Something strange was definitely going on around Children’s Fairyland a couple of Sundays ago. People outside the park were acting funny, and there were lots of them. When Ailish Elzy in our membership department arrived in the morning to set up the park’s membership table, she observed “over 50 suspicious-looking types” nosing around our gate and the Old Woman’s Shoe. Then she put it together: @HiddenCash was in the ’hood.

For those of you who don’t follow social-media trends, @HiddenCash is the name of a Twitter account whose bio reads, in full: “An anonymous social experience for good. Real cash hidden around SF & beyond. Find the $, share tweetphoto + tag.”

Ailish had been following @HiddenCash on Twitter, so she filled us in. @HiddenCash had hinted the night before that 16 cash-filled envelopes would be distributed somewhere near Lake Merritt. Then, on the evening of June 28, this tweet narrowed the target: “Fun fact: @Disneyland was inspired by Oakland’s @FairylandCA—the 1st themed amusement park in the U.S.”

That unleashed the masses, whose dreams of free money led them to our door. Before the park opened, Maria Rodriguez, our graphic designer, was approached by two women who asked her if envelopes had been scattered inside of the park by a stranger. They were apparently trying to determine if they should attempt to crash our fairy gates. When Maria answered no, one of the women demanded to know how she could be so sure. “I work here, we’re not open, and I can guarantee no stranger has been inside,” Maria replied.

Barbara Griffin, in management and client services, arrived at work to find people peeking through our fence, and a woman in her late 20s poking a stick into our flower bed outside the park. Barbara politely asked the woman to stop, explaining how much time and effort we put into our landscaping efforts.

Ailish was the employee we designated to keep an eye on the activity. “I was surprised at the number of older people, and one grandma,” she says. “It was a crazy diversity of people—whole families!”

At one point an employee heard people loudly arguing right outside the gate to our animal department. A little later, Ailish observed at least 60 people running toward a spot by the lake that may (or may not) have been identified in a Twitter clue. Fortunately, we didn’t hear of any fights or pushing having taken place.

Ailish has mixed feelings about the @HiddenCash sensation. She likes the entity’s stated desire that some of the money be used to pay it forward—i.e, used for some charitable purpose—but says it’s “a little weird and an interesting power trip” that a wealthy person would choose such a game.

At first, the person behind @HiddenCash was anonymous, but apparently the chance to come out to the dashing Anderson Cooper on CNN proved irresistible. Our own local NBC Investigate Unit also did some digging. The man behind the game is Jason Buzi, a San Francisco real estate investor, house-flipper, author, Internet marketer and entrepreneur.

In 2008, Buzi’s now-defunct video-sharing website “CashTomato” put on a publicity stunt that caused a riot in New York. CashTomato employees hid cash in tomato boxes in Union Square. The resulting activity sent one person to the hospital and caused a melee that had to be broken up by the police.

And now Mr. Buzi has discovered Oakland. On TwitLonger, a site that allows Twitter users to tell stories longer than 140 characters, Buzi explained his concern about the many imitators who have popped up all around the world to create scavenger hunts for cash.

“This is not about the money,” he wrote on June 22. “It never was. It’s about bringing people together, in a fun and friendly way. We will keep exploring more ways to do that. Would be great to see more similar efforts around the world. Social media + real life connections = that’s the real power of platforms like Twitter, Facebook, etc.: Love.”

Now I could be cynical, and mention how he has said that his impetus for starting the game was that his Bay Area employees couldn’t afford to buy a reasonably-priced house. Some people have questioned why he didn’t choose to raise their salaries instead of giving random people envelopes containing $100. Or that he might better serve humanity by identifying causes and really making a difference. But then I might look like a spoilsport: After all, the photos of people who found hundreds of dollars that day in Lakeside Park in Oakland looked really, really happy.

So I’m not going to take a stand on the phenomenon known as @HiddenCash. Because at the end of the day, more than half a million people all over the world learned about Children’s Fairyland, and the fact that we influenced Walt Disney. And trust me, that’s worth a whole lot more than a hundred bucks to us.

2 Responses

  1. sal

    this is getting pathetic. who knows why or from whom the money is coming from. what if the money is coming from a bad source, or there is bad will involved. is the little money you get from this sick experiment worth your time or perhaps your dignity. NOTHING is FREE.

    Reply
  2. Smix

    There’s the neatly dressed man (suit jacket, tie) who sleeps overnight in the gazebo near that weird concrete play structure. I hope he gets some of this cash.

    Reply

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