Secrets Revealed! Jewel of the Susquehanna treasure hunt riddles explained

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The đź’Ž Jewel of the Susquehanna has been found! After 29 days of treasure hunting, returning champions, The Night Owls finished the epic local history adventure first to claim the $1,125 prize. Team FAithYA placed second, winning $500, and Triples is Best took third and the $250 prize. Team Strybos claimed the fourth-place leaderboard prize by earning 95,400 points. They were also the fifth team to find the treasure. Congratulations!

As participants found the hidden location for the Jewel of the Susquehanna, winners were directed to meet at the Sehner-Ellicott-von Hess House for a brief awards ceremony. In addition to their loot crate brimming with cash, winners were treated to yummy treasure-hunting-themed cupcakes from Sarah’s Custom Cakery. Just check out those awesome treasure maps on those mini desserts!

Warning Spoilers Ahead!

Several players requested an explanation of the various challenges. I have provided them below. Stop reading here if you are still trying to solve the Jewel of the Susquehanna treasure hunt for the consolation prizes of plastic gems and fake diamonds.

Side Quests

While the official weekly challenges did not begin until Saturday, April 15, 2023, I thought it would be fun if people could start their adventure the moment the treasure hunt was announced. Therefore, I hid two side quests for clever participants to find and unlock. While they did not reveal portions of the treasure’s GPS coordinates, they did add points to the leaderboard improving a team’s odds of winning the fourth-place honorable mention of $125.

Side Quest 1A

Location: 1899 Road Map of Lancaster County
Solution: moonofbaroda

There are only so many ways you can hide something on a piece of paper. Similar to last year, I hid an encoded message on the back of the 1899 Road Map of Lancaster County using invisible ink. A blacklight revealed the message, which read:

If you google “Forbidden Eye,” the first page of results talks about the Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye. Given my love for Indiana Jones, this should have been a strong indication that participants were looking in the right place. The Temple of the Forbidden Eye is an enhanced motion vehicle dark ride attraction at Disneyland. Disneyland once handed out decoder cards that fans could use to translate “Mara-glyphics” symbols (as known as the Forbidden Eye cipher) written through the queue. Pictures of the decoder cards are still available on the Internet using one of those images allowed the message to be deciphered.

The Moon of Baroda is a 24.04-carat cut diamond discovered in Baroda, India. The diamond, canary yellow in color, is cut in a pear shape. When found, the rough diamond weighed 25.95 carats. The Moon of Baroda was originally owned by the Maharajas of Baroda. The royal family of Gaekwad Maharajas was in possession of the diamond for almost 500 years. The gem was later worn by singer and actress Marilyn Monroe and Empress Maria Theresa of Austria.

Marylin Monroe wearing the 24-carat Moon of Baroda.

Side Quest 1B

Destination: Ferncliff Nature Preserve
Solution: LittleMule

No seeds grow this ancient plant
that adorns a path of steep ridge slant. 
Follow it down to the Muddy River’s flow, 
where Galadriel’s Mirror awaits above a gravel plateau.
Standing at her elvish basin,
Look 360 for the marker’s location.

The first stanza tells users where to go. The first line talked about no seeds grow this ancient plant. Mosses and ferns don’t have seeds. Instead, they produce spores. In particular, ferns are ancient plants whose ancestors first appeared on Earth over 300 million years ago. In the second line, another word for a steep ridge could be a cliff. The third line, Follow it down to the Muddy River’s flow, gives another hint as to the location. The name for the Susquehanna River may come from the Lenape word siskĂ«wahane meaning “Muddy River.” Ferncliff Nature Preserve is along the Susquehanna River.

Near the train tracks (a gravel plateau) is Galadriel’s Mirror. In The Lord of the Rings, the Mirror of Galadriel was a silver basin of water used in the Elven realm of LothlĂłrien by Galadriel. The Mirror was used to grant the viewer things of the past, present, and possible future. It could show images that the viewer desired to see or that of its own choice.

