Point, Click, Dig

St. Paul Pioneer Press - 01-21-2001

Technology has changed the way some people search, but the Winter Carnival Treasure Hunt retains its mystery and magic after 50 years.


In 1952, when the Pioneer Press Treasure Hunt began, finding the hidden medallion was a simpler affair. Most hunters eagerly awaited the two-a-day clues printed in the morning Pioneer Press and the afternoon Dispatch. They often gathered in the cold outside the newspaper lobby to get the latest clue in the early editions.

They they’d puzzle out the clues, trying to decipher each line and every word for hidden meanings. Most had to rely on their own knowledge of the city and county, or had to team up with friends and relatives to try to unravel the medallion riddle.

Today, technology has changed the tactics for many diehard trasure hunters.

“You see guys out there with their cell phones or handheld devices they read the Internet from,” said “Mr. Med Hunter,” the online persona used by a White Bear Lake man who operates one of two popular Web sites dedicated to the annual medallion search that takes place during the St. Paul Winter Carnival.

Med Hunter admits to a 13-year obsession with finding the medallion, which this year is worth anywhere from $2,500 to $10,000 for the lucky finder. Although he has never found the prize, one year he came within 15 feet of it, he says.

At his Web site, www.wintercarnival.8m.com, he posts historical information about the hunts as well as commentary and information about this year’s event.

The other Web site, www.coolercrew.com/medallion.html, is a message board where treasure hunt fans can post messages. It is hosted by TwinCities.com, the local online arm of Knight Ridder, which owns the Pioneer Press.

The newspaper hosts another message board on its PioneerPlanet Web site where hunters can discuss clues. GO to www.pioneerplanet.com/wintercarnival for the link.

Another dedicated treasure hunt fan, Greg Sax, who lives in San Francisco, posts most of the material, including a history of the hunt and a year-by-year account of clues and their explanations.

“I am passionate about the hunt,” said Sax, who will use some of his vacation time to return to St. Paul to search for the medallion.

On their Web sites, both men share insights about what the clues might mean, although Med Hunter said he might abandon that tradition this year because it takes time away from his search for the treasure. “I’m an active participant,” he said.

Sax said people weigh in freely on his Cooler Crew message board, offering interpretations of the clues. Some people, he cautions, may post false explanations to throw off other “diggers”.

But he thinks most hunters are experienced enough to tell the difference between a real hint and a false one.

“It may be that ‘newbies’ are posting items, but it is obvious that they got it wrong, that their interpretations of the clues lack the sophistication,” Sax said.

Sax said the Cooler Crew board demonstrates the diverse community of interested folks, many of them not in Minnesota, who avidly follow the hunt via the Internet.

“It is not unusual to get a clue interpreted, say, by someone in Sioux City, Iowa,” Sax said.

The annual Pioneer Press event, now in its 50th year, really does bring people together, he says, “Most people hunt for the joy of it. It gets people outside and together in a way that is incredible, considering Minnesota winters.”

Over the hunt’s history, other technology factors have played a role in altering the medallion hunt.

Until 1988, for instance, the treasure medallion was made of metal, but some hunters complained this gave an unfair advantage to those using metal detectors to gain an edge. Since then, the medallion has been nonmetallic.

Also, for many years, treasure hunters and area residents would listen carefully for the cannon or mortar blast that was fired from the roof of the Pioneer Press and Dispatch office. The noise announced the sad news to hordes of hunters that someone else had found the elusive medallion.

These days, the newspaper relies on the electronic media and its own telephone hot line to more quietly announce the end of the hunt.