The code led the British to hunt down 'golden rabbit treasures' 40 years ago
The painting in the book Masquerade, published in 1979, contains a message about where the "treasure" was buried, creating a craze for hunting in England.
"Do something no-one has ever done," Tom Maschler, president of Jonathan Cape publishing company, told artist Kit Williams in 1976. Williams accepted the challenge and in August 1979 published Masquerade, the following book. That became the focus of attention of the whole world.
Masquerade consists of 15 paintings that illustrate the story of a rabbit named Jack Hare carrying treasure from the Moon to his lover, the Sun. When he meets the Sun, Jack realizes he has lost the treasure and readers can locate it by deciphering the message hidden behind the paintings.
Williams created the "treasure" is an 18-carat gold rabbit encrusted with diamonds worth 6,500 USD. He kept it in a ceramic box to avoid being found with a metal detector and buried it secretly at Ampthill Park in Bedfordshire. The box read: "I am Masquerade's treasure keeper. The treasure is safely inside me waiting to be picked up or buried forever."
Williams informed readers that "treasures" were buried in public places in England. To ensure that remote readers also had the opportunity to participate, Williams set the winner as the first to send the correct answer in the mail.
The book has sold hundreds of thousands of copies worldwide, not only in the UK but also in Australia, South Africa, Germany, Japan, France and the United States. Countless lawns in England were dug up in the treasure hunt.
"In its first release, the book was sold out within two days," Williams said. "They had to hurry and reprint. The book became a phenomenon."
Williams became the sought-after author. He was invited to events in the US and appeared on talk shows in the UK. More than 200 letters are sent to his home every day and Williams has to read them one by one.
To decode the code in paintings, readers must draw a line connecting each animal's eye to its paws and the letters outside the picture frame. For humanoid paintings, readers connect their eyes to the character's longest fingers and toes.
Putting the words found in each picture together, readers get the sentence: "Catherine's Long finger Over Shadows Earth Buried Yellow Amulet Midday Points The Hour In Light of equinox Look you". (Catherine's long finger, silhouetted against the ground, at her fingertips is a treasure, found at noon on the day of her stool.)
The first letter of the words forms the phrase "Close by Ampthil", meaning "near Ampthil". Combined with the data above, the solution is a treasure buried near the monument of the cross of the Queen Catherine at Ampthill Park. It is located at the top of the monument at noon on the spring or fall equinox.
In March 1982, Kit Williams received a drawing depicting the "treasure" location from a man named Ken Thomas. He called Thomas and announced he was the winner.
However, Williams realized that Thomas had not deciphered the code through the paintings but fortunately guessed the location. Still, Thomas was given an award. He and Williams removed a yellow rabbit from a ceramic box in the presence of media but Thomas tried to cover his face with a scarf and avoid recording.
Shortly after Thomas was awarded, Williams received a letter from physics teachers Mike Barker and John Rousseau stating the method of decoding.
Many readers suspected that Thomas had cheated, even claiming that Williams had set up the play to deceive them. Even Williams expressed doubts about Thomas because he had failed to solve the riddle but seemed to resort to other methods of finding treasures.
On December 11, 1988, the Sunday Times accused Ken Thomas of fraud. They expose that Thomas's real name is Dugald Thompson, John Guard's business partner. Guard is the boyfriend of Veronica Robertson - an ex-girlfriend who once lived with author Williams. Guard persuaded Robertson to give them clues.
During his time with Williams, Robertson overheard the location of the golden rabbit but did not know how to decode the code. After Robertson revealed that the "treasure" was located at Ampthill Park, Guard and his two assistants used metal detectors but failed. They then drew a picture of the location and sent it to Williams, making "Thomas" recognized as the first person to get the correct answer.
Williams was shocked to learn of this scandal. "This creates a stigma for Masquerade. I feel a deep sense of responsibility to those who have actually worked hard to find the treasure," he said.
After winning the golden rabbit, Dugald Thompson founded a software company called "Haresoft", organized a decoding contest with the prize of "golden rabbit". No one wins this game, many people suspect it is just a hoax with meaningless words and images. The company went bankrupt in 1988 and the golden rabbit was auctioned off in December of this year.
Finally, the golden rabbit is sold to an anonymous buyer for $ 42,000. Williams also bid, but stopped at $ 7,800.
In 2009, on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the book's release, the BBC made the documentary interview with Williams. He expressed his desire to "reunite" with the golden rabbit. Upon hearing the news, the granddaughter of the owner of the "treasure" turned his wishes into reality.
"I created it because I was an anonymous author at the time," Williams said. "At the time I thought it would become something very special and in the end it was really true."
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