A team of relentless hunters led by Wichita businessman Greg Ferris found the medallion in this year’s Eagle Medallion Hunt.
Ferris himself found it, just before 8 p.m. Thursday, only 12 minutes before he was about to give up, and only four hours before the hunt would have run out of time.
There were at least 250-300 people in the park, he said, when they found the medallion. He said he had walked past that spot at least 50 times before he found it. So had every member of his team.
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This is the fifth win for Team Ferris. The other years: 1990, 1996, 1997 and 2000.
Some might wonder how this happens.
Ferris says here’s how:
Item One, marry a smart wife named Debra.
Item Two, work and search obsessively, enduring ticks, poison ivy and occasional yelling with Debra over clues. No need for a magic giant computer with a database: it’s mostly shoes, worn on feet that cover a lot of ground.
Item Three, along with your obsessive friend Mike Manis, sleep only six hours in eight days while doing Google searches of city and county parks and talking over the cryptic clues, published daily in The Eagle and on Kansas.com during the River Festival.
Item Four, talk about it obsessively, with Debra.
Item Five: See Item One.
Ferris found the medallion taped to a triangular chunk of broken, polished black marble next to a slab of concrete near a set of abandoned railroad tracks at Air Capital Memorial Park.
The Eagle Medallion Hunt and its grand prize Suzuki Kizashi enticed Team Ferris and thousands of other hunters to look obsessively for a modest-looking two-inch disk. The hunt had started eight days before, on May 31, the day before Riverfest began. Debra had relentlessly analyzed the clues and helped the team that included Greg and Jacob Ferris and Mike and Shane Manis.
The team has hunted the medallion since 1979; the Medallion Hunt began in 1974, and often prompted many thousands of people to search for it every year. In the past, hundreds of people, including Ferris team members, would line up outside The Wichita Eagle building to buy a paper in the wee hours of morning, and read the daily clue.
The Eagle Medallion Hunt was a popular tradition that coincided with the annual festival for 27 years before the newspaper discontinued the Hunt after 2000 because there had been complaints. Though most medallion searchers behaved well, some public and private property was damaged, and some property rights were trespassed upon. “All of that came to a head, and people decided at the time to step back for a while,” said Sherry Chisenhall, the Eagle’s editor.
In recent years, though, Riverfest officials asked the newspaper company to bring it back; people said they missed it and Riverfest officials knew that the Hunt brought thousands of people out, along with a zest to the festival that it had lacked since.
For two years, the newspaper tested a “virtual” hunt, hoping to avoid the trespassing of the past. But virtual didn’t capture the excitement of the real thing.
“So we decided to go ahead and bring it back for real,” Chisenhall said.
“It really put the pop back in Riverfest,” Ferris said.
The Hunt, and how it’s done, is a closely guarded secret, Chisenhall said. Only two people in the newspaper building know where the Medallion is hidden, and those two work on the clues. “Some people think there’s a much wider range of people who know, and that details are leaked; but our publisher doesn’t know where the Medallion was hidden, and she doesn’t see the clues until they appear in the paper. It’s very tightly held.”
The newspaper, and the prize sponsor, won’t decide whether there will be another hunt until next year, she said. But she said the company was happy with how the hunt went. “Social media is all new since the physical medallion hunt returned,” she said. “Part of the fun was reading the comments on Twitter and Facebook; it was great to see so many people get out to look.”
That was the best part about the hunt, Ferris said. He praised the newspaper for bringing the hunt back, because it brought thousands of people out to look around, walk city and county parks and other property. There’s everything involved that ever made human endeavor worthwhile: fresh air, companionship, competition, people paying relentless attention to the details and the plants and trees and flowers and beauty all around them.
And, as in many years past, since Ferris and friends began hunting, there was Debra.