If you found a brass medallion that looks like these, you’re not alone.
Something curious has been happening ever since my website first went live in early 2012: People all over the continental US have been contacting me with reports of mysterious brass medallions they’ve found attached to (glued, cemented, riveted, embedded, or pounded into) sidewalks outside of libraries and small businesses. 2¾ inches in diameter, the curios are imprinted with a nine-pointed star design, the number 2010, and a website address that happens to lead you right here to my site.
Based on the collective research we’ve all done, it appears that the first medallion was spotted in 2010. Yep, same as on the medallions, suggesting the number signifies the corresponding year. (A while back, I came across an article about that particular medallion.)
And they continue to pop up.
I’ve just updated the map below for the forty-first time (Literally.) And with the addition of several new reports, we have gained yet another state (Welcome, Nebraska!) Only one more state to go before all the lower 48 join the club. Exactly 105 medallions have now been reported.
Thanks to everyone who has written in. To the folks from McCook, Ottawa, Prescott, Green River, and Victoria, thanks also for your patience. (I know, it took me a while. The map is getting so crowded now it’s a lot more work to fit everything!)
In case you missed them, a couple of newspapers have reported on medallions found in their hometowns:
• On January 16th, 2015, we made the front page of the Atlantic News Telegraph
• We made the Athens Banner-Herald twice, on June 17th and June 23rd of 2016.
The map below shows all the locations I’ve heard about—so far.
Are there more medallions out there? I suspect so, and I really like hearing from you guys, so if you know of any I’ve missed, or if you have some other juicy tidbit of info you’d be willing to share, please shoot me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
So, what’s the story?
Whether you find yourself feeling amused, curious, or even downright irritated by a medallion you just found on your property, you might have questions along these lines:
What is this thing?
What does it mean?
Who put it there?
The short answer is that I have no idea.
You see, whatever’s going on here, it’s not my project. I swear. Nor have I heard from anyone claiming it’s theirs. In fact I never even imagined such things existed until you guys started emailing.
Truth be told though, I like them, whatever they’re for. After all, I’m an artist who’s inspired both by notions of place and by the fantastical things that can happen in real life. To unwittingly find myself playing a central role in a map-sized mystery is—let’s face it—pretty fantastical.
While I can’t provide answers, I can at least provide possible interpretations—my own as well as all the ones you guys have suggested. (As it happens, the theories fit into exactly nine categories—one for each star point.)
one: they’re alien
Proposed by a teenager in South Carolina, this theory suggests that aliens are marking places they’ve deemed to be worth saving when they come back to destroy the rest of the planet.
If this is the case, I feel awful bad for anyone who removed their medallion.
P.S. Aliens, if you’re listening, I got an email from a nice fellow in Eureka Springs, Arkansas who’d be delighted if you’d consider putting a medallion in his town. I haven’t been there myself, but it looks real pretty in the pictures, so maybe you’ll want to check it out.
two: they’re from the future
This theory posits that a future version of myself has been laying out clues to help me (and probably you, too) save the universe.
Here, time is of the essence—in more ways than one. First, the number on the medallions (2010) pretty much has to be a year. Odds are, we gotta figure out how to get back there (back then?) to make something important happen (or happen again?) Considering my own mastery of the laws of physics, I may need some help from one of you guys to work out the time travel bit. Or maybe we can enlist the help of that doctor in the blue police box. He tends to show up rather unexpectedly though, so we’d better keep our packed suitcases handy.
P.S. By no means does this theory rule out aliens.
P.P.S. A special shout-out to the physics major who emailed from Rhode Island. Thanks to his investigations into actual time travel, we might be able to pull off this whole adventure sans Time Lord!
three: someone is playing
So far, the “Someone Is Playing” (SIP) camp forks in four main directions:
One: The first SIPer gang says this is all some sort of prank. If you found a medallion near your store or on your property, I can imagine how you might feel like the butt of the joke. But believe me, from where I stand, the trick would seem to be aimed squarely in my direction.
