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HERE'S JUST ANOTHER STORY OF FOUND GOLD AND LOST GLORY, AND A SECRET NO ONE COULD KEEP
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(November 4,1996)Two men are grading a driveway for "Rolling Stone" publisher Jann Wenner in Sun Valley, Idaho, and find a long-buried Mason jar full of old U.S. gold coins. It's their little secret and finders keepers, right? Wrong. Buried treasure is never that simple.
(November 4,1996) Larry Anderson and Greg Corliss were working on Jann Wenner's ranch in Sun Valley, Idaho, where they had been hired to build a driveway to a new guesthouse on the 117-acre spread. The ranch was once part of Bradford Townsite, a mining town around the turn of the century, where silver had sporadically been dug out of the hills. More recently the ranch had been home to cattle, and at one time a woodchopper had lived on the acreage. As they turned the ground with a skip loader to grade out the drive before paving, the last thing they could have imagined was what Greg Corliss found in the freshly-turned dirt - gold coins!

"Larry, look, gold!" "Put 'em in your pocket, we could split 'em." "Find your own!" was Corliss' reply. But then Anderson spotted a few dozen coins still in the ground, intact in the broken bottom of the jar. Corliss at that point reconsidered his hasty words. "Oh yeah, fifty-fifty," he said, as he and Anderson dug through the dirt, sifting out gold coins, and filling their pockets.

"We'll get a reward! We're going to be on the cover of Rolling Stone!" Corliss was getting excited now. Anderson was thinking otherwise. "Shut up - he's home," said Anderson, indicating Wenner's house a few hundred feet away. "This is between me and you."

Dusk was on them, and the two men packed up and left, picking up a sixpack of beer on their way to Anderson's gravel pit at Poverty Flats. At the trailer there, they celebrated. The gold coins consisted of 96 U.S. coins, all 1914 and before, weighing over four pounds in total. They pictured the Indian, Eagle, and Miss Liberty designs, and a little soap and water allowed the natural brilliance of the coins to shine through. They admired the coins, and had a little party, just the two of them, fueled by Crown Royal, vodka, cigars, and the unmistakeable gleam of new-found buried treasure.

Before the evening was over, Anderson said, "I won't tell my wife: you don't tell your girlfriend. We won't tell anyone." Corliss pulled out his pocketknife and said "I'm cutting my finger and signing our inventory in blood. Come on - we'll be blood brothers!" But Anderson declined the chance to sign in his own blood. Did he think it was a silly gesture? Was he squeamish about blood? "That's when I wondered if he was going to turn on me," Corliss told writer Tad Friend, quoted in Friend's article entitled "The Gold Diggers" in the May 31, 1999 edition of The New Yorker. "I mean, it's buried treasure. You got to sign the documents in blood."

Corliss arrived home late that night, drunk, as a matter of fact so drunk that his girlfriend Emily wanted to throw him out. Excitedly he told her the story of the gold. It was in the safe at Anderson's, but it was real and half of it belonged to him. The gold story had the desired effect, and Emily let him stay.

But the story was just too irresistible for Corliss not to tell again and again. In the next three days, at least seven people heard the tale. Some believed it, and some didn't. So Corliss produced photos of himself and Anderson and the gold, and showed them around the pool table at the local bar where he spent time. And the story spread through the small community.

And what were the coins worth? The face value was $1160. The gold value was over $21,000, and who knew what the true numismatic or collectors' value was? Corliss imagined the value to be anywhere from $30,000, up to…maybe a half a million if the coins appraised right!

But as the winter dragged on, things changed between the two men. Anderson berated Corliss for blabbing about the treasure, and started to get nervous as people who had heard about it questioned him. He turned coy with them, and denied it happened. Corliss, who never seemed too enamored of manual labor to begin with, began to seem to be shirking real work.

Corliss was in fact wondering why he was having to clean dump trucks and haul snow for chump wages, when maybe his life would change for the better if they would just go ahead and split the coins between them. Emily saw it the same way. But when Corliss brought it up to Anderson, Corliss was reportedly told: "These coins are going to be the best thing that ever happened to us, or maybe the worst. We can't tell yet….I'm going to keep the coins for ten years. After that, nobody will know where they came from."

Now Corliss was becoming as wary of Anderson as his girlfriend Emily had been all along. Back during the initial excitement of finding the gold, and the two were like "Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn," Corliss had borrowed money from Anderson against his share of the treasure. Now, four months later, things had changed. Corliss, and Emily, did not like the direction Anderson was taking things.

So Corliss borrowed $13,000 from his older brother. His plan was to repay Anderson and claim his half of the treasure, and on a Saturday in March 1997, he paid a visit to Anderson's house with the $13,000 in cash.

But Anderson had other plans for the coins, and hit the roof when he saw Corliss with the money. "Where the hell did you get that money?" was his first question, and then he got mad. "Get…out of my house. There is no gold! I declare war on you about the gold." Corliss went home and told Emily, who immediately went over to Anderson's place. Friend quotes Emily: "I just started screaming at him, huffing and puffing. He said, 'nine-tenths of the law is possession,' and told me to get off his property."

The rest of the story is an unbroken chain of ugliness, starting with Corliss threatening to rat off Anderson to the police, the sheriff, the IRS, and Jann Wenner. Both men retained lawyers. A three-hour mediation attempt failed. Going against each other, Corliss and Anderson each separately tried to cut their own deal with Wenner.

Anderson finally turned the coins over to Wenner in a trade for legal expenses and indemnification against legal actions. All traces of civility had disappeared. Corliss sued Anderson for wrongful detention of property. He lost. Corliss also maintains that Anderson, before turning over the coins to Wenner, kept twenty or so of the scarce and valuable ones, substituting inferior specimens.

And so it always goes with tales of buried treasure. Once the gold is found, scheming, deceit, and treachery are sure to follow. Tad Friend's article "The Gold Diggers" in the May 31st, 1999 edition of The New Yorker takes on the whole sordid tale (complete with Sun Valley celebrities - Demi Moore! Bruce Willis! Clint Eastwood! Past and present Hemingways!), and tells it very well.

What are the coins really worth? Wenner hired two different appraisers, one coming up with $23,400, the other, $25,500. Who buried the coins in the first place? Local history suggests no one with that kind of wealth ever owned or lived on the land, but with buried treasure, no one really knows. Once you bury gold, unless you tell a friend or relative where, the knowledge dies with you.

Where are the gold coins today? On January 5th, 1999, Judge James May ruled that "Anderson and Corliss were acting on behalf of Wenner and consequently the coins, like the topsoil, belong to the land owner."

"How dumb were these guys?" a local mining engineer is quoted. "Obviously, you split 'em and the split buys the other guy's silence - because Jann Wenner needs more money like a hole in the head."

Emily is now Greg Corliss' wife. She has said, "It's just amazing, the greed of the gold. All Greg wanted was to be on the cover of Rolling Stone."


 

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