Thousands of treasure hunters make the trek every year to the Superstition Mountains in Arizona. The majority of those seek out riches in gold, obsessed with the legend of the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine.
Others, however, focus their search on supposedly buried paintings.
According to legend, 18 paintings were buried in the mountains by the artist Ettore “Ted” DeGrazia, shortly after he infamously burned 100 paintings in protest of the IRS in 1976.
The claim of the buried paintings was made publicly in 1990 by a man named Bob Ward. According to Ward, he was a close friend of DeGrazia’s and accompanied him to the mountains. He said that each painting was rolled and placed in a watertight tube with both ends sealed. The tubes were bundled groups of three, then buried in six separate spots within the same area. Ward’s encoded map surfaced on various websites over the years, which might lead to these paintings valued at a million dollars apiece.
Some, however, say that Ward was never a close friend of DeGrazia’s and that he simply sought to profit from the creation of a tall tale to sell a book. A couple of others have surfaced to say that the legend is real, but provide differing details than Ward’s.
Another friend of DeGrazia’s, Jerry Ogle, is one of those who insists that the legend is real. In the decade that I’ve known Ogle, he maintains that he knows exactly where the paintings are. He isn’t able to divulge the location, since decades have passed and he can’t quite recall. Instead, he has insisted that I provide him with a mule and drop him off at a specific starting point of a dangerous journey that could take days. A journey that he says must be made alone. My conscience won’t allow me to risk the life of an elderly man who doesn’t even know how old he is. I would guess that he’s somewhere in his 80s. I also guess that he’s telling the truth, or at least the truth as he recalls it.
Ogle is also known by many with nickname of “Two Guns” in DeGrazia’s circle of friends. He is easily recognized by those who have seen Ted DeGrazia’s low-budget Western film, “End of the Rainbow”. In that 27-minute film, Ogle plays one in a group of bandits who kidnap DeGrazia and a lady friend. The bandits force the captives to lead the group to a cache of buried paintings. The lady friend is played by Sammi Smith (singer of the 70s hit single, “Help Me Make It Through the Night”). At the film’s end, the bandits locate the “treasure”. Ogle’s character declares the paintings “junk”, and slashes them with a knife in disgust.
Some who have seen this film think that it is a treasure map in itself, which they say is vital in locating the paintings.
Well, that is unless real life has been confused with fantasy.
It is entirely possible that Ogle’s memory recalls the paintings and premise featured in the film, rather than a real-life buried treasure. DeGrazia himself once described Ogle as an imaginative child-like soul in the book, “World of DeGrazia”. With that assessment, I’ll have to agree.
Other friends of DeGrazia’s hold a firm grasp on their own version of events, keeping the legend alive. Based on those accounts, the search is still on.
Treasure hunters will continue to scour the Superstition Mountains each year, in search of the lost DeGrazia paintings said to be worth $18 million.