Jerome Krieger joined an elite club Jan. 30 when the Forest Lake resident found the Pioneer Press Treasure Hunt medallion on the east shore of Spoon Lake in Maplewood’s Keller Regional Park. The Pioneer Press newspaper has held the medallion hunt every year since 1952 in correspondence with the St. Paul Winter Carnival, hiding the coveted prize somewhere in the St. Paul area and drawing hundreds of searchers who dutifully examine the newspaper’s daily clues.
By presenting both the clues from the newspaper and his registered Winter Carnival pin, Krieger earned $10,000, but he said his real prize is to be among the rare class of medallion finders.
“The money is great, but I’m more overjoyed to actually have found it,” he said.
Krieger first began seriously looking for the medallion in 2004, when it was hidden in Phalen Park. That year, 12 clues were given out by the time the medallion was found, and Krieger and a team of some family and friends were in the park near the scrum of searchers when the medallion was found.
“There were thousands of people in this bowl-type mosh pit,” he said, adding that the search exhilirated him. “I really hit it hard for the next nine, 10 years, and (then) the last few years, still searching but not quite as hard.”
His sister-in-law Jolene Casemore, from Hugo, and a friend from Blaine, where Krieger works as the city’s recreation manager, used to help him hunt, but their participation has tailed off in recent years. From Jan. 24 through Jan. 27, Krieger searched alone near Long Lake, before taking a break to help run the boys and girls tournaments for Forest Lake Hoops Club over the weekend (Krieger serves as the club’s president).
“I had Monday off at work, so I slept in a little bit and went out,” he said.
Over the weekend, the hunting community began to zero in on Keller Park as the likely hiding place for the medallion. Krieger’s examination of clue five’s references to “closed for the season” and “when nature calls” led him to believe the medallion was in the woods near some of the Keller Park pavilion bathrooms, which had signs reading “Closed for the season.” Clue eight’s references to “a boy’s amusement” and flicking wrists led him to an area near Arcade Street, where he remembered seeing locals fishing from the shore when he was young. He swept a large area of trees in his chosen location, starting in the late morning and continuing through about 3:30 p.m.
Krieger had started on the west side of the woods, and as he neared the southeastern corner, he saw a patch of snow that appeared undisturbed by other medallion searchers.
“If I see snow or anything that looks untouched, (I) go and hit that area,” he said.
With no one around, Krieger began sifting the snow with a hoe he carried with him on the search. After some brief snow-turning, he uncovered a large chunk of ice that he suspected might hold the medallion, but he couldn’t be sure. He held the block about waist high and dropped it on the ground.
“It splattered open into six pieces, and the medallion fell right out,” he said.
When Krieger first looked at the medallion, the fact that he’d found his long searched-for prize didn’t sink in right away. He scooped up the disc and hid it inside of his chopper mitten before walking briskly back to his car.
“The heart started beating a little quicker, and it wasn’t until I started (driving) the car when I started thinking, ‘I finally found this thing, I finally found this thing,’” he said.
Krieger called his wife, Jeanne, who initially wasn’t sure she believed him because they had found a fake medallion in a hunt a few years ago, before going to his parents’ house in St. Paul to retrieve the clues. He then drove back home to pick up Jeanne and his kids, Maddie and Greta, and the family went to the Pioneer Press office to claim their prize.
“We’re probably going to take a family trip sometime this year,” Krieger said of the family’s plans for the prize money.
Looking ahead to future medallion hunts, Krieger said that erstwhile hunting companions like Casemore have expressed interest in joining him again, as the excitement of his win seems to be contagious. The spirit of the search remains alluring for him, even after a victory.
“It’s the competitive nature in you,” he said. “To actually think that you can take these clues, which are kind of a riddle, to actually try to find it.”
In all the years of the medallion hunt, only four people or groups of people have found the medallion twice. Krieger wants to join them.
“I’m not going to hang up the shovel or the hoe anytime soon,” he said.