’t after the monetary value of the treasure (estimated at $2 million). “I think most of the people who were looking for this were searching for something in the larger sense,” he said. “It’s about being a person who was smart enough and good enough to solve the puzzle when no one else could. It’s the ultimate validation.”
As for Fenn himself, who died in 2020 just after the treasure was finally found, Barbarisi remembered a larger-than-life character. “He was not lacking in self-confidence,” he said. “He liked being the center of attention.”
Daniel Barbarisi will read at 8 p.m. Monday in a virtual event hosted by Brookline Booksmith.
Kate Tuttle, a freelance writer and critic, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.