By ROGER AMSDEN, for THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — Their quest for the certificate good for $1,000 in The Laconia Daily Sun's Grand Prize contest took the winning coworkers from the Laconia City Hall tax collector's office to many remote locations, including the top of Belknap Mountain, Grace Metalious' grave in the Smith Meetinghouse Cemetery in Gilmanton, and to a locked-away room in the Laconia Pubic Library which holds a rare copy of a book written by New Hampshire historian Jeremy Belknap, for whom Belknap County is named.
They were able to locate the tiny black container which held the certificate good for $1,000 last Wednesday hidden on the underside of a yellow gate on Seibel Road in Gilmanton after having been there the night before, along with about 10 other searchers, and not being able to locate it.
Not all members of the winning team – Tax Collector Lindsey Allen and account clerks Mary Huntoon, Lori Gardiner and Cheryl Hebert – visited the locations together, but they all shared a sense of adventure in trying to decipher the meaning of the clues over the nine weeks that the contest ran and said they'd love to do another contest.
Gardiner had been on Seibel Road the night before the container was found and said, "I walked right by the gate, like the other people who were searching."
Stopping at Sanborn's Auto Repair for the last clue, the team found out that morning that the yellow gate was referenced. Hebert took an early lunch hour and went there and stayed in touch with Allen by cellphone.
"She called and told me she was there, but didn't see it. I told her to run her hand over the entire gate and she found it on the underside of the gate, where it fell off when she touched it," said Allen.
The women praised the contest not just for the fun of the search for the prize, but also for the team-building aspects of learning about the area through the clues presented each week.
"It was all so educational. The stuff we learned was fantastic and it was a lot of fun,"said Huntoon, who said that she and her sister visited the Metalious grave site after it was referenced in the 16th clue.
"My grandmother was a friend of Grace Metalious, sort of a drinking buddy. We went there at night and put a stone and a coin on the grave for good luck."
It turned out that the actual location of the prize on Seibel Road was only a few miles away from the Metalious grave.
Also having some adventure was Gardiner, who, after the third clue referenced Belknap, took it upon herself to hike up Mount Belknap late one afternoon to see if she could locate the prize. She was wearing sneakers, not hiking boots, and wasn't wearing a jacket. She realized that as she started back down from the fire tower atop the mountain that the gate to the roadway up the mountain would close at 6 o'clock and she wouldn't be able to get her car out if she was late.
"I called a friend and asked them to come and get me if my car was locked in. But I got back down and it was five minutes after six when I left and saw the gate getting locked up," said Gardiner.
Hebert said that the group had a map at work where they mapped out possible locations of the prize and thought at one point that the hidden prize was in a room at the Laconia Library which, as it turned out, was the place where a rare book written by Jeremy Belknap was kept. At another point, they thought it might be on the WOW Trail in Laconia.
Allen said she proposed that the coworkers enter the competition as a team-building exercise and thinks that it worked out well.
"We got a lot closer and bounced ideas off from each other about what the clues meant and where the prize might be. It was so much fun that I'd like for us to put on a contest ourselves and provide the clues."
But Huntoon said she'd rather have someone else provide the clues, and the prize. "I want to go find it. It was just such a good time."
The women split the prize four ways and say that the the money will be used for Christmas shopping for their families.
Clues were printed in The Daily Sun on Tuesdays and posted in Hannaford stores in Meredith, Plymouth, Bristol, Gilford and Concord; in Wine'ing Butcher shops in Gilford and Meredith; at Sanborn's Auto Repair in Laconia; and at the Gilford Mobil Mart on Wednesdays.
Mark Brady, who crafted each of the four-line, rhyming clues, has been running Grand Prize contests for 36 years. Brady conceived the contest for a group of radio stations he was operating in the Middlebury, Vermont, area, and has adapted the game for print media.
Over the years, he has operated the contest in many different markets.
"It's great fun. No matter where I go, the contests are customized for you area's geographic and historic points. It's a lot of fun to put it together," said Brady.
Cheryl Hebert shows where she located the container with the certificate good for $1,000 on Seibel Road in Gilmanton. (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun)
Elaine Hirshan, left, sales manager for The Laconia Daily Sun, and Adam Hirshan, right, publisher of The Laconia Daily Sun, present checks to the winners of the Sun's Grand Prize contest, Lori Gardiner, Cheryl Hebert and Lindsey Allen. Another winner, Mary Huntoon, was unable to attend the presentation, which took place in front of the yellow fence on Seibel Road in Gilmanton where the prize winning certificate was found. (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun)