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The Secret (a treasure hunt) / Image 08
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Image 08

This version was saved 1 year, 7 months ago View current version     Page history
Saved by Oregonian
on December 14, 2022 at 6:17:43 pm


General notes on Image 8



Image 8


Specific Observations

  Please record your notes about this image in the list below.  Use the letter/number grid to identify the point on the image that you're describing.  To keep things organized, 1) please start each observation with a letter/number combo (in bold), and 2) add new observations in the right place on the list to keep everything alphabetized.

  • A7 - There seems to be a sideways "2" or the letter "N" near the the top of the picture.
  • B2 - The star at the top could be there to give us compass directions (if it represents the north star), or it could be a hint toward Texas (the "lone star state").  The design of the star could be a hint that we are looking for the intersection of two lines.
  • B4/C4 - One of two flowers hidden in the trees.  The flowers are larkspurs, the birth flower for July.  The flower at B4 also appears to be a visual reference to the U.S. Space Shuttle.  The first space shuttle launched in 1981, so it would have been getting heavy news coverage around the time The Secret was published.  Houston, Texas has a long connection with NASA and the U.S. space program.
  • B9 - There is a shape that resembles a footprint with lines going across it.  This may be a representation of an astronaut's footprint on the moon, which is recreated in Tranquility Park in Houston.
  • C1 - The letter "g" or number 9 may be hidden in the tree.
  • C5 - The number "95" is in the tree.  (See "Latitude/Longitude Hints" below.)
  • C7 - The number "30" is in the tree.  (See "Latitude/Longitude Hints" below.)
  • D10 - The vertical lines, looked at sideways, look like a railroad track. 
  • F7-8 - The head of the rhinoceros is a hint toward the nearby Houston Zoo and also shows the outline of the major bays beside Houston.
  • F9 - The other larkspur hidden in the trees.
  • G10 - The number "96" is in the tree.  (See "Latitude/Longitude Hints" below.)
  • I6 - The shape of the largest dune resembles the shape of the amphitheater (bowl) of the Miller Outdoor Theatre in Hermann Park.  
  • J6 - The shape of the hood of the jinn could represent the metal roof of Miller Outdoor Theatre in Hermann Park. 
  • J9/K9 - The shape of the sand dune here is almost certainly significant.  It resembles the "Moonscape Bench" near the lake, but that bench was only installed in 1999 (see below).
  • K3 & M3 - The small dimple (or divot or crater) in the column is almost identical to the divots in Image 11.
  • K4-K5 - The leaning rectangular stone could represent one of the two concrete supports that hold up the steel roof of the Miller Outdoor Theatre.
  • L6 - The figure resembles a jinn arising from a whirl of air, but it could also be a statue lined up with a fountain.
  • M3 - The number "29" (turned sideways) is on the base of the pillar.  (See "Latitude/Longitude Hints" below.)
  • M4-N9 - The shadow from the pillar forms a blue rectangle with a black border.  The blue space includes a red blob similar to the ruby at N4, but much fainter.
  • M5 - The smoke from the jinn appears to form a skull.
  • N4 - The jewel is a ruby, the birth stone for July.
  • O5 - The "fishbone" pattern on the ground could refer to train tracks or to a curved row of parking spaces.
  • O8 - The shadow of the whirlwind seems odd.  It is solid black across two rows of stones and then suddenly turns to a blue haze.  The black shape probably represents the smokestack on Engine 982, the antique steam locomotive that was on display at Hermann Park.
  • P2/P3 - The stone that is split seems significant.
  • P7 - There appears to be writing in the dust on the stones here.  Possibly an upside-down "AL"?



Other Notes:

  • In 2004 (shortly before he died) Byron Preiss responded to an e-mail question by writing "there is a treasure in houston. that's all i can tell you."  That message is what has kept this search focused on the Houston (Texas) area.
  • The setting looks very similar to Persepolis (which would agree with the immigration reference to Persia). The figure in the image is probably meant to be a jinn or genie.
  • The seven columns indicate that this is the painting for the seventh month (July).  The three columns in the foreground appear to be distinctive, important features, while the four columns in the background are all uniform, nondescript cylinders that appear to only be there to boost the total number.
  • Most of the picture seems to have a sharp distinction between blue space and tan space, possibly representing water and dry land (respectively).  There is a single, unbroken stone space on the right, but the stones are broken into rectangles on the left.  Conversely, the tower on the left is a single, unbroken pillar while the tower on the right consists of six stacked cylinders.
  • In the ground-level surface shown in the painting (rows K through P), the blue appears in the lower right and the tan appears in the upper left.  The jewel is on the tan and a little ways inwards from the blue.  If this area is a map of McGovern Lake, it suggests that the jewel is a little ways inland from the northwest shore.



Houston Parks:

  It appears that this painting is a collage, featuring bits from various public parks in the Houston area. Byron Preiss probably visited several of the parks and took photos as he made his decision about where to bury the casque.

  • Of all the parks in the Houston area, Hermann Park has received the most attention, primarily because it works well with Verse 1.  It has a miniature train with tracks that run through the area ("Small of scale, step across").  It also once featured an antique steam locomotive numbered 982 ("Take your task / To the number / Nine eight two").  For the history of where the locomotive was positioned at various times, see our Hermann Park history page.
  • A less likely possibility is Sam Houston Park, which in 1982 had two pieces of art - the Armillary Sphere and the Spirit of the Confederacy - that appear to be connected to the puzzle.  For an older theory about that park, see our Sam Houston Park page
  • Tranquillity Park, which is just a block away from Sam Houston Park, has also been discussed, because it has vertical columns similar to the ones in the picture.  The park is a monument to the moon landings and it includes a "lunar footprint" similar to the shapes formed by the branches in the upper, right corner of this painting.  Wiki user KJRP has assembled a three-part proposed solution in this park: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.




Image Matches

  The foremost pillar in the image, with the sphere on top, is a very strong match for the layout of Hermann Park in Houston, Texas, where a circle around the Sam Houston monument is at the north end of a long, rectangular reflecting pool.


  The Pioneer Memorial Obelisk at the southern end of the reflecting pool may have been the inspiration for the pillars in this painting.  The obelisk was slightly further north in 1981 and it was moved to its current position around 2002-2003.



  The shadow from the column on the left has the (very) unnatural form of a blue rectangle with a black outline.  It appears to be a pool of water enclosed by a wall or boundary.  On the water there is a hazy, semi-transparent red blob that appears to be a reflection of the ruby at the base of the pillar. 


  Taken together, all of those bits suggest that this is a representation of the reflection pool in Hermann Park.  The real pool is also a long rectangle and it also stretches away from a stone column (the Pioneer Memorial obelisk).


  The two exotic animals on the top of the pillars, a camel and a rhinoceros, appear to be a reference to the Houston Zoo, located south of the Miller Outdoor Theatre in Hermann Park. 


  These animals may also represent map shapes in the area.  Some searchers have suggested that the camel matches the shape of McGovern Lake as it appeared in 1980.  (McGovern Lake has been reconfigured in recent years to be a very different shape.  To understand how that area has changed since 1981, visit our Hermann Park history page.)


click on photo to see enlargement

  Like the camel, the rhinoceros might be just a nod to the Houston Zoo or it might be a location hint showing us a shape of a nearby waterway.


  The outlined profile of the rhino's head matches a reflected representation of the major bays beside Houston, where large ships go in and out through the Houston Ship Channel to the Gulf of Mexico.  The snout of the rhino is Trinity Bay, with the horn being the estuary where the Trinity River meets the bay.  The sharp angle below the rhino's chin is Smith Point.  The ears are Clear Lake beside League City.  The rhino's neck and the top of the pillar form Galveston Bay.

  The shape of the hood of the jinn (particularly the angle around the face) resembles the metal roof of the Miller Outdoor Theatre in Hermann Park.

  The shape of the largest dune resembles the shape of the amphitheater (hill) in Miller Outdoor Theatre in Hermann Park. Note the distinct shape of the crest of the dune.


