Wednesday, November 25, 2015         

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Mysterious 'Ark' package traced to Guam prop man

By Star-Advertiser Staff and News Services


The mystery of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and the University of Chicago admissions office has been solved.

On Dec. 12 a crinkled package showed up in the university's mailroom addressed to Henry Walton Jones Jr. After a futile search for the faculty member, a student worker made the connection: Indiana Jones.

The envelope contained a detailed journal of professor Abner Ravenwood, Indy's mentor, along with photographs, currency and maps — all fictional, of course.

The stamps on the envelope were fake, so it must have been dropped off. Was an applicant trying to impress the admissions office? The university, after all, is known for its creatively offbeat essay prompts.

"We wanted to believe it was a student applicant," said Garrett C. Brinker, the director of undergraduate outreach. "That was our romantic version."

A highly publicized quest ensued. Lucasfilm denied a suggestion on the school's blog that the episode was a publicity stunt for a new movie installment.

But the package's route was suitably adventurous.

Paul Charfauros makes prop replicas that he sells on eBay for about $200. The university, noting a similarity, reached out. On Sunday night they heard from Charfauros, who lives on Guam.

He had mailed the journal to Italy in a larger envelope, and he had just received a letter from a Hono­lulu post office notifying him that the package's contents had fallen out. Somehow the journal — in a smaller manila envelope with the University of Chicago address for cosmetic effect, "Illinois" misspelled and no postage — had made its way to the admissions office.

"We want the mail to get through. That's our No. 1 priority," said Don Smeraldi, U.S. Postal Service spokes­man for the Pacific region. "We always attempt to deliver what we can when we find a mail piece like that, and since it wasn't an automated piece of mail, it was handled manually. Rather than just holding it at one of our mail recovery centers, (U.S. Postal Service workers) felt the best thing to do was forward it along and see if (the Chicago address) was a legitimate address."

Smeraldi said had the parcel run through automated sorting machinery, it would have been sorted out of the mail flow for lack of valid postage.

"This is a rare situation," he said.

The Oriental Institute, the University of Chicago's famed museum and organization devoted to the ancient Near East, likes the journal and asked to display it in its main lobby, Brinker said.

"They asked for it, and now it is in their possession," he said.

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