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Dr Pepper's $1 Million Coin Advertising Stunt Leads Boston to Close Historic Site

Less than a month after highways and bridges were shut down during a bomb scare touched off by an advertising stunt, a new marketing scheme has led angry city officials to shut down a historic site.

A clue in a Dr Pepper promotion suggested a coin that might be worth as much as $1 million was buried in the 347-year-old Granary Burying Ground, the final resting place of John Hancock, Paul Revere, Samuel Adams and other historic figures.

After contestants showed up at the cemetery gates early Tuesday, the city closed it, concerned that it would be damaged by treasure hunters.

"It absolutely is disrespectful," Boston Parks Commissioner Toni Pollak told The Boston Globe. "It's an affront to the people who are buried there, our nation's ancestors."

British candy and soft drink maker Cadbury Schweppes PLC (CSG), which makes Dr Pepper, canceled the Boston portion of the 23-city coin hunt promotion on Thursday, acknowledging it had hidden the coin in the downtown graveyard that is visited by thousands of tourists a year. There hadn't been complaints from any other city.

"We agree with the Park Department's decision to lock the gates. We wouldn't do anything to desecrate this cemetery," Cadbury Schweppes spokesman Greg Artkop said.

The company said it would instead award $10,000, the value of the Boston coin, in a random drawing of area residents who had registered for the contest.

Parks officials said the city might seek compensation for the police used to protect the site.

Last month, police bomb squads were sent to investigate blinking signs set around the city for a guerrilla marketing campaign promoting a Cartoon Network show. The network's parent, Turner Broadcasting System, and a marketing firm apologized for the scare, which closed bridges and highways, and paid $2 million in compensation. The two men who installed the signs face criminal charges.

City Council President Maureen E. Feeney said she will convene a hearing next month on the Dr Pepper promotion and on the cartoon stunt.

"It is intolerable that companies should exploit city resources at the expense of public safety and even historic property for a cheap promotion," Feeney said in a statement.

However, Mayor Thomas M. Menino said the city will not ban such unconventional marketing schemes as long as companies tell City Hall what is planned.

The coin in the Dr Pepper campaign was revealed Friday as having been hidden behind the lip of a stone slab covering the entrance to an almost 200-year-old crypt.

The promotion's most valuable coin, redeemable for $1 million, was found by a Houston woman near the Spirit of Confederacy statue in Sam Houston Park, Cadbury Schweppes said Friday.