The Buried Owl Mystery: The 30-Year Treasure Hunt Mysteries France | Photography

aAt 3.30 a.m. on April 23, 1993, in a secret location somewhere in France, a man in pitch-black struggled to dig a hole in which to bury something hidden in the trunk of his car. “I hadn’t even finished, my hands were bloody,” he later told Libération. “When that was done, I went away for breakfast. I looked at myself in the mirror in the cafe. I was barely recognizable, shaggy, and covered in the floor.”

The man, who became known to thousands of French as Max Valentine, had hidden a small bronze owl statue, spurring what would become one of the world’s longest running treasure hunts. The location of the site can be determined by solving 11 puzzles—a mixture of diabolical language games, map ciphers, historical allusions, and mathematical mindspaces—published in a book called On the Trail of the Golden Owl, which sends treasure hunter buffs filling out the maps and cruising around. Mysterious villages with metal detectors. Whoever discovers the owl will win a similar sculpture, made of gold, silver, rubies and diamonds, worth 1 million francs (about 150,000 euros, or 126,000 pounds, in today’s money). But to be precise, Valentine died exactly 16 years later, on the night of April 23, 2009, and the owl remains undiscovered. It is still there now.

  • Above: Elisa, photographed in Saint-Maurice-de-Rimen, in the grounds of an 18th-century mansion. Elisa was in her camper, intending to stay the night. Above, left: Funambule, whose name translates to “tightrope gait”; Many researchers, or albumThey have pseudonyms that they use in online forums dedicated to research. Above right: Alan, a committed treasure hunter who read about the mission in his local newspaper in 2009. “It was exciting to run the hunt for 15 years and no one has found it.”

says British photographer Emily Graham, whose new book, The Blindest Man, follows a few hundred album (Owl hunters) Still on the road. Its title refers to one of the clues in the research process, a junkie of the proverb “Nothing is so blind as those who will not see.” I quickly absorbed the details of the Golden Owl story – especially the ridiculous perseverance of those involved. “Treasure hunts have been a fun way for me to explore those human characteristics. There is something almost childlike about the ways people allow themselves to get lost while in pursuit, which I find alluring. There is a sense of wonder that is often left out of adult life.”

Anyone who has fallen into the Pokémon Go mania of 2016 will understand – but it seems doubtful that the game will continue to function in 30 years. There is an association, A2CO, brought album Together in Internet forums to examine the eleven riddles; The first reveals the order of play according to the wavelengths of color, and the subsequent should gradually identify a dig site somewhere in France. The phrase “The first, the first half of my first / Preceding my second and third, in search of their path…” Eights begins the first true mystery; It is accompanied by an illustration of Cockerelle with a halo from a map of France – a sign of its geographical importance. Since 2003, some of the 165 A2CO members have met each year for an annual conference. After a lot of time, the hunters became divided – for example, there are “Daboists” who believe that the area is the northeastern village of Dabo, and “Anti-Daboists”.

Research materials and archival photos relating to his research on the Chouette d'Or, from the archives of treasure hunter Yvonne Charolette.
Research materials and archival photos relating to his research on the Chouette d'Or, from the archives of treasure hunter Yvonne Charolette.

Graham’s book picks up this free problem-solving book for everyone, with its pictures of mysterious wrecks on the road suddenly imbued with meaning, and album He seems to have captured the revelation. For her, this work of research and interpretation, and the side roads of imagination and confusion that can lead to them, were analogous to her trade. “There was a rich fantasy world connected to the researchers,” she says. While the clues were apparently based on logic, players’ searches often led them into a world of fantasy and fantasy, surrounded by faulty solutions. “In the field of documentaries, the photographer is often portrayed as the hunter and the recorder. But many critics counter this by examining photography’s bias. I wanted to make a comparison between the treasure hunter and the photographer as a way of thinking about photography’s slippery relationship to reality.”