  According to the Miller Outdoor Theatre's history page, "Miller's 'hill' was created with dirt from Fannin Street excavations" in 1948.  "The iconic hill was re-graded and raised" in 2009, so the hill and the sculpture at the top of it may be more visible now than they were in 1981.

 In the center background of the image there is a rectangular stone that emerges from the ground at a slant.  The only strong matches that have ever been proposed for that part of the painting are the two enormous concrete footings that hold up the arched roof of the Miller Outdoor Theatre.

  The sharp-pointed leaves on the trees could be a visual reference to the Atropos Key, a sculpture near the Miller Outdoor Theatre in Hermann Park.  The sculpture was installed at the park in 1972.


  Here's another photo with some more information about the sculpture.


  The very prominent lobing on the leaves may also be a hint toward the line in Verse 1 that tells us to look for "four alike / Small, split, / Three winged and slight."  The four objects are thought to be trees and the "wings" in question would be the lobes on the leaves of three post oaks.


  Atropos Key by Hannah Holiday Stewart

  The shape of the sand dune at J9 is almost certainly significant, but it can't be the "Moonscape Bench" near the train bridge, because that sculpture was only installed in 1999.


  One viewer has suggested that the dune could be a representation of the lion-shaped drinking fountains that were at the park.  The idea would tie in with the mention of a lion in Verse 1.


(Photo showing "one of the drinking fountains at the Houston Zoo" by Margaret H on Flickr.)

 Lion Fountain
  The single star at the top of the image may simply represent Texas (the "Lone Star State").  The circle and crossed lines, however, give it an appearance similar to that of the Armillary Sphere installed in Sam Houston Park in 1977.  According to the city's webpage explaining the installation, the Armillary Sphere "is so designed that this central rod points toward the north pole of the heavens, very close to the North Star."  The panel explaining the sphere can be viewed on Flickr. 
The Houston Armillary Sphere

  The figure with the crossed arms may be a representation of the Spirit of the Confederacy statue which stood in Sam Houston Park until 2020.  Despite the two strong matches, it appears that the references to that park were likely only meant to be city-level clues.  There are enough specific references to Hermann Park to rule out other parks in the area.


  The way it is lined up with a fountain, like a jinn rising out of a whirlwind, suggests that we should be visually lining up two things.

Spirit of the Confederacy

The curved "stitching" at the bottom of the picture might represent the tracks of the miniature train.  But why the curve?  And why does it seem to point into the fountain?


The position of this stitching in the "blue portion" of the painting may represent the train crossing water.  The train bridge on the 1981 route (and the current route) is southwest of the Pioneer Memorial obelisk.


  If the sphere and pillar tell us that we are looking at a map view of Hermann Park, there are other shapes to the right of the pillar that would correspond to features east of the reflecting pool.


  One of the most distinctive things about this painting is that the jinn is lined up directly behind the whirlwind or fountain.  This might mean that we are supposed to line up the top of the Miller Theatre with the fountain in the lake, or it might just be a more general reference to lining things up.  A line through the theatre and the fountain would put us on the southwest corner of the lake, west of Engine 982.


The lower right corner of the painting is shaded blue, which might represent water. What was originally called Hermann Park Lake (now called McGovern Lake) is due south of the reflecting pool.  The position of the jewel might indicate that we should be on the northeast or northwest shore of the lake.



There's general agreement now that the pillar with the sphere represents the reflecting pool and the Sam Houston Memorial in Hermann Park.  There's also agreement that we were meant to start at Engine 982, near the entrance to the zoo, and go from there to a spot where some major landmarks line up.  The five candidates that have been identified for lining up are:

  1. The top of the Miller Outdoor Theatre
  2. The Atropos Key sculpture
  3. The Pioneer Memorial obelisk*
  4. The fountain in the western half of the lake*
  5. Engine 982 on the shores of the lake*


* Important: Keep in mind that all interpretations must refer to where the objects were in 1981.  The obelisk, the fountain, and the train engine have all been relocated, and the Atropos Key and the top of the Miller Theatre may have been slightly repositioned as well.


The first three items on the list are possibilities because they project high into the air and can be seen from a long ways away.  The final two items are possibilities because they can be seen across the water of the lake without any trees or structures blocking the view.


