WYOMING, Mich. (WOOD) — Joe Cramer, the “Wyoming Riddler” whose treasure hunt around Grand Rapids had tens of thousands of followers worldwide for 34 years before it ended in 2014, has died.
Surrounding by his two children and six grandchildren, Cramer died Friday at his home after a short battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 75.
To get Cramer’s treasure, you had to think like him — and he was one of a kind. Starting in 1980, the Wyoming native designed riddles that would take treasure hunters around metro Grand Rapids, sending them to places they otherwise may not look at twice and forcing them to consider the ordinary in a new way.
After a near-death experience because of carbon monoxide poisoning at his auto detailing shop, Cramer struggled with severe memory lost and reduced cognitive function. His kids say he was able to overcome those problems because of the support of his family and friends, his devout Catholicism and the riddle that kept his mind sharp and connected him to others.
“The riddles and everything brought my dad back and I don’t think he had any deficits… He came back to a brighter person,” Brenda Karana, Cramer’s oldest child, said.
“I’m not really a social gadfly and I’ve met just a world of people through this. One year I had 43,000 letters,” Joe Cramer told News 8 in 1997.
The treasure hunt had people around Grand Rapids looking and people around the world using maps to try to win.
“It’s just a story. I just tell you exactly what I did and the answer is all there,” Cramer said of his riddles.
“He loved entertaining everyone. He loved adventure with everything,” son Stephen Cramer said.
He went out with his dad to hide the medallion that would earn riddle-solvers a prize. He remembered how far people would go to try to get an edge.
“We were driving and my dad said, ‘Hey, get out and run over to that telephone pole, run around it and come back,’” Stephen Cramer said.
He was confused, he said, but soon understood after they drove a little way and then stopped to look back.
“He’s like, ‘Now watch.’ And sure enough, two people came up, went out to the telephone pole and spent 10 to 15 minutes looking around it before they gave up and left,” he said.
Robert Lyon joined the yearly hunt for 25 years, winning once in 1998 and then again 16 years later for the last riddle in 2014.
A hunt that started in November and could be over in days or could drag on well into the spring. Those who found the medallion claimed prizes of silver coins, silverware and tea seats worth a nice chunk of change.
But that’s not what it was about for Lyon.
“The best part for me, I think, is the cup that says I won it,” said Lyon, who considered Joe Cramer a good friend. “I just can’t say enough about the guy. … It was just so much fun.”
On Tuesday, Lyon stopped by Cramer’s house as his daughter was going through her father’s collected memories. She and her brother found a treasure hunt he created when he was a middle school-aged student at St. John Vianney school in Wyoming.
“He was just so cool,” his daughter said.
In his 20s, Cramer walked the length of the Lake Michigan shoreline, living off the land as he went. He kept that sense of adventure throughout his life.
“Just walking down the sidewalk, he’d make up some story for my kids that would get them all excited,” Stephen Cramer said.
He was also published his own life story and most recently a book for veterans to raise money to help them.
In a 2018 interview with the cable access channel WKTV, Cramer said he was the one who found the treasure.
“I’ve met a lot of them through this riddle. Those people have opened my eyes to how great a community this is,” Cramer said.
You can find out more about Joe Cramer’s writing and his book at the Facebook page for J & S Car Care Center.