Less than two feet away, the marker was attached to a nearby tree with the password LittleMule. The password was just the first of many Romancing the Stone (prequel to the Jewel of the Nile) movie Easter eggs. In the film, arguably the funniest scene is when the two main characters, Jack and Joan, escape from the evil Colonel Zolo and his troops with the help of a Columbian drug dealer named Juan in his 1982 Ford Bronco named Little Mule, Pepe.


Side Quest 2A

Location: On the web page announcing the treasure hunt, a QR Code was hidden as a gif on slide four that spends most of its time as an image of a gem.
Solution: arkenstone

Starting the second side quest required participants to carefully examine the images on the web page announcing the Jewel of the Susquehanna treasure hunt. The orange gem image (fourth in the slideshow gallery) is actually a gif. After three seconds, it turns into a QR Code for one second. Scanning it with your phone took you to a password-protected page. The password was hidden in the poem giving details for this year’s treasure hunt. I made subtle marks on key letters to spell out the word.

In The Hobbit, the Arkenstone or Heart of the Mountain was a wondrous gem sought by Thorin Oakenshield, which had been discovered beneath the Lonely Mountain during the reign of Thráin I and then shaped by the Dwarves. The Arkenstone became the family heirloom of the Kings of Durin’s Folk but was lost when the dragon Smaug stole the mountain from the Dwarves.

Side Quest 2B

Destination: Texter Mountain Nature Preserve.
Solution: GoldenEye

Near Lancaster’s apex, a bonus marker hides.
Behind a birdhouse is where it resides.
Inside a mountain preserve, follow a blue trail.
Look for it up the hill past a babbling brook if you want to prevail.

The first and third lines of the poem explain where to search. Near Lancaster’s apex and mountain preserve, give you all the details you need. A quick Google Map search reveals Lancaster Conservancy’s Texter Mountain Preserve almost at the apex of Lancaster County.

Once on site, you follow the blue-blazed trail looking for a birdhouse. The marker was attached to the tree behind the box. Some people were sure the marker was stolen or lost when they found a birdhouse on the ground next to the stream, but as the poem said Look for it up the hill past a babbling brook if you want to prevail.

The GoldenEye was a fictional electromagnetic orbital weapon developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War in the 1995 James Bond film of the same name. In order to activate the satellites, three keys were needed; two conventional golden keys were used to start the system’s targeting network.


The third key, a large rectangular cartridge that housed an optical disc and translucent golden gem, was used to read the system’s complex access and firing codes.

Week 1: Hunt for the Jewel of the Susquehanna begins!

Week 1A Challenge
Destination: Wheatland
Solution: starofindia

When viewed in a mirror, the passage above becomes legible. It reads:

Oh Lord, My God, is there no help for the widow's son
before the bridge is completely overrun?
With your fellow brothers, rush to guard 15’s front door.
Then scan for the answer on a nearby sign’s decor.

The first line is the Masonic cry for help. So the location or answer has a connection with the ancient fraternal order.

The second line about the bridge being “completely overrun” referred to the covered bridge in Columbia when Confederate forces attempted to cross to invade Lancaster in late June of 1863. You can read more about that event here.

The third line again hints at a Masonic connection with the keyword of “brothers.” While referencing “15’s front door” indicates James Buchanan, the 15th president of the United States, and his Wheatland home in Lancaster.

Buchanan was a highly respected member of the Masonic Lodge 43. His Masonic brothers maintained a vigil around the Wheatland Mansion as Southern troops were poised to cross the Susquehanna River and enter Lancaster County.

Near Wheatland’s front door was this sign with a QR code.

When scanned, the bolded letters in the following passage spell out “starofindia.”

The Star of India is a 563.35-carat star sapphire, one of the largest such gems in the world. It is almost flawless and is unusual in that it has stars on both sides of the stone. The greyish-blue gem was mined in Sri Lanka and is housed in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Star of India

On October 29, 1964, the famous golf-ball-sized stone was stolen, along with several other gems of note, including the Midnight Star, the DeLong Star Ruby, and the Eagle Diamond. The thieves unlocked a bathroom window during museum open hours, climbed in that night, and found that the sapphire was the only gem in the collection protected by an alarm—and the battery for that was dead. The stones stolen were valued at more than $400,000. Within two days, the culprits—Jack Roland Murphy (also known as “Murph the Surf”), Allan Kuhn, and Roger Clark—were arrested. Unfortunately, the gems had already been handed off. 

