Say what you will about the troubled U.S. Postal Service: It’s still the best way to get a priceless notebook to an adventuring archaeologist and out of the hands of the Nazis.
That’s what the University of Chicago discovered last week when it received a mysterious manila envelope with what appeared to be Egyptian stamps addressed to one Henry Walton Jones Jr. The only problem: there is no Henry Walton Jones Jr. on the faculty of U of Chicago. Staffers at Rosenwald Hall, where the package was delivered, shrugged and tossed it to a student to figure out where to deliver it.
The mystery deepened when the student realized Henry Jones Jr. was none other than Indiana Jones: Professor of archaeology, expert on the occult, and … how does one say it … obtainer of rare antiquities. It just got better from there. The university staff opened up the package and found it contained an elaborately handmade replica journal from Professor Abner Ravenwood, detailing his hunt for the Ark of the Covenant (as seen in the 1981 film Raiders of the Lost Ark). The dusty, weathered journal also had postcards, 1930s-era replica money, and photographs of Abner’s daughter Marion Ravenwood.
The university was stumped. Who would handmake such an intricately detailed item, and then mail it to a fictional character at a real university? Was it a Hollywood promotional stunt? A joke gift from one professor to another that got diverted in the university’s mail system? Or, the university theorized, was it from an applicant who wanted to get noticed? The admissions office posted photos of the package on its Tumblr account Dec. 13, and geek websites around the world quickly spread the word.
But Monday, the university announced the mystery was solved. A man from Guam named Paul has a side business selling replica Indiana Jones props on eBay, and intended to send the package to a buyer in Italy. The Indy package fell out of its outer envelope — which was properly addressed to the Italian buyer — in a Postal Service processing facility in Honolulu, and ended up in the lost and found pile. A postal employee evidently thought the phony Egyptian stamps were legitimate and appeared canceled, so he or she handwrote the ZIP code for Chicago on the envelope and sent it on its way. (The Postal Service may want to beef up its employees’ counterfeit-spotting training.)
The university tracked Paul down and he confirmed Saturday that he sent the package. The next day, Paul got a letter from the Postal Service telling him they found his empty outer envelope and that its contents had apparently been lost.
Paul told the university to keep the journal, and he sent the Italian buyer another one. The university said it plans to put the journal on display in its Oriental Institute, along with information about the real-life archaeologists (including two from U of Chicago) who inspired Indy’s creation.
I’m sure they’ll have top men working on it. Top … men …