My Mad Masquerade Summer
Wrapped in an enigma and lost in a puzzle
I don’t recall exactly when I came across it, but I think it might have been the summer of ‘79 when I was busy building lobster traps during the off season, recaulking the boat, sleeping on deck in hammocks in the open air, surrounded by the tar fumes we used to soak the completed traps in. (On the east coast the colder water temperatures act as a preservative to their flimsy wooden traps but in the warm Pacific, even the metal wire traps we build by hand need a coating of tar to last more than a season or two.)
My shipmates drank and smoked constantly, so I’d stock up on books from the library to read by lantern-light ‘til sleep overtook me. One day my librarian friend slipped what looked like a large children’s book into my stack and said something about it hiding a treasure. The book was, of course, Kit Williams’ Masquerade, and though its large, colorful, riddle-filled format resembled most kids’ books of the day, it had a slightly odd, “otherworldly” air about it. The strange paintings I found so “slightly odd” were due to a trick of perspective in his brush strokes caused by an eye condition called monocular vision, which meant Mr. Williams did not have the capability to see things in 3D. The monocular paintings were odd all right, and supposedly hid clues to a buried treasure, a golden rabbit encrusted with jewels.
My shipmates and I soon were engrossed in the book, helped no doubt by copious amounts of Panama Red we’d smuggled back on our last run to the Sea of Cortez. We found clues that I’m sure were not meant to be clues as well as a number of both real and figurative red herrings. (The paintings, we found, concealed a number of real, honest-to-Grid Red Herring fish in them!) I’ll not go into the solution of the puzzle here; those interested can simply Google variations on “Masquerade Solution” and a number of cool sites should pop up.
What I’m trying to get across was just how obsessed my shipmates and I became, eager to catch the first flight to England once we’d solved it. We bought three copies of the book to share so we didn’t get accused of “beau-guarding” it like a joint. Occasionally one of us would cry “Eureka!” when peeling back some obscure clue or anagram which, maze-like, seemed to always lead us back to our starting point. A Masquerade neurosis actually became a temporary worldwide mental malady for hundreds of people and scores more quit their jobs to become full-time treasure seekers. Others were arrested for digging up public and private places all over the British Isles, and the author was deluged with queries, one woman alone sending over 500 letters.
I don’t quite understand how I, too, got caught up in the madness. I just narrowly escaped, yet for a brief while it was fun to be lost in a monocular magical land, with leaping, haunted hares and a love affair between the Sun and the Moon.
The Sandpoint Library has a copy. ‘til next time, keep spreading the word; Soylent Green is People! All Homage to Xena.