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The last treasure hunt: ‘Wyoming Riddler’ retires after 34 years of silver bounty

Every winter, hundreds of people living around Grand Rapids go on a treasure hunt of sorts. They’ve been doing it for decades.

Robert Lyons has been hooked on the treasure hunt for 25 years. Over the years, he’s taken his kids and even his grandkids.

Lyons found the treasure once. He’s still got the newspaper clipping.

“I think it says right on here, I got a 1997 champion cup, which of course is about as proud as you can get of anything,” Lyons said. His treasure also included 34 silver dollars and a complete set of silver tableware.

Anyone can solve the so-called Wyoming Riddle using only a detailed street map. You just have to be able to make sense of the clues.

“You can solve from the comfort of your home all you want, but you can’t win unless you get out there and you know, keep looking and digging,” Lyons said.

Lyon thinks this years clue leads to one of four light poles at this intersection.
Credit Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Lyon thinks this years clue leads to one of four light poles at this intersection.

So Lyons and I suit up in plenty of layers and head to a residential neighborhood a few blocks away.

He suspects the aluminum medallion everyone is looking for is on one of four light poles at this intersection. Sorry folks, I’ve agreed to keep the location top secret.

"I don't care if I win… It gives a lot of people a good way to cure the winter blahs and use your heads and think and get some exercise. That's the beauty of it all," Lyons said.

Lyons brings a long metal shovel, and smaller spade for the job at hand.

It takes him fifteen minutes to dig the roughly five feet of heavy snow away from one pole. Then Lyons carefully picks away the ice on the pole and sifts through the snow piles he’s made to make sure he didn’t overlook the medallion.

“You don’t want to have to keep coming back, so you’ve got to be very, very thorough to say ‘okay I know it’s not there,” Lyons said.

After a half an hour of digging in single-digit temperatures, Lyons determines this pole is not the spot. But he’s not discouraged.

“I don’t care if I win. Like I say, Joe does a great service for us. It gives a lot of people a good way to cure the winter blahs and use your heads and think and get some exercise. That’s the beauty of it all,” Lyons said.

The guy behind the puzzle

Joe Cramer is the Wyoming Riddler. How Cramer got started is a story in itself that goes way back to 1978.

A factory where Cramer was working to rustproof cars got a new furnace. It wasn’t installed right.

So Cramer and many of his co-workers suffered chronic carbon-monoxide poisoning. Sometimes it just made them giddy and dizzy, but one day he says it got really bad. His tongue swelled up and he went home.

“I felt numb. I felt like I was floating. And then I was in a dream world and I can’t remember what really went on for a while,” Cramer said.

Cramer completely lost his memory. Not only memories of his wife and kids, but day-to-day stuff, too.

“I kept putting my hand in the freezer 'cause I thought the freezer was a thrill. ‘Oh look at that! It’s all warm out here,” Cramer laughed. “So I was learning things every day – not always well.”

It wasn’t a fun time, though. Cramer became frustrated and angry. He lost a number of friends.

It took several months before he could recall his own memories, not ones that his family told him about, but actual memories from his own mind. It was a powerful, overwhelming experience he shared. You can hear him tell the story below.

Joe Cramer recalls his first real memory after he suffered amnesia from chronic carbon monoxide poisoning.

“I thought this was all caused by carbon monoxide and I want to do something. I can’t change what I did but maybe I can help other people,” Cramer said.

When he had amnesia, Cramer started solving riddles and crossword puzzles. So a friend suggested Cramer start making up his own riddles to warn people about carbon monoxide poisoning.

No doubt you’ve heard of the race to cure cancer. Well, this was Cramer’s own version. Call it the treasure hunt to raise awareness for carbon monoxide poisoning, or something like that.

"I feel like for a little guy that just polishes cars, I've done quite a bit," Cramer said.

It worked. Since his first riddle in 1980, Cramer’s been featured in newspapers, on TV, even international radio programs.

“I’ve spoken with hundreds, I would venture to guess well over a thousand people, that have been affected by it. I feel like for a little guy that just polishes cars, I’ve done quite a bit,” Cramer said.

So after 34 years, Cramer says this will be his last treasure hunt. He once had a huge bag of silver dollars that he started saving as a kid. Over the years, he’s given most all of them away.

Oh, and at last check, nobody has won this year’s riddle yet. So get the clues and shovel, and get out there, will ya?

Lindsey Smith helps lead the station'sAmplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.