6 Insanely Valuable Real Treasures (And How to Steal Them)
Heist movies such as Ocean's Eleven and The Italian Job like to present the world as a loose network of heavily guarded treasures, just waiting for you and your ragtag yet likeable bunch of henchmen to pocket them.
And you know what? The real world is exactly like that, too. There's loot scattered all over the world, just begging for a charming gentleman thief and his plan that is so insane that it just ... might ... work.
The Great Pyramid's Secret Chambers
The Great Pyramid of Giza is easy to brush off as old news when it comes to heisting. After all, it's been there for a long time, and almost every chamber has already been emptied 10 times over.
There are still some interesting discoveries to be made. For instance, there are two tiny shafts that climb up from the queen's chamber. They are far too small for a person to climb up and end in strange blocks with metal rings embedded in them. A secret treasure chamber, perhaps?
Or a sex dungeon.
Researchers drilled through the block at the end of the shaft in 2002 and indeed found an honest-to-goodness secret chamber. Treasure hunting wise, though, it was the most disappointing Easter egg in the history of ransacking cultural landmarks -- it boasted some ancient red graffiti, a dummy door and absolutely nothing worth stealing whatsoever.
However, the other secret chamber is a different matter. There's another secret passageway behind the king's burial chamber, and this one is big enough for a man to go through:
Not much of a man, but still.
Those four stones in the center are carefully placed in a zigzag pattern to take the load of the stones above off them. Experts are fairly certain there are hidden chambers behind this portico structure, and radar probing seems to back this up.
What's more, what we currently think of as the King's Chamber of the pyramid might have been just a dummy, and that hidden room may be the actual inner sanctum. Who knows what riches it might contain?
According to this inscription, armless stick figures.
Apart from the usual warnings about the curse of the mummy and how really unbelievably bad the Egyptian prisons are should you get caught looting, there's a much more practical problem: sand.
When the wall in the King's Chamber was examined with a microgravity probe in 1986, they found that, although there likely is a secret chamber, it's completely filled with sand. It makes sense, really -- as anyone who's ever been in a sand desert can testify, that shit gets everywhere.
So unless your heist plan includes an army of DustBuster-wielding French maids, pyramid raiding might end up being more trouble than it's worth.
The Vatican Library and Secret Archives
Take one of the oldest, most historically wealthy global forces in existence. Add in uncountable numbers of history-obsessed minions, centuries of time and a heavy penchant for hoarding.
The end result is a collection of artifacts and valuables so big, it takes the basement level of an entire country to store. You store your change in a piggy bank, they store theirs in every piggy bank that has ever existed.
The Vatican Library is one of the oldest museums in the world, and probably the most extensive in existence: It holds 1.6 million books, 180,000 manuscripts, 300,000 rare coins and medals and 150,000 assorted prints, drawings and engravings. We're not talking about paperback copies of The Hobbit and the novelization of Air Bud here; these are rare and valuable items from all corners of history. Even discounting the scholarly value, a whole lot of this stuff would be enough to keep the black market in a bidding contest for years.
Above: Jesus' medical records, ages 8-14.
And if you need more than mere money to float your boat, there are always the Vatican Secret Archives.
Founded in 1610, it's a historic library chock-full of documents, church records and intrigue. The Secret Archives span a cool 52 shelf miles of records. Only a handful of researchers are allowed (limited) access, and only a laughably tiny fragment of the material is available to the public. Nobody but a handful of specially selected clergymen truly know the contents of the archives.
"It's almost all fan fiction."
So what lost secrets do the archives hold? Apocrypha that hold secrets capable of changing the world as we know it, Dan Brown style? The recipe for a Highlander serum? A bitchin' collection of solid gold pope hats? The world may never know ... unless, of course, someone sneaks in and helps reveal everything.
Two words: Swiss Guard.
Otherwise known as "the only thing keeping the halberd industry in business."
The Swiss Guard is the oldest standing army in the world, with a 500-year tradition of service to the Vatican. To apply for a position, a prospect needs to be (obviously) Catholic and Swiss, have military experience and pass a rigorous interview and evaluation process. These hard, hard men volunteer to protect the most important physical part of their religion and, if necessary, sacrifice their lives for it.
And they do it despite knowing full well that they're required to dress like this:
"Hey, can I get a new outfit? Mine's made out of one of those tents they put over houses during fumigation."