Two: Another group of SIPers suggests the medallions have something to do with the 90’s video game phenomena Myst, where players navigate an interactive forgotten world looking for clues that solve archeological puzzles and help them piece together the game’s narrative backstory.
Three: The third SIPer troupe believes the medallions are props in a live action role playing game where players are acting out the parts of fictional characters, using the real world to represent some imaginary setting.
And four: the final team of SIPers thinks the medallions are part of a treasure hunt. (Minnesota is one of the first states to report multiple medallions in multiple locations. It’s also where the famous medallion treasure hunt takes place each year at the Saint Paul Winter Carnival. Is that a clue?)
These days a lot of people are into Geocaching, the game where players rely on GPS and other navigational techniques to find containers called “geocaches” or “caches” that get hidden all over the planet. Caches may contain various types of objects, including suspiciously familiar-looking metal discs called Geocoins that sometimes end up becoming “hitchhikers,” moving from cache to cache and getting their coordinates logged online.
(Update: A few connections to Geocaching have been established. A couple of sightings have been made by people who were in the midst of geocaching when they stumbled upon medallions in obscure locations. And there was also a loose medallion that was rescued from bouncing around a parking lot in Utah. Word on the streets: It might have ended up in a geochache somewhere. Nice work, folks!)
Another idea is that maybe the medallions are simply hints leading to an even more valuable prize. Did you ever hear about that 2004 children’s book called: A Treasure’s Trove? If so maybe you remember how there were clues in the story that helped readers locate fourteen tokens hidden in parks throughout the US. Once found, each of the tokens could be exchanged for a gem-encrusted jewel representing a character from the book. That concept alone is pretty neat, but get this: Collectively, the jewels were valued at a million dollars.
So, here’s to you finding your fortune! (Oh, and if you felt like sharing a little, I probably wouldn’t totally object. Nor, I imagine, would the gal who suggested this theory. Or even the rest of the folks who have sent in clues.)
four: it’s a musical tribute
Musical tributes are usually, well, musical. But in this scenario, the medallions are paying the tribute, and music—or musicians—are the recipients.
Slipknot is a head-banging, controversy-stirring heavy metal band from Iowa. Prior to the death of bassist Paul Gray (in, um, 2010) from an accidental drug overdose, the band came up with a nine-pointed star symbol to represent its nine mask-wearing members. Fans have suggested the medallions are memorials to the enduring spirit of Mr. Gray.
A more tenuous alternative claims the medallions are paying homage to the song “Nonagon” from the kids’ album “Here Come the 123s” by They Might Be Giants. A nonagon is any nine-sided figure where all the sides and angles are equal. In the song, the nonagon is both a party-goer and a dance performed at the party. That’s a whole lotta love for a song on a kid’s album. But hey, it happens.
five: they’re enneagrams
This is one theory that’s unequivocally true; for in geometry, any nine-pointed geometric figure is defined as an enneagram (Oh, and sometimes a nonagon. See above.) But here’s another fact: I’ve met precious few mathematicians who feel compelled to leave relics of their favorite geometrical shapes scattered along the nation’s sidewalks—though I hasten to add that, statistically speaking, it could totally happen.
Anyhoo, when most non-mathematicians talk about enneagrams, they’re probably thinking of the Enneagram of Personality, that system that divides people into nine interconnected personality types. Much like the Meyers-Briggs, people take a test to determine their type, then use the information as a tool for self discovery, or to define workplace dynamics. Adherents use a star-like diagram to explain the interconnections of the personality types. But that particular figure has some extra space between the bottom two points (the four and the five) so it’s less radially symmetrical than the medallions’ stars. Or mine for that matter.
