He goes by the alias Roman Dungarvan, and with a few keystrokes on Facebook he’s able to set crowds of web sleuths fanning out across Miramichi, a city of about 18,000 in northeastern New Brunswick, scouring abandoned school sites, scanning parks and scampering over riverside docks.
Mr. Dungarvan, a name borrowed from local folklore, is the creator of the Miramichi Mystery Machine, a game in which people follow a series of cryptic, online clues to find real money hidden in secret locations around town. Almost overnight, his horror movie-themed treasure hunts have become wildly popular, drawing large numbers of people to locations across the city.
The game started just a week ago with a single clue – “May 1, 7 P.M. $100 hidden at Ritchie Wharf” – drawing a few dozen curious people to a public waterfront park. The buzz has grown so quickly that hundreds of participants are expected to converge on the community this Friday, May 13, where $100 bills have been hidden in 13 locations.
Treasure hunters are coming from across the province – some from as far away as Saint John, about a three-hour drive. More than 4,000 people have joined the Facebook page in the past week, posting updates on their searches and sharing ideas on where to find the money.
Even Mr. Dungarvan, who said the police have spoken to him about crowd-control measures, has been surprised by the response.
“I never expected this. I literally thought there might be 20 people or 30 people,” he said in an interview with The Globe and Mail. He asked that his real name not be used because he doesn’t want to be solicited for handouts. “I don’t know how many people will be there, but I know quite a few out-of-towners will be coming. It’s attracted the attention of the police.”
He said he created his mystery game in the spirit of community-minded fun and a love of horror movies and is giving away about $2,500 of his own money in the process. He’s asking players to be respectful of private property, drive the speed limit and avoid damaging public spaces while digging for the cash.
“Sometimes is it technically trespassing? Probably,” said Mr. Dungarvan, who uses a faceless figure wearing a black hood as his profile picture.
Some fans in Miramichi, which has one of the highest unemployment rates in the province, have become obsessed with the game, remaining glued to Facebook for the latest clues while speculating about Mr. Dungarvan’s identity. Some are dressing in costumes while they’re sent racing from one location to another by obscure hints posted on the game’s Facebook page.
“The hunt is so fun,” resident Savannah Harris told The Canadian Press. “I bring my little brother with me. It’s high energy. You’re looking everywhere.”
Mr. Dungarvan took his name from the legend of the Dungarvon Whooper, a local ghost story about an Irish cook who was murdered in a lumber camp in the 19th century. The game’s creator said he wanted to celebrate local history and get people together.
He said he’s been asked to recreate his mystery game in other, bigger cities, but argued it’s been uniquely successful in Miramichi because it’s a small town where there aren’t a lot of other things competing for people’s attention.
“I just don’t think it would be the same anywhere else,” he said. “I think $100 is a lot of money in a community like this. But I think more importantly it’s about the camaraderie. People are hitching rides with one another, they’re making friends, it’s getting them out of their houses.”
Mr. Dungarvan is asking players who find cash to pay it forward by giving some of their winnings to the local food bank. In an earlier game, he asked players to give the staff at a local Dairy Queen $2 tips.
Jean Matchett, the co-ordinator of the Miramichi Food Bank, said she’s been thrilled to see the unexpected donations and publicity for the charity, even if she is a little puzzled by it all.
“I think it’s awesome,” she said. “I don’t totally understand it, but I think it’s great that someone wanted to do this.”
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