So, by all means, go liberate a few documents from the Vatican. All that stands between you and newfound riches is a battalion of expertly trained, determined, halberd-wielding Rambo clowns.
J.D. Salinger's Secret Book Vault
The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger's 1951 masterpiece, is one of the most famous books in history, inventing the teen angst novel a full 54 years before Stephenie Meyer was able to ruin the genre. Maybe Salinger saw that coming, because in 1953 he ran away to rural New Hampshire for no apparent reason. He stopped publishing his work (save for a few carefully selected short stories) and refused all interviews or photographs. Instead, he preferred to practice acupuncture on himself, tan a whole bunch and enjoy a sample platter of as many weird religions as possible. Salinger stayed in his remote cabin until his death in 2010, systematically fighting all things related to his "revered author" status to the very end.
"I decided to lay low, relax and wait for 'Operation: Kill Paul McCartney' to reach fruition."
But here's the thing: He never stopped writing.
According to his neighbors and children, Salinger wrote his ass off for several hours a day, every day for the past half century. He had reportedly finished up to 15 novels before his death.
Fifteen unpublished novels. From one of the greatest authors of all time.
Including Holden Caulfield's guide to dating.
Although Salinger never showed them to anyone and kept them in a secret stash, we pretty much know their location, too -- they're in either a vault at his bank (easy peasy!) or his own personal safe (hahahahaha!).
What if it's all drivel?
While there's a fair chance this vault might hold the greatest works of literary genius ever written, there is the worrying fact that Salinger's short stories were getting weirder and weirder toward the end. The man himself certainly did. His brand of reclusiveness was always of the Howard Hughes variety, allegedly drinking his own piss and driving his loved ones insane with his eccentric behavior. These aren't generally considered good signs for a writer whose notoriety lies in his ability to graft grippingly realistic coming-of-age stories.
What teenage boy doesn't love chasing small children around a field?
So while this particular treasure is probably the easiest on this list to reach, just remember to brace yourself for the possibility that your finds will be less about transcending adolescence and more about the distinctly different flavors of Tuesday and Friday urine.
The Smithsonian Vaults
If American history is your bag, there's no reason to burgle further than the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. It holds virtually all cornerstones that constitute America, such as the original Ruby Slippers from The Wizard of Oz, the top hat Abraham Lincoln was shot wearing and Teddy Roosevelt's desk.
If he had a sweaty forehead, this desk is our cloning program's best hope.
The Smithsonian Museum has an estimated 3.2 million such pieces, and more and more drift in every year.
More importantly, from the viewpoint of your gang of gentleman thieves: A good chunk of their collection also drifts away.
An audit of 2,216 items in the Smithsonian's inventory found that a full 10 percent of audited items were missing. This wasn't just random stuff -- 33 missing objects were rated "Tier 4," meaning they're worth at least a million dollars each. If that pattern holds over the entire collection, that means that the Smithsonian has lost track of nearly $48 billion in priceless American history.
"Once I've finished tagging this, just toss it in the Hole of Skulls with all the others."
However, it's not because of thieves. The Smithsonian folk just suck at cataloging. It's not really their fault: Proper cataloging and labeling takes loads of man hours and expertise to do properly, and both things cost money. And as their rich patrons find it difficult to brag about how much labeling they've paid for, most of the donations the Smithsonian receives are earmarked for the sexier exhibitions, instead of basic grunt work. Lacking the budget, the institute therefore doesn't have a lot of options besides locking the storage doors every night and hoping to get their books in order in some distant future.
For a prospective burglar, this means their vaults are essentially a giant, uncataloged jumble sale -- only instead of a $50 sweater for $2, he may find Custer's jacket for the price of a crowbar.
Finally, something to wear to the casino.
By stealing from Smithsonian vaults, you are also grave-robbing Theodore Roosevelt.
As vengeful ghosts go, this is the absolute last one you want after you.
As we are fond of pointing out, you don't particularly want to screw with Teddy. As it happens, the Smithsonian was one of his most beloved pet projects, and he supported it his entire life.
So while you might think that you will have years to enjoy the original Teddy bear before anybody comes looking for it, you are really just begging for Roosevelt's ghost to re-enter the mortal plane with the sole intent of dick-punching you to oblivion.
Young Roosevelt can put three rounds through your urethra in the time it takes you to blink.
