The End of Monkeyshines… Will it Be a New Beginning?

Mon•key•shine \ ˈməŋ-kē-ˌshīn
Merriam Webster: (noun) Mischievous or playful activity; a prank.
Tacoma Dictionary: One of thousands of cool glass baubles hidden throughout the city around the Lunar New Year.  A highly coveted treasure.

If you don’t know about the Monkeyshines project, that happens in Tacoma every year, some would say you’ve been living under a rock. But living under a rock anywhere in the city would scarcely be an excuse. It’s likely that even under a rock you would have found your winter’s sleep disturbed by someone hiding a Monkeyshine under that rock, or even more likely that you would have had a Monkeyshine Hunter overturn your rock looking for one of the treasured glass baubles. 

But let’s suppose you don’t live under a rock, and still don’t know about Monkeyshines. The truth is you’d be in pretty good company, because for some reason even though the Monkeyshines Project has been going strong for 17 years, a huge percentage of life-long Tacoma residents still don’t know about it. Monkeyshines might be one of the best kept non-secrets in Tacoma!

For those of you in the know, feel free to skip this section. For the rest of you, here’s a quick Monkeyshines’ primer:

  1. Every year for 17 years, a secretive group of glassblowers have been making hundreds — and in later years 1000+ — glass baubles decorated to coincide with the Lunar (Chinese) New Year. These glass baubles are known as Monkeyshines.
  2. In the days just before the Lunar New Year — around the end of January — under the cover of darkness, a large group of anonymous volunteers descend on the city to hide these treasures. 
  3. Notice goes out by word of mouth and through social media that “the hunt is on.”
  4. Individuals, small groups, and families become obsessed, and are known to spend every spare minute hunting for Monkeyshines. (Dedicated stalwarts have even continued hunting for years without ever finding an official Monkeyshine).

Why Has Tacoma Embraced Monkeyshines?

We talked to one of the originators of Monkeyshines recently. She calls herself Ms. Monkey to protect her identity, and says “I never intended this project to be so long lasting, let alone for it to take over my life.” It all started during the particularly cold and dreary winter of 2003. Ms. Monkey and a second glass blower decided it would be fun to make a bunch of pretty glass ornaments and then hide them around town for people to find. They looked for a good time of year to hide the baubles, with no more lofty goal than to provide a diversion from the long, dark winter, and to spread a little joy. 

Longhaired woman photographed in silhouette.
Ms. Monkey likes to remain anonymous, running the popular Tacoma-based Monkeyshines Project from her shadowy lair.

The pair didn’t get their act together before Christmas that year, so they consulted the calendar and decided to aim for the Lunar New Year instead. Now this is where kismet intervened. The second glass blower — who prefers to be known as The Great Ape — had a metal stamp in the shape of a monkey’s face. The animal representing 2004’s Chinese New Year happened to be the monkey, so they used that stamp to emblazon a monkey face on their glass baubles, and the Monkeyshines Project was born.

The Monkeyshine duo made about 200 glass baubles that first year. Then they spent a couple late nights hiding their Monkeyshines. With no way to efficiently get the word out about the hidden treasure, the anonymous pranksters sometimes tricked people into believing they had just found a Monkeyshine —shouting and waving one in the air — and telling whoever was around that they heard there were more hidden around town.

Word spread quickly, and Tacoma residents enthusiastically joined in the spontaneous treasure hunt. Ms. Monkey and The Great Ape sat back and enjoyed the spectacle they’d created. Then spring came, followed by summer. And before they knew it, another winter was descending on Tacoma.

The Monkeyshines crew began hearing speculation around town about the possibility of Monkeyshines happening again. They had never really considered repeating their prank, but when they thought about the fun they’d had they decided that it was worth repeating. Ms. Monkey, being Ms. Monkey, decided that since they had inadvertently tied themselves to the Chinese Calendar, they might a well do this right and commit to a full 12-year cycle.

The Chinese/Lunar calendar is organized into repeating twelve-year cycles based on an approximation of the length of time it takes Jupiter to orbit the Earth (11.85 years). Each of those years is assigned an animal, including the Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat/Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. After twelve years, that cycle is repeated ad infinitum.

It seemed a tall order, but the Monkeyshines duo committed to continuing their project for 12 years. When that had flown by, they decided since they were still having fun they might as well do another twelve years. But they swore that after 24 years of Monkeyshines they would be done. So here we are today, 19 years in with just five years of Monkeyshines left. The world (or at least Post Mark) wonders what happens next?

Monkeyshine Project volunteers fan out across the city to hide Monkeyshines under the cover of darkness.

Rogues Carry the Day — and Maybe the Future Too!

The hard truth is that official Monkeyshines are difficult to find. In the 2020 hide, 1,500 baubles were placed around the city. But with 62 square miles to cover, that’s only 24 Monkeyshines per mile.  And the Monkeyshines volunteer hiders pride themselves on hiding their treasure well.

Ms. Monkey is positive that there are plenty of Monkeyshines from previous years that have never been found. (Unlike the Easter eggs that don’t get found and then rot, there is no expiration date on Monkeyshines). 

“Sonics Guy,” Kris Brannon hunted for eight years before he found his first official Monkeyshine. While one family we spoke with had been searching for five years and never found one. But it seem s that many hunters find what has come to be known as “Rogue Monkeys.” 

The spirit behind Monkeyshines is infectious. The practice of making treasure and hiding it for others to find has spawned copycats (or is that copy monkeys?). Anyway, there are groups who hide Rogues made of wood,

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