Searching for 'The Secret of Byron Preiss'

James Renner and Tyler Davidson in a scene from "The Secret of Byron Preiss"
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In 1982 a puzzle book came out, "The Secret: A Treasure Hunt," by New York City publisher Byron Preiss.

The book is full of poems, photographs, and paintings which are clues to finding 12 ornately sculpted boxes that Preiss personally buried in various spots across North America. 

Inside each box is a key that can be exchanged for an expensive gem.

To date only two of the boxes have been found, one of them in Cleveland back in 2004.

Local writer James Renner decided that he wanted to go in search of the other ten boxes and he enlisted his friend, film producer Tyler Davidson to make a documentary about his journey. 

Renner also has a blog, "Legacy of the Secret Keys."

Renner discovered "The Secret" at the Bedford library when he was a boy, and he was fascinated by the treasure hunt aspect to the book.

"But this was before the internet ,so there was no way for us to know how many of those treasures had already been found.  So I just assumed that they'd already been claimed," Renner said.

Decades later when the Cleveland box was unearthed by two New Jersey lawyers in the Cultural Gardens, Renner's passion was rekindled once he learned there were still 10 boxes out there to be found.

Tyler Davidson, the local film producer of movies like "Take Shelter" and "The Kings of Summer," agreed to help Renner make a documentary.

"We both came of age as teenagers watching movies like 'Indiana Jones,' 'Goonies' and 'Stand By Me,' these quest adventures.  So when he told me about this book and the idea that we could actually get involved in a treasure hunt, I jumped at the chance," Davidson said.

Renner traveled to San Francisco, New Orleans, Roanoke Island, and New York City looking for Preiss' buried treasure.

It was in New York that James interviewed the family of Preiss, who died in a 2005 car crash.  Preiss' two daughters, Karah and Blaire, have become obsessed with "The Secret," because one of the boxes is buried in the Big Apple.

"Somewhere around Battery Park, Liberty Island or southern Manhattan is a key that's never been found and his daughters want to find it," Renner said.

Preiss took the title of his book to heart and told no one where any of the boxes were buried. 

"[Preiss] shows up one day with a shovel and a worker's jacket on and he was like, 'I'll be back in a couple hours.'  [His wife] asks 'Where are you going?' and he says 'Don't ask. I can't tell you," Renner said.

He took "The Secret" to his grave.

This weekend "The Secret of Byron Preiss" gets its premiere at the Chagrin Documentary Film Fest Saturday at 5:20 p.m. and Sunday at 5:15 p.m.

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