P.S. For some reason none of the enneagram tests I’ve taken has been able to peg me. I’m probably either a three, a four, a five, a seven, or a nine. The only thing I know for sure is that I’m not an eight.
six: it’s an art project
It’s no secret that street art is big nowadays. Since earlier graffiti times it has branched out to include stencils, stickers, yarn, and who knows what other techniques and materials. So, why not medallions? This theory has been suggested by several people, and although it’s suspiciously simpatico with my own mission as an artist, any actual connection has gotta be pure coincidence.
Yes, it’s true that back in the mid nineties I designed a nine pointed star emblem to symbolize my own artistic quest. Also true that, for the year and a half that followed, I used that symbol to mark the path I made as I traveled throughout Latin America. But I made my stars with available natural materials—things like sticks, stones, flowers, or sand. I almost always made them in complete solitude, and left them behind like footprints—to be discovered or not . . . to be blown away by the wind, or washed away by the tide. The only record of them ever existing were the little dots I made on my own map. I didn’t even photograph them. Like the journey, or like life itself, they were meant to be ephemeral.
My secret hope was that once my trip reached its end, the dots on my map would reveal a giant dot-to-dot picture. And they did, sort of. If you use your imagination they almost delineate the symbol for infinity. Or at least a wiggly-looking number eight, which by the way is the one enneagram type I’m definitely not. (See above.)
Do the medallions make a picture? I can’t tell. Can you?
seven: they’re benchmarks
Benchmarks are physical, geographical markers used by land surveyors, builders, map makers, and anyone else who needs to know exact locations. They come in various forms but most of them happen to be metal discs about the same size as the star medallions. If you start looking around, you’ll likely notice them all over the place.
Many of these markers are part of the geodetic control network (technically known as the National Spatial Reference System, or NSRS) created and maintained by NOAA’s National Geodetic Survey (NGS). Most real benchmarks are searchable on databases. If a medallion you’ve found shows up on one of those, I’d love to hear about it.
P.S. A while back I heard from a survey and construction crew in Bowbells, North Dakota who had to remove a sidewalk containing one of the medallions for a construction project. At first they assumed the medallion was a genuine benchmark, something they pay close attention to in their line of work. Upon further investigation though, they discovered the object’s true nature. Last I heard they were hoping to set the medallion back into the new sidewalk. By sheer coincidence, a second construction crew—this one in New Hampshire—had a similar experience. The exact same week. (Cue the eerie sound effects.)
eight: it’s a campaign
Have you heard of the Toynbee tiles? Since the ’80s, tiles containing cryptic messages have been found embedded in asphalt in a number of North and South American cities. Most of the tiles read:
IN MOVIE 2001
ON PLANET JUPITER
The prize-winning 2011 documentary called Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles suggests that the tiles are the work of a single man, obsessively broadcasting his important message to the world. It’s certainly conceivable that the medallions are part of a similar endeavour.
Or perhaps we’re looking at something more commercial. If you’ve ever gone on a Wild West road trip, perhaps you’ll recall the billboards advertising free ice water at Wall Drugs. The signs start working their magic long before you’re anywhere near the actual store. Little by little, hour by hour, you make your way across the wide open land, imagining this elusive, ice-water oasis until you’re finally so close it’s nearly impossible to resist a visit.
One theory suggests the medallions are part of a similar advertising scheme. But why would an advertiser go to the trouble of creating medallions and cementing them all over Kingdom Come without first securing the website they seem to advertise? And who would bother to advertise some artist’s website? I doubt it’s anyone I know: I’d sooner poke my own eye out with a paintbrush than advertise my site, and frankly, none of my friends or family has that vested an interest. Besides, the medallions started showing up before I’d even decided exactly what to do with this domain.
But here’s an intriguing development: It turns out Wall Drug has such a cult following that visitors have erected signs all over the world—even Antarctica—stating the precise distance from that spot to Wall Drugs. Doing so has essentially made Wall Drug into what’s called a Geodetic datum, a reference point from which super accurate geographical measurements can be made.
