The Holy Grail of Saint Paul

Six medallion hunters talk about the year they found fortune

Every winter since 1952, thousands of pick- and shovel-wielding loonies have descended on the river bluffs, parks, and streets in and around St. Paul. Their goal is to find the St. Paul Winter Carnival medallion, and they do everything in their power to unearth it--including waiting in line at midnight outside the St. Paul Pioneer Press offices, so as to buy the next day's paper and the clues to the hunt.

Over the years the prize money has increased from $1,000 to $10,000, but the winners will tell you they're not really in it for the money. The medallion hunters do it for the glory and the thrill of the chase. Here are six who've touched Minnesota's version of the Holy Grail.

 

Merrilla Paulson
1955
found at Seventh and Robert Streets
I was 37; I'm 85 now. I went out the night before and got the early edition [of the St. Paul Dispatch] on Rice Street. And I came back and my children--the boy was 14 and the girl was 12 and the baby was two months--they said this lady down the street called me and she said she didn't drive but she knew where it was and would I drive her. So I did.

But when we got there, it wasn't where she thought it was. I went to where I thought it was and there it was. Magnetized in this big condo [electrical] pipe underneath a little mailbox on Seventh and Robert.

"Oh! A bat!" I hollered, because this thing just flew off. It fell down on the street. And this woman came running and she picked it up and she hollered, "Ooh! I found it! I found it!" And these people came running, and I was like, "How am I going to get it back from her?" because she had it.

These people were following us and talking to us and we'd walked a while and so I walked up to her and I said, "I found it." And with that, she handed it back to me.

I got in a cab and I looked like a lumberjack. I had the scarf around my head, and this lantern, and this big condo pipe, or whatever you call it. And I went to the Dispatch building. I had it in my pocket, and the certificate that [said] I found it was there. I wanted to go to the police station, because I was scared someone would take it. My picture was in the paper the next day, and it was just the biggest splash.

I was a housewife. We had just built a new home in Midway Park. There was some big talk that came out, "Oh, they've got money, they don't need the money," and all this stuff. I went to church, I had a fur coat, but my husband worked at the Ford Motor [company] and bought the fur coat for me for Christmas, you know? I just ignored all that and was just happy I found it.

It's still exciting. I've been looking for it since the first year, and I still go out looking every year. When your paper comes out, I'm going to underline it and give it to my grandchildren and say, "That's your grandmother."

 

Mary Jane Hilsgen
1964
found at Beaver Lake (Lincoln) Park
I was with Lucy Hansen--she was a friend of our family--and her five-year-old daughter, Donna. Her husband and my dad were policemen, that's how we knew each other. It was in a brick. We both found it; it was pretty exciting.

The night before, my parents and I had gone out looking. The clue that gave us the location was Leave It to Beaver, and we knew it was at Beaver Lake. It was a beautiful day, in the 40s, with the snow melting. We found it at about nine in the morning, just after Lucy sent her kids off to school.

I was a freshman in high school at St. Joseph's Academy. Back then, $2,500 was a lot of money. You were a celebrity for a day. The [St. Paul Winter] Carnival was very exciting at that time. I had always gone out with my dad, looking. We went back to Lucy's house, and my parents came over, and we were interviewed by the radio and the newspaper. They took our pictures and gave us the money. I bought a set of encyclopedias and banked some of it and later used it for nursing school. I'd compare it to the birth of my three children or getting married.

We don't look for it so much now, having moved out of St. Paul. We're in Woodbury now, and as you get older, it's not as interesting. You don't have the time when you're working. Lucy lives in Arizona now; we haven't been in contact for years. They were friends of my parents. I don't even have her address.

 

Chris Bunde
1973
found at Phalen Park
My cousin [Todd Bunde] and our friends Mike [Hurley] and Jim [Zielinski] had looked for it with our parents 10 years before, when we were kids. That's how we got the bug. I've looked for it every year since.

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