In January 1965, in a bid for leniency, Kuhn led authorities to a bus locker in Miami where the uninsured Star of India and some of the other stolen stones were recovered.

Week 1B Challenge
Destination: 1899 Road Map of Lancaster County
Solution: WhiteOak

Week 1A was a map challenge. In fact, all the B challenges require the use of your treasure map. If you google “Phantom Settlement,” Agloe is the second search result and likely the most famous of all phantom settlements. Phantom settlements are typically used by cartographers as copyright traps to prove their map has been copied by a competitor. Agloe’s story is crazy and worth reading about.

If you carefully examine the map, you will find “a phantom settlement”—Agloe—on this 1899 Road Map of Lancaster County in Penn Township. Just south of it is the “alabaster town” of White Oak.

Week 1C Challenge
Destination: Enola Low Grade rail trail in Bart Township
Solution: 37940

Don’t have a cow, man!
This is all part of the plan.
Along a Susquehanna branch, vegetated
to a dark tunnel corrugated.
At the entrance, a sentinel stands
Record the weight is the first of his demands.

The poem’s first line, “Don’t have a cow, man!” was made famous by Bart Simpson, which was a hint that you are headed to Bart Township.

Bart Simpson

The third line about a “Susquehanna branch” was designed to send people to the Enola Low Grade, technically known as the Atglen and Susquehanna Branch. A now abandoned branch line of the Pennsylvania Railroad. A Google search of the “Susquehanna branch” has the Wikipedia entry for the Atglen and Susquehanna Branch as the first result.

If you walk the Enola Low Grade in Bart Township, you eventually come to a “dark tunnel corrugated.” The “sentinel” at the entrance is the pole for the transmission line. The pole’s weight is engraved on a small plaque.

Many people interpreted the “Susquehanna branch” line to mean a branch of the Susquehanna River. The following day when I published the hint about the marker being near East of Quarryville and near a road with Pleasant in the name, several people were sure the poem referenced Jackson Sawmill Covered Bridge. The similarities to this location were not intended, but it is a big world, so sometimes clues fit more than one spot.

Week 1D Challenge
Destination: Beneath the bridge that crosses the Meetinghouse Creek along the Enola Low Grade rail trail in Bart Township.
Solution: 1824

On this trail, continue northeast 
for your challenge is not yet complete.
In the Meetinghouse, gaze upon ebony sky
for there, the medallion you will spy.

The poem for Week 1’s final challenge had you walking another .25 miles northeast on the trail. There the Meetinghouse Creek passes beneath an old railroad bridge. If you walk below, the marker was attached to the black railroad ties (ebony sky) overhead.

Week 2: Jewel of the Susquehanna treasure hunt continues!

Week 2A Challenge

Destination: Discover Lancaster
Solution: Grasshopper

A lot of people overthought this challenge. If you google “three word search,” the first result is the what3words website. They have divided the entire planet into three meter squares. Each grid has been assigned a unique combination of three words to identify the location. If you examine the image of the stacked books, only seven words are visible. With a bit of trial and error, which ones and the correct order can be found. They are chair, pearls, and sailors. The three colored diamonds in the bottom left-hand corner streamline the process by hinting at the correct order in which the words go.

Once you arrive at Discover Lancaster, you need to find a red diamond. A small quilt in the rear of their art gallery has a large red diamond on it. The information card next to it had the password of Grasshopper printed on it. This was the name of the drink Joan Wilder ordered at the beginning of Romancing the Stone when meeting with her book agent.

Quilts at Discover Lancaster

Week 2B Challenge
Destination: 1899 Road Map of Lancaster County
Solution: WidsomPO

Week 2B was another map challenge. It is a simple play on words. Good Sight = Fairview. Knowledge = Widsom PO. The capital letters indicated proper nouns or names of places.