Valentine enjoyed the thrill of searching for fun exchanges with treasure hunters at Minitel, a leading French pre-Internet communication system. He sent out 6,000 letters, full of baffling hints and red herrings, in the first three months alone. Valentine’s real name was Regis Hauser. The one-time marketing consultant created On the Trail of the Golden Owl in collaboration with artist Michael Baker, who designed the statue. This was the latest trend in armchair treasure hunting initiated by Kate Williams’ 1979 book Masquerade that had British readers searching for a golden hare; Hauser may also have been influenced by the role-playing settings of TV game shows such as Fort Boyard and its UK counterpart The Crystal Maze. Over the years, I collected Valentine’s statements (called crazyor “he-tell-mes” in owl language) has a modern-like weight by society, and the game’s director has gained legendary status.

Since 2014, Graham has taken photos of 10 people album They accompanied the two on their assignments. “The thing I found so cool is that a lot of them felt like they were always on the verge of finding the owl,” she says. Cedric Delebeaux, the 50-year-old organizer of Nature Discovery, agrees. It was part of the original wave of ’90s gamers, but was discontinued in 1998 for 10 years. Then a serendipitous conversation about a treasure hunt sparks him again, and he decides that his original theory was flawed. “When I reopened the book, I hit an introduction that no one else had, and I knew I had to keep going,” he says. “It occupies your mind day and night. You don’t sleep when you find something new. It’s like a drug!”

Celine, 2018. From The Blind Man.
Disguise, 2017. From Blind Man.
Meteor (pseudonym), the famous treasure hunter who solved and found Le trésor d'Orval, treasure hunt also by Max Valentin, launched four years after Chouette d'Or.  Many researchers believe it is the most likely candidate for finding the golden owl.

  • Top of the page: Celine, who has become addicted to the puzzle, works on it day and night, especially when she was pregnant with her first child, photographed at home after albumAnnual conference in 2018. Top left: Cedric Delebeaux, who was part of the original wave of researchers in the 1990s and returned to research after a 10-year hiatus. This is his disguise to remain anonymous to other hunters. Top right: Meteor, a famous hunter who found another prize From puzzlemaster Max Valentin’s awards, Le trésor d’Orval. Many believe he is the most likely candidate to find the Golden Owl.

But the chase has led some to places of disappointment, and worse. Few researchers began to suspect that the Byzantine mysteries had any definitive solution. Someone believes that the prize was a booby trap and that Valentine was trying to kill him. In general, the late game leader is revered, but Baker is a more controversial figure for some album – Especially after he tried to auction the original gold figurine in 2014, saying the game was null and void after Valentine’s death (the sale was eventually cancelled).

Yvonne Crolot, a 78-year-old retired engineer from Paris, spent 20 years chasing an owl – but now claims that the stalking was a “fraud” from the start, and that nothing was originally buried right away with a figurative X. It is believed that the Mysteries have located a location, and that he has found it: on a mountainside in the town of Lus-la-Croix-Haute in Drum. But he came back from his pit empty-handed. On the 25th anniversary of the treasure hunt in 2018, he filed a legal complaint against the heirs of Valentine and Baker to try to force them to reveal the solution (the complaint is still under consideration).

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Crulott, a former forensic researcher, has been conducting his independent investigation for eight years. “I’m trying to understand how hundreds of thousands of people have been exploited to this degree,” he says. Becker says Crulot is frustrated by his fruitless searches, but he won’t respond to specific accusations while the legal case is in effect. He says he put the owl up for sale during a time when he was “tired” of the game, but has since fallen in love with it again: “I’m fascinated by the human side – the player community is extraordinary.” As part of his efforts to maintain interest in the game, he recently excavated and replaced a severely corroded bronze owl. alternative.

Despite his claims, Carlott admits that the original Valentine entertainment He had a certain genius. “I enjoyed hunting the owl as much as I enjoyed the mysteries the justice system gave me,” he says. And the journey, not the final destination, is where Graham sees true beauty. cite another owlquoted at length in the book, whose motives look to a higher level: “It’s a whole way of seeing it–a kind of spiritual pursuit. It’s about looking at the world and appreciating it, and seeing the signs around you. It’s so beautiful the way you talk about it.”

The Blindest Man was published by Void in June.

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