A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

The Man Scout: Giving thanks for the hidden treasures located throughout our community

By Chris Cole
Special to NKyTribune

When I look back on the year 2020, there will be many things I’d just as soon forget. This has been a long, strange year unlike any in my lifetime.

But it hasn’t been all bad, and one of the highlights happened just a couple of weeks ago when an organization called Mission: Treasure came to Cincinnati and presented an immersive treasure-hunting experience complete with a $25,000 prize.

Chris’s wife Megan out exploring for clues. At one point, she thought that the lion’s eyes were going to open and give her a clue at exactly 12:12 p.m. They didn’t.

My wife Megan and I are puzzle people; we love a good escape room and will spend hours on challenging games that put deductive reasoning skills to the test. So when we heard about the treasure hunt, we were all in.

We quickly assembled a team that included her sisters, Amber and Holly, and Amber’s husband Noah. We’re all educated, clever folks who have at least a working knowledge of our community, so we liked our odds.

If you’re wondering what any of this has to do with my journey to becoming a man scout, I’m getting to that.

You see, there is a section in my Boy Scouts Handbook that stresses the importance of knowing your community. I’ve lived in Northern Kentucky for all but about a year of my life, so it would be easy to say, “Yeah, obviously I know my community.”

But do I, really?

Last year, Megan and I committed to branching out and trying new restaurants around our region. We’d fallen into a comfortable routine of eating at the same few places. We committed to going someplace new every few weeks. I don’t think we had a single bad experience.

And at the end of the year, we had a newfound appreciation for all of the little neighborhoods we’d visited. Our region is a rich tapestry of life and art and culture, and we’d been overlooking it to our detriment.

Which brings us back to Mission: Treasure.

After a few hours of banging our heads against the wall, we were able to solve the first puzzle, which had arrived on our doorstep with a map of Cincinnati and some cryptic old diary entries. We were on our way!

Day two brought a new puzzle which, frankly, kicked our butts. Part of the puzzle included sketches of what we deduced to be locations around Cincinnati.

The Man Scout after hours of trying to decode a Playfair cipher.

We had no idea where to begin, so each of us spent time exploring the city in ways we never had before. Megan drove downtown and wandered around Fountain Square, giving scout-like attention to the statues and inscriptions. Holly wandered Eden Park looking for answers.

The rest of us took a tour of Cincinnati using Google Maps, and Amber’s keen eye for detail paid off. What we had originally thought was an overhead drawing of the P&G building turned out to be the Reptile House at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden. How Amber was able to figure that one out, I still don’t know.

Megan checked in to tell us about Henry Probasco, who donated Fountain Square’s Tyler Davidson Fountain to the City of Cincinnati in 1871. The fountain itself has a fascinating history that I never, despite spending countless hours on Fountain Square.

Over the next few days, we learned about Ida Martin, the namesake for Mount Ida (today called Mount Adams), who lived in a hollowed-out sycamore tree. We discovered that there was an incline railway disaster in Mt. Auburn that killed six people. And we read about Music Hall when it opened in 1878. Incidentally, we also went down a day-long Underground Railroad rabbit hole that turned out to have nothing to do with the treasure hunt, but was fascinating nonetheless.

Chris still doesn’t know how his sister-in-law was able to take the clue on the left and find the Reptile House at the Cincinnati Zoo. She’s got skills.

What we learned, essentially, was something we already knew but never fully understood – there are hidden treasures all around our community. As we celebrate Thanksgiving this week, let’s all take a moment to be thankful for that.

We are so fortunate to live in a region that offers not only professional sports and world-class arts, but also adventures like Findlay Market and Bellevue’s Fairfield Ave.

As for the treasure hunt, we unfortunately also learned about something called a Playfair cipher. If you’ve never come across one of these bad boys, consider yourself lucky. I’d describe for you how it works, but being a Weren’t No Boy Scout, after hours and hours of trying to figure it out, my only contribution to the effort was that it is a poorly named cipher.

Had we been able to decode the Playfair, we would have learned that the $25,000 prize was hidden inside a tree, like Ida Martin, somewhere in Mt. Storm Park.

I’ve never been to Mt. Storm Park. In fact, until we learned that the prize had been found there, I don’t believe I’d even heard of Mt. Storm Park.

Yes, there are hidden treasures all around our wonderful community. This long Thanksgiving weekend, I believe Megan and I will make some time to visit the park and daydream about what might have been if we’d only been able to figure out that insufferable cipher. (Not that I’m bitter.)

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Until next week, Do a Good Turn Daily.

Chris Cole is Director of Enterprise Communications at Sanitation District No. 1 and a deacon at Plum Creek Christian Church in Butler. He lives in Highland Heights with his wife, Megan. The Man Scout chronicles Cole’s journey to acquiring some of the skills of the head, the heart and the hand he failed to learn as a child of the 1980s growing up in Newport. His field guide: a 1952 Boy Scouts Handbook he found on eBay.

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