Week 2C Challenge
Destination: Elders Run trail at Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area
Solution: 604

The first line of the poem tells you where to go: Elders Run trail at Middle Creek. Several websites provide directions if you google the trail.

The second line helps you zero in on the correct location once on the trail by telling you to look for “a house undone.” As you walk along the trail, you eventually pass the foundation of a house with a large chimney. This is your “house undone.”

House undone

A few paces away from the foundation is an old springhouse. Near the stone structure is a blue birdhouse (a box surrounded by flight). Inside is the medallion.

Week 3: Jewel of the Susquehanna treasure hunt is afoot!

Week 3A Challenge

Destination: 320 East Ross Street, Lancaster, PA
Solution: lawyerstatesmanpatriot

If you flip the order of the letters in each word, the poem reads:

There lived a colonel between Rock and Ice
who signed for freedom at any price. 
At his former home, there is a sphere 
Beneath it, find his three careers.

Between Rock [Street] and Ice [Ave] is Ross Street. Named in honor of George Ross, Lancaster resident and signer of the Declaration of Independence. His former home was at what is today 320 East Ross Street, Lancaster, Pennsylvania. If you haven’t noticed yet, each week’s A challenge has you starting in or near the City of Lancaster before visiting the outer edges of the county.

At that location is a brick pillar with an informational plaque and topped with a sphere. It contains three of Ross’s careers: lawyer, statesman, and patriot

Week 3B Challenge
Destination: 1899 Road Map of Lancaster County
Solution: Nobleville

Week 3B was again a map challenge and another play on words. The yellow starburst has nine points = Nine Points PO located in Bart Township on the 1899 map. Northeast of that location is the town of “Nobleville” where you can “prove your worth.”

Week 3C Challenge
Destination: Chestnut Grove Natural Area
Solution: 4872

This challenge was layered with several clues and Easter eggs. First, the clues.

The second line of the poem, “From a Grove, your search will embark,” coupled with the image of the chestnuts in the bottom right-hand corner, indicated that you were headed to Chestnut Grove Natural Area. From the parking lot, you can see “twin albino giants,” which are the 262-foot tall white wind turbines at Turkey Hill.

The line “You’ll have to be a Rock Star to find the Overlook” have you taking the trail to the Star Rock Overlook. The final stanza of the poem, combined with the image of the devil holding his pitchfork, tells you what to look for to find the marker.

As for Easter eggs, the background of the image is from an edited version of the treasure map used in the Romancing the Stone movie. The black enigmatic figure was also found on the Romancing the Stone map. I edited the image so that instead of holding a heart, he had a diamond representing the Week 3 marker. I also photoshopped in the pitchfork-shaped tree—similar to the one in the movie—concealing the marker.

Star Rock Overlook

With the third marker found, I encouraged participants to reward themselves by continuing the short distance up the trail to the top of the hill to visit Star Rock Overlook. It is definitely worth the trip. Here are two pictures of the overlook.

Week 4: Jewel of the Susquehanna treasure hunt enters its penultimate phase!

Week 4A Challenge

Destination: Woodward Cemetery
Solution: elizabethhenselnauman

When viewed upside down in a mirror, the poem reads:

Within the shadow of Buck’s grave
Stand female sentries who will not wave.
Respectfully enter their iron palisade
Until an intact fallen cross surveyed.
At the base record the woman’s name
If the treasure you hope to claim.

James Buchanan’s nickname was “Buck.” So the line “Within the shadow of Buck’s grave” indicates that you are headed to Woodward Cemetery, again in Lancaster City, where the former President is buried.

Nearby are two twin female statues marking the entrance to a family plot that’s surrounded by a wrought iron fence (iron palisade). The decades have been tough on the monuments inside as all the headstones have toppled over. Only one did not break when it fell. The woman’s name on that grave is the password.

Week 4B Challange

Destination: 1899 Road Map of Lancaster County
Solution: onyx

Week 4B was a map challenge. The cardinal’s cross alludes to the compass rose representing the cardinal directions of north, south, east, and west found on the map, which is in the shape of a cross. At its center are four curious symbols. They are unlocked using a Knights Templar cipher, hence the temple knight line in the poem. The Knights Templar cipher is an ancient substitution code replacing letters with symbols from the Maltese Cross, icon of the Order of the Temple. The letters spell out ONYX. Onyx is a semiprecious variety of agate with different colors in layers.

