To Listen to this week’s episode with an interview from Brian McFarland, visit Anchor here or listen to Stories in the Cemetery on your favorite podcatcher.
This week’s post and podcast episode is a Secret: Byron Preiss’s Charleston Secret. If you’ve been following my podcast episodes, you know that this book and the verses within it have been consuming quite a bit of my time. However, I think I am truly onto a solve for Preiss’s Charleston riddle and it’s not anywhere near the previous solves for this near-impossible puzzle.
If you’re unfamiliar with this book, let me give a quick and brief explanation. Byron Preiss wrote a fantasy novel in 1982 that held 12 paintings and 12 verses. Each of the 12 verses matches up to one of the 12 paintings for clues to a hidden treasure in 12 different cities. The verses are not aligned with the picture, so it’s up to the treasure hunter and reader to interpret which verse matches to what picture.
Since 1982, only three of the 12 puzzles have been solved. The interest here is that one of the paintings in the book points straight to Charleston, SC. I was dumbfounded when Brian McFarland, owner of Charleston Cavalier Tours sent me a link to this book, saying “I think this is right up your alley…” I couldn’t believe with all the research I do on Charleston’s haunted locations that I never came across this book and its puzzles.
The treasure in each city is a key in a casque that is protected by a plexiglass box buried three to four feet in the ground. The key can then be mailed in exchange for the gem represented in the painting for each city. The gem for Charleston is a diamond.
Preiss passed away in a car accident before all the treasures could be found. The key at this point can be taken or mailed to his living wife in exchange for the gemstone.
There is a conglomerate of YouTube videos, TV Shows, blog posts, wikis and websites dedicated to giving readers clues on how to solve the puzzles. Each one of them has their own interpretation. I’m not downplaying any of these puzzle solvers answers to where the remaining 9 treasures are buried, but if their solves are so accurate, why haven’t they been found?
I will not reveal my solution for the Charleston puzzle in this blog post or on the podcast.
However, keep reading and you’ll find some of my theories and thoughts about each verse: yes, I said “each” simply because there are two puzzles that are associated with the Charleston painting.
The painting for each of the already solved puzzles: Cleveland, Chicago, and Boston shows that the painting merely takes you to the correct city with the clues that are beheld in the brush strokes. It’s the verse that gives you step by step directions on how to find the actual treasure.
I feel as though some treasure hunters are taking the painting a bit too far and overthinking it. Many hunters have already figured out that Painting 2 is representing Charleston. Here are some of the clues that you can look for:
- The pendant: Obviously in the shape of Fort Sumter. It also holds the three stripes of the French flag which are represented on a guide panel on Sullivan’s Island.
- The African lion: a representation of the slavery in Charleston’s history
- The African fairy: another representation of the slavery in Charleston’s history
- The map on the African mask forehead: This is obviously a map of the islands that make up Charleston.
- The pear: This is said to represent “Pearman Bridge”
- Lion’s mane: If you look closely, you can see the words “Navy Way” at the very top of the mane. There are numbers throughout the mane. In previously solved puzzles, numbers represented the coordinates of the city. The numbers hold some weight with the Charleston painting as well.
- The cross: There’s a cross in the lower-left portion of the lion’s mane. I point this out singly because it’s not a word or a number. It represents the many churches we have around Charleston.
- There are dozens of more clues that are open to interpretation. What did you find?
Verse 6: Commonly Wrong
Verse 6 is the most commonly used verse to match with the Charleston painting. There are wikis and other studies that show this is the correct verse. The most commonly used resource is a wiki that you can find here: Verse 6 Interpretation
The first five lines are said to reference the poem at the beginning of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island”. With Byron’s purpose to start a treasure hunt and Charleston’s long history of pirates, this holds some merit. However, I do not feel strong enough about this reference for it to be part of Charleston’s treasure location.
Again, my theory is that the verse is a line by line guide that will lead you straight to the exact location.
Feel free to explore more of the Verse 6 Interpretation. It seems legit at first glance and I applaud those that have put the effort into piecing together the Charleston history to make this verse work for their theory. I simply feel as though you are all overthinking this process.
Let’s talk about the OTHER verse that is open to interpretation for Charleston.
Verse 5: Vachowski’s Study
James Vachowski wrote a blog post of his “solve” for the Charleston treasure and he claimed it was on Sullivan’s Island. He shows his full solve for matching the Charleston painting with Verse 5 on his website. You can read the full solve here: Vachowski’s Verse 5 Solve.
It’s a great solution for a couple of reasons. First, he went against the grain of all other puzzle solves by using a different verse. Verse 5 is commonly disregarded because of the word “Citadel” in Line 8. Most treasure hunters would claim that this one word, with the complexity of these puzzles, would make the search a bit too easy. I, like Vachowski, disagree.
Vachowski’s solve for the Charleston puzzle places the buried treasure in Fort Moultrie very close to the USS Patapsco obelisk monument. However, Vachowski’s claim puts the treasure on the grounds of a National Park where excavating anything is simply prohibited. This sucks for Vachowski, after reading his blog post, his research was well thought out, detailed with pictures and references and very well written. I was highly impressed.
Regardless of how I was impressed with Vachowski’s research, I think he’s wrong.
My thoughts and theory
After reading Vachowski’s study of Verse 5, I felt like he was onto something. His advice to read previous solves for the riddles was great advice since I was already reading his. If you decide to go into this rabbit hole of looking for the clues and matching verses, you’ll start to doubt your own research with each interpretation you come across, that’s a guarantee.
Vachowski’s thought that Preiss could bury something in a National Park is a bit far-fetched even for the time that Preiss was piecing together his puzzles in 1980-81. Burying a casque three feet deep in a National Park would definitely get noticed, even if he did it in the middle of the night.
Like I said earlier, I’m not going to post my theory and thoughts on my own research, but I will say that the research done by Vachowski holds some merit. I, too, am using Verse 5 for my interpretation of the clues. Although there are some clues to the exact location hidden in the painting, I feel that the verses hold more water than the paintings.
For updates on my research, please continue following this blog or you can listen to the Stories in the Cemetery podcast episode on your favorite podcatcher. I may have plans to do a special one-hour episode at the beginning of each month until I solve the Charleston puzzle. There are plenty of other podcasts and blogs that talk about the puzzles, but if you are interested in hearing a month to month update on where I am with solving the puzzle, stay tuned.
If you’d like to support this blog/podcast, you can always
Stories in the Cemetery Tours
Whether you’re a local or someone on vacation, you can take an Interactive Ghost Hunting Experience tour with me through downtown Charleston. Even though we won’t trek to my alleged Secret Treasure site, we’ll visit many haunted locations using real ghost hunting equipment and possibly discover new activity! What will you discover on your tour?