Hmmm. Could this site be some sort of Internetetic datum? Or a reference point that’s triangulating the way to some other location?
nine: they’re spiritual or philosophical
People have always used images and objects to promote spiritual and philosophical ideas. In this case, the specifics may diverge, but generally speaking, the symbol of a nine-pointed star seems to express positive notions or characteristics associated with a variety of world views.
In Christianity, a nine-pointed star represents the “Fruit of the Holy Spirit,” the nine attributes that constitute a truly Christian life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
The Bahá’í Faith aims to bring about world peace by recognizing all humans as members of the same family, and all major religions as the teachings of one God. Bahá’ís see the nine-pointed star as the embodiment of the number nine, important because it’s the numerological equivalent of the word Bahá’, a sign of perfection, and representative of the nine great religious traditions of the world.
According to the Interwebs, the medallions could also be connected to a Native American “Nine-pointed Star Ceremony” that took place during a favorable star alignment back in 2010 (yep, 2010—the very number that happens to be on the medallions) During the ceremony, eight global bodies of water were chosen to represent the first eight points of the symbolic star. When they were linked through the the power of positive intentions, the star’s ninth point was meant to be activated, thereby clearing Earth’s waters of negative energy and bringing forth abundance, purity and sustainability. Ceremony details also mention “golden disks,” but it sounds like those were spiritually powerful places. Not metallic knickknacks.
The medallions may also relate to some aspect of Freemasonry, because several folks have noted that the medallion they found was near a Masonic Lodge. Adding a touch of drama and intrigue, someone recently wrote to say they’d looked into it, and found that all the medallions on the west coast are within a mile of a Masonic Lodge. Well, isn’t that interesting?
Although Masons are required to believe in a supreme being, they’re a secular fraternity of (mostly men) who trace their origins back to fourteenth century stonemason guilds. As you’re probably aware, many famous and powerful people have been Masons: George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Winston Churchill, Mozart, Davy Crockett, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Houdini, Gerald Ford, Henry Ford, John Wayne, Colonel Sanders (and even the barber turned three-term mayor of my hometown, who, back in 1919, commissioned the very house I now live in.)
Because of this powerful membership, and because so much of what the Masons do is steeped in mystery, people have come up with all sorts of conspiracy theories about them. In recent years, popular books and movies such as the Dan Brown novels and National Treasure have only added to the intrigue. The internet abounds with so much information and misinformation about masons it’s hard to make sense of it all.
But one thing does jump out: As you might expect from an organization that has described itself as a “beautiful system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols” they do use lots of symbols to represent ideals and various levels of achievement, most of which are inspired by the manual tools that the stonemasons historically used.
A rather compelling coincidence, I once did a Google image search on the word “medallion” and a number of brass medallions imprinted with the Mason’s insignia popped up. Hmmm—a clue, perhaps?
I’ve also found a small shred of evidence calling a nine-pointed star symbol the “interlaced triple triangle” and linking it to “the trinitarian symbol of the Deity.” And I’ve found mention of “a secret vault in the 8th degree to house the Ark of the Covenant.” Frankly, I don’t know what any of that means, but it seems like it could be important. (Are you a Mason? Because if it’s not too big a secret, I’d love to know exactly what the nine-pointed star represents for you.)
P.S. I wasn’t too familiar with Masons, the Fruit of the Holy Spirit, the Baháí Faith, or even Native American Water Ceremonies when I came up with my own design. Believe it or not, I designed my star before the Internet made searching for that kind of information easy and instantaneous. I didn’t even know nine was a perfect number, just that it felt right; I’d been fond of it since childhood (back when our solar system had nine planets) and thought that adding an extra point to a compass rose’s usual eight suggested an inward aspect to a real-world journey. In a curious case of life seeming to imitate art, I met a Native American woman during the odyssey that ensued. She introduced me to the concept of totem animals and explained that everyone has a personal menagerie of Spirit Guides, each representing one of the nine—yep, nine—directions: North, South, East, West, Above, Below, Right, Left, and Within.