A group of five points in a plane defines (at most) ten lines.  Here are the 10 lines at Hermann Park and an assessment of whether each one is likely to be part of the puzzle.


Atropos - Miller
Very unlikely.  Doesn't intersect the tracks of the miniature train.
Miller - Obelisk
Very unlikely.  Doesn't intersect the tracks of the miniature train.
Miller - Engine 982
Very unlikely.  The trees on the eastern side of the lake would have made it hard to see both features at once.
Atropos - Engine 982
Very unlikely.  The trees on the eastern side of the lake would have made it hard to see both features at once.
Obelisk - Engine 982
Very unlikely.  There was clear visibility, but the line would have crossed the train tracks in a grassy, open area just south of the obelisk.  Discreet digging would be impossible.
Atropos - Fountain
Unlikely.  The sculpture isn't very large and it's quite a ways back from the lake.  The line of sight would almost certainly have been blocked by trees and other vegetation.
7 Atropos - Obelisk Unlikely.  The obelisk is tall enough to offer an unobscured line to the Atropos Key, but the line would be on a slant.  The only place a viewer could have lined up the two objects would be north of the Miller Theatre.
Obelisk - Fountain
Possible.  This line would have crossed a little projection of land southwest of the obelisk.  The land is wooded, but heavily used.
9 Miller - Fountain Very possible.  The top of the theater would have been visible from across the lake, and the line would have passed over the train tracks and a wooded area southeast of the obelisk.  This is the line suggested by the design of Image 8, with the jinn standing directly behind the whirlwind.
10 Engine 982 - Fountain Very likely.  There would have been a clear line of sight across the lake and the line would have intersected with the train tracks on the northwest shore.  This line would also make the most sense with the illustration, where the whirlwind looks like a fountain and the shadow it casts looks like a locomotive smokestack.


Here are the 5 most probable lines drawn on the 1981 map:


The line about "perspective" comes directly after the line about "small of scale, step across" in Verse 1.  Searchers are apparently expected to step inside the train loop and then keep two objects in visual alignment.  But, as the map above shows, most of the objects that could define a line of sight are on opposite sides of the 1981 train route.  It would not be possible to keep two objects in alignment if they were in opposite directions.  It would also not be possible to stand inside the train route and sight along the line connecting the Pioneer Obelisk and the Atropos Key, because that line would slant upwards from the Key to the top of the Obelisk, to pass over the trees in between.


So, by elimination, the most likely objects that searchers are expected to align are Engine 982 and the fountain.  And, by using the two ends of the engine to draw our lines, we can define a wedge of land for our search area at the northwest corner of the Hermann Park lake.




Latitude / Longitude Hints


The branches of the tree form a "95" and a "96."  The city of Houston is almost perfectly framed by those longitudes.  No other major city in North America is within that range.
The number "29" appears at the base of the main pillar, turned sideways (see below).  The number "30" appears in the branches.  Houston is in between those latitudes.

The elusive '29' is in the markings at the base of the column which was previously thought to be a mystery symbol. Rotated 90 degrees counter-clockwise, the numbers are clear and there is possibly even an "S" with a degree circle on the right.  (Special thanks to user "howserboutdat" who cleared up a mystery that had puzzled many of us for months!)





Questions, questions, questions...

  • Was there only one "lion drinking fountain" at the zoo, or were there a whole series of them?  Was there a lion drinking fountain outside the zoo, near the south side of the lake?
  • Would it have been possible to see the Atropos Key from the far shore of the lake in 1981?  What about the top of the Miller Outdoor Theatre?
  • Was there a tunnel on the miniature train route in 1981?  If so, where was it located?
  • Is there a significance to the different spindle shapes at the top of the camel and rhino columns?



How to obtain permission for attempted recovery




Process Status:

Contact info Status:

As of Date:


Contact information:

Name: Houston Parks and Recreation Department



Alternate Contact info: 


Permissions Process:  An article in Free Press Houston (March 5, 2018) says "The Hermann Park Conservancy politely fields inquiries from amateur treasure hunters to discourage them from digging up the park."  They also include an example of one such communication:



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