Week 4C Challenge
Destination: Money Rocks County Park
Solution: 3019

Money Rock County Park takes its name from a local legend. Allegedly, Pequea Valley farmers hid their wealth among the boulders, worried that Confederate soldiers might rob their homesteads during the Civil War. Many of these same men died during the four-year conflict, and the locations of the hidden caches were lost to time. The first stanza of the poem—a hoard among stones, silver and gold hidden from approaching forces bold—alludes to this Lancaster County park.

In conjunction with the map, the second stanza explains exactly where to go once on site and what to look for to find the fourth marker.

I again used an edited version of the treasure map from the Romancing the Stone movie to create the Week 4C map. I also traced the Money Rocks County Park trail map and colored the trails to match the original map.

QR Code Puzzles

Location: Invoice that came with the 1899 Road Map of Lancaster County

After completing each week’s set of challenges, participants were rewarded with a quarter of a QR Code. At the end of week four, treasure hunters had all four pieces.

Once assembled and scanned, they were taken to another password-protected webpage. The password was hidden on the back of the 1729 invoice that everyone received when they purchased a copy of the 1899 Road Map of Lancaster County. A poem in the “Terms” section of the document explained what to do.

The pen is mightier than the sword,
were words no Spartan ever said.
But a pencil can unlock a coiled password stored
for a challenge that lies ahead.

If you carefully cut out the marked strip and wrapped it around a pencil, the password became legible. In cryptography, this is known as a scytale, which in ancient Greek translated to baton. It consisted of a cylinder with a strip of parchment wound around it, on which was written a message. The ancient Greeks, and the Spartans in particular, are said to have used this cipher to communicate during military campaigns. It took a LOT of trial and error to get the message to work wrapped around a No. 2 pencil.

The unlocked page revealed the second half of the GPS coordinates for the Jewel of the Susquehanna.

I inserted several Easter eggs into the invoice document. The invoice number and PO Number all referenced the founding date of Lancaster County, which is May 10, 1729. The map was billed and addressed to Joan Wilder (the main character in both the Romancing the Stone and Jewel of the Nile movies) at her 495 West End Ave apartment, along with the same return address, as shown in Romancing the Stone.

Week 5: Jewel of the Susquehanna treasure hunt comes to its thrilling conclusion!

Week 5A Challange

Destination: Thaddeus Stevens Statue at Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology
Solution: lechedelamadre

The first line indicates that you are headed to a school. The final line of the poem further narrows that search with reference to “Old Commoner,” a nickname for Thaddeus Stevens. At Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology, there is a bronze statue of Stevens sitting beside a standing student. On the ground, next to his chair, is a large open book.


Finding the password required applying an Ottendorf cipher to the left page of that book. I provided a hint by showing the final line deciphered so participants knew if they were doing it correctly. Here’s a visual of how an Ottendorf cipher works.

The password of leche de la madre is Spanish for mother’s milk. In the movie Romancing the Stone, the jewel is found inside the milky white water (described as Leche de la Madre on the map) beneath a dripping stalactite.

Week 5B Challange

Destination: 1899 Road Map of Lancaster County
Solution: 362436

If you search south of Manheim
groups of dots you’ll count in no time.
But the only way to move ahead
is by standing on your head.

This map challenge had you counting the dots south of Manheim. The correct “Manheim” was found in the second column in the lower left-hand corner of the map. The stanza that said, “the only way to move ahead is by standing on your head,” meant the numbers had to be inputted backward. So instead of 634263, the correct answer was 362436.

AC/DC fans will recognize the number from the song, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.

Here's what you gotta do
Pick up the phone, I'm always home
Call me anytime
Just ring, 3-6-2-4-3-6, hey

Week 5C Challenge

Destination: Safe Harbor trestle directly over the Conestoga River
Solution: STogie

To locate this oval, you’ll have to be focused.
Find it high above the Conestoga at its lowest.

