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Published on -6/12/2014, 4:55 PM

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By Erin Mathews

The Salina Journal

The Salina teenager and his dad who found this year's Smoky Hill River Festival medallion were not the first to touch the prize.

The clues that specifically directed medallion seekers to a rusty old sign behind his office had just been made public Monday morning, and Salina Arts and Humanities Director Brad Anderson had his iPad ready to record the moment that someone figured them out.

It didn't take long before a man walked decisively across the parking lot directly toward the sign -- as if an arrow was pointing the way -- and Anderson hit record.

"I think he's got it," someone can be heard on Anderson's video whispering, as the man approaches the one-way sign.

But even though Eric Gillberg put his hand right on the sign's arrow as he examined the front and back of the sign, he wouldn't be the one to realize it was more than it appeared.

After a few seconds he began searching around the base of the sign as he discussed the potential meanings of that day's clues with his wife, Regina, on his cellphone.

"It didn't register, because I was talking on the phone, that the arrow felt different," he said. "I was looking at it and talking, and apparently I didn't pay close enough attention."

Shortly after that, he walked away to talk to a neighbor, who was also seriously medallion hunting, when she pulled up in her car.

"Shoot," whispered the onlooker in Anderson's office.

Within minutes, Nick Taylor, searching with his father, Billy, discovered that the sign's arrow could be peeled off, and the two celebrated their good fortune with a high five.

Within spitting distance

Gillberg -- who was so close and yet so far from winning this year's $4,000 festival prize package -- also was among a crowd of people who came within spitting distance of last year's medallion, which was disguised as a bean pod. That was the first year he seriously searched, and he said he learned then that when people said the medallion couldn't be in a place where others have already looked, they were wrong.

"I proved that myself this year," he said. He said that since no one knows what they are looking for, and the prize appears to be a normal part of the environment, it is easy to overlook, and the clues can be interpreted multiple ways or may not be fully understood.

For example, Gillberg said, this year he had correctly figured out that the sixth clue, "A PICKY MEAT," meant a nut, probably a walnut or pecan, but he didn't connect it to Walnut Street. So although he touched the real medallion, he didn't realize it partly because he had in his head that he probably was looking for a fake walnut, and he started searching on the ground.

Gillberg, who works as head athletic trainer at Kansas Wesleyan University, said he was sure the medallion would be found Monday soon after the clues were released, and in order to have a shot at being the successful seeker he would have to be near its hiding place when the clues were announced.

Interpreting clues

Earlier in the week, he'd been searching Thomas Park, which he'd been told was named for Bishop Thomas (of the Episcopal Church and St. John's Military School). He went there after the "FAITH MATTERS HERE" clue was released. Gillberg said he continued to search there after most others had left because he knew he'd looked four or five days in the area in which last year's medallion ultimately was found.

"I knew from the past, you can look time and time again in the right spot, and nobody sees it," he said.

He said that by Saturday morning, the clues "YOU CAN ALWAYS GO" and "HAVE A BOWL HERE" had him and his wife and children, 6-year-old Raeann, 5-year-old Evan and 3-year-old Kaison, searching downtown in the vicinity of Campbell Plaza. He said a lot of people had connected the plaza name to a bowl of soup.

Gillberg said that although they had correctly interpreted the first of those clues to mean downtown, he started thinking of an alternate meaning that would bring him closer to the medallion's hiding place.

You can always go ... home

"I suggested to my wife that you can always go home, too, and maybe it was referring to the home of Arts and Humanities," he said.

When they went hunting near the Smoky Hill Museum, where the offices of Arts and Humanities are located, Gillberg discovered that a mini golf course there was called Dust Bowl Golf. Maybe that's the bowl, he thought.

Gillberg said his wife searched for an hour Sunday morning behind the museum and behind a stone statue facing west in front of the museum after the clues "BEHIND A WESTWARD GAZE" and "A WARM POST" were released. He said he stayed home and got the kids ready for church.

He said there were lots of people looking downtown behind west-facing statues, including a shepherd, football players and a little kid with bunnies, but he thought the museum statue was the correct one.

On Sunday after church, his family ate lunch at Cozy Inn, then the kids joined the hunt. He said he probably walked by the rusty one-way sign twice that day, and his wife had walked by it that morning.

Ready for the clue

At 7:30 a.m. Monday, Gillberg was parked in a parking lot near the museum watching his cellphone for the clues to be released. He said that as soon as they were released, two men took off running south, away from the museum, but he walked toward it. He said two men and a woman already were hunting in the area.

He was drawn to the rusty one-way sign by the clues "OXIDE OMEN" and "NO TWO WAYS ABOUT IT." But after he didn't find anything, he returned to the parking lot area and looked for "STRAIGHT, BROKEN OR GREEN" poles, because he hadn't realized that all three of those words were adjectives used to describe arrows.

He was still in the parking lot a few minutes later when a woman drove by and told him the medallion had been found behind the museum.

'I'm going to get it'

Instead of making him discouraged, the news has made Gillberg more determined.

"Last year I was in the right area," he said. "This year I got right to the medallion. Next year, I'm going to get it. I've been taking baby steps and getting closer and closer."

(c)2014 The Salina Journal

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