The Trivandrum Temple
You know how sometimes you're going through your old stuff and find, say, an old comic that's now a collector's item? That's what happened to the Hindu temple of Sri Padmanabhaswamy in Trivandrum (which we will be calling "Trivandrum temple" from now on, because come on).
An entrance that badass had better conceal at least four blowguns.
Only instead of a relic of your childhood that's now worth $22, they found some relics of their own. Worth $22 billion.
In 2011, the temple's basement was found to contain six vaults, which in turn contained offerings for the gods, gathered there over the last five centuries or so. Five of the vaults were full of gold, jewels and precious artifacts, sealed and left to their own devices. The sixth vault remains unopened.
Understandably, the find is causing a lot of trouble. The royal family, who preside over the temple, feels it belongs to them. The government wants a cut. The people of India, on the other hand, consider it public property and would very much like it back in the hands where it belongs (i.e., theirs).
Just call them slumdog billionaires.
And during all this quarreling, the treasure is staying right where it is. Untouched. Waiting.
The officials say that the Trivandrum temple area is heavily guarded by deliberately undisclosed security measures, which, according to our pop-culture-based expertise in treasure hunting, means it has either giant stones chasing you in narrow corridors or pits filled with venom-spewing scorpions.
What's more, the five vaults that have been opened are at least partially cataloged, so stealing even one tiny little golden statue might get you chased down by an entire nation.
And they ain't packing bows and arrows.
As for that sixth vault ... the door is fitted with special locks that are far superior to the other five, and emblazoned with the figure of a snake. A member of the royal family has stated that opening it would be "a bad omen." And in the context of robbing Hindu temples, it seems like opening the ominous snake door might be tempting fate just a little too much ...
... is exactly what a coward would say. But that's not you, right? Right! So go ahead and kick open that vault, you fucking treasure-eating animal!
"I brought, like, four whips. This is gonna be stupid easy!"
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York
In the heart of New York City, there is a bank building constructed with one message in mind: "Fort Knox is for pussies."
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York is a 22-story stone monster so ridiculously oversized and over-protected that it seems less like a bank and more like Scrooge McDuck's money bin. In fact, it contains a money bin -- a hall three stories high and the size of a football field, filled with cash money. However, we're not setting a foot in there, as that particular vault is infested with robots.
It's basically modern-day Mordor.
Besides, the premises feature a much more enticing target. The N.Y. Fed plays home to the largest gold repository in the world, holding an estimated 25 percent of gold. All gold. In the whole world.
That's nearly $200 billion in solid goddamn gold bricks. Its disappearance should be more than enough to crash the world's economy twice over, if you're into that sort of thing.
That's the prize. Here's what you need to go through to get it.
Patrick. He's a better arm wrestler than anybody.
First of all, digging in is not an option, unless you have access to some serious mining equipment. The vault sits 80 feet below street level, and the rock that surrounds it is hardcore -- the bedrock under New York is one of the very few foundations hard enough to hold the weight of this kind of construct. Walking in by means of some convoluted Ocean's Eleven scheme is no easier: The only entrance is a narrow 10-foot hallway cut into a 90-ton cylinder, which in turn lies in a 140-ton steel and concrete frame. The cylinder rotates 90 degrees to close each night, and its doors seal the vault airtight by sinking into the framework.
Forget bribing someone from the inside to open the vault on command, too. The entrance cylinder is controlled by a series of locks that can only be unlocked with the cooperation of several different people, at specific times of day.
"And spiders. Let's fill the whole goddamn thing with spiders."
So, a perfect challenge! Just grab your experimental military-grade Spider-Man boots and that invisibility armor you were stuck with after the Luxembourg gig and jump right in.
Even if you do manage to sneak in, defeat countless tons of steel, rock and concrete and then find a way to move the gold (reinforced skateboards? trained bees?), there's one last surprise for you: the elite army of marksmen.
Did we not mention the elite army of marksmen? Because there totally is one.
"The United States is heavily invested in both gold and snipers."
While security guards are always to be expected, these particular ones are no ordinary stormtroopers. The vault is protected by one of the largest private uniformed protection forces in America, and each and every one of them is contractually required to be able to shoot the dick off a fly.
You are now in the vault. The only way out is that tiny cylinder. And they are all waiting at the other end.
Man, you really should learn to read these articles in full before leaping into action.
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