Conestoga is a common name in Lancaster County, being used by a Native American tribe, town, trail, river, valley, and school district, to name a few. There are two good candidates that fit for “the Conestoga at its lowest.” A solid argument could be made for the site of the old county jail where the Fulton Theatre is today. It was here that the last of the Native Americans known as the Conestoga, were massacred on December 27, 1763. Definitely a low point for the entire region. There’s even a plaque commemorating the horrible event behind the Fulton on Water Street, but it’s a rectangle, not an oval. You can read more about the tragic event here.

Another option, and the correct location, is where the Conestoga River empties into the Susquehanna at Safe Harbor. This would be the waterway’s lowest point. High above the Conestoga in this location is the Safe Harbor trestle, open to pedestrian traffic since June 2022. You can read more about the Safe Habor trestle here.

Along the railing are a series of oval plaques dedicated to the people who donated money to the bridge’s restoration. With the correct plaque located, it is simply a matter of matching the numbers with the letter’s position to spell out the word stogie.

Stogie is slang for a cigar. The term comes from the long, thin cigars smoked by drivers of Conestoga wagons in the 1700s and 1800s.

Week 5D Challenge

Solution: Beale cipher applied to Thomas Paine’s March 21, 1778, The American Crisis pamphlet

Finding the key in Lancaster might prove a Paine, 
but it’s not a Crisis if the jewels still remain.
If you don’t find the treasure, you’ll surely yelp,
So decipher with Beale’s numbered help.

The first two lines of the poem hint at the key needed to unlock the GPS coordinates. Between 1776 and 1783, England-born political philosopher, writer, and revolutionist Thomas Paine wrote a series of pamphlets called The American Crisis, or simply The Crisis. His fifth one (hinted at by the large Roman numeral five in the image’s background) was written in Lancaster on March 21, 1778.

The final line of the poem explains how to decipher it—so decipher with Beale’s numbered help. A Beale cipher (also known as a book cipher) is a type of encryption in which two parties agree on a key which is a specific text such as a book or other written document. The words in the text are then enumerated, and the encrypted text consists of numbers from the key. Beale made the book cipher famous when he allegedly encoded the location of a fabulous treasure using the Declaration of Independence. Here is the first sentence of the key numbered with the first letter highlighted and a sample of what an encoded word would look like.

Beale or book cipher explained.

Next, you need to apply a classic A1Z26 substitution cipher to turn the letters into usable digits. Basically A = 1, Z = 26. The information was hidden in the tiled gallery at the top of the Week 5D page. I also included a help guide in the second image of the gallery on how to decode the information.

I added one final twist in deciphering the correct location for the Jewel of the Susquehanna. The weekly markers were color-coded (left-hand image immediately below) and given in the following weekly order: black, blue, gold, red, and white. I included the image immediately below on the right in each week’s post about the treasure hunt and featured it heavily in the final week. In the bottom left-hand corner of that picture were a series of colored diamonds presented in the correct order—black, blue, red, gold, and white. If you missed this subtle detail, you were looking for the treasure in the wrong place by about 1,500 feet.

Here are the weekly markers in the correct order and deciphered. Once you apply the final cipher correctly, you now have the hiding place of the Jewel of the Susquehanna.

If you decide to visit, you will know you are in the correct spot when you spot this impressive rock outcropping. I have a waterproof ammo box tucked in a small rock shelter at the location filled with plastic gems and diamonds (while supplies last) for everyone who completes the adventure.

One last Easter egg, the final password to register your completion of the adventure, was the title of one of Joan Wilder’s romance novels from the Romancing the Stone movie.

X marks the spot.

I hope you enjoyed this year’s treasure hunt. I’m already working on next year’s cash-laden adventure! 🤠

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2 thoughts on “Secrets Revealed! Jewel of the Susquehanna treasure hunt riddles explained

  1. This year was a blast! We had so much fun and it really wasn’t about the money at all. It was about working with our team and meeting other teams. We met so many great people doing this and we are really looking forward to next year already. Keep up the great work of setting all this up! See you next year (Pinto’s World out)

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