A single quest: To behold the golden chariot.
Descendants of Isidoro Vannozzi -- an Italian farmer who unearthed a treasure from before the time of Christ when he discovered an ancient chariot buried in a dusty tomb in the tiny village of Monteleone, Italy, in 1898 -- trekked to the Metropolitan Museum of Art yesterday to see their relative's find.
And meet some cousins they never knew they had.
"We're all relatives, one way or another. I know it's hard to believe," said Bill Giovannetti, the great-grandson of Isidoro and the man who put the Mercer County area family reunion together.
"I hope everybody's here," Giovannetti said (two weren't) as the extended clan climbed into a bus headed from Hamilton to the Met, where Isidoro's chariot -- which dates back 2,600 years to the time of the Etruscans, the first rulers of Rome -- is on display.
But these raiders of the lost chariot had more to contend with than a few missing limbs to their family tree.
"What's your name?" asked Barbara Vannozzi Hart, a great-great-granddaughter of chariot discoverer Isidoro as she passed out name tags to her newfound cousins.
"I'm not sure how we're related," admitted Anthony Vannozzi of Ewing as he greeted some new kin.
However the relations worked out, the link between them all was clear:
The chariot, which Isidoro found more than 100 years ago when he was digging a basement on his farm and instead uncovered an ancient tomb -- and the treasures, like the chariot, that were inside.
"There are so many links between my family and every one of you," Tom Vannozzi, a great-great-grandson of Isidoro who lives in Las Vegas, told his Mercer County relatives via cell phone speaker as they rode through the Lincoln Tunnel into New York. "This historic artifact links us all together."
And inside the Met, which had a special Monday showing for the family, many members glimpsed that link for the first time.
"This is it," Bill Giovannetti gushed as the clan walked the stairs to the Etruscan exhibit. "Finally the day has come."
"This is amazing," one woman said as she spotted the chariot, shining bronze with walnut, ivory, amber and iron.
"How did two people fit in there?" another asked.
"My father played on this," said Lou Giovannetti as he gazed for the first time at the chariot his father -- little Pietro Giovannetti -- used to climb onto as a boy in his grandfather's barn in Monteleone.
"It chills me up and down. Chills up and down my body," he said.
And everyone was amazed at just how good a 2,600-year-old piece of bronze and iron can look.
"That's a long, long time. Twenty-six hundred years. It doesn't look that old," Lou Giovannetti said. "When you think back all those years, it's phenomenal. It boggles my mind to think how old it is.
"Dad would be amazed. I'm sure he would. I don't think he realized that much about it when he was a young kid playing on it."
Neither, apparently, did Isidoro, who -- according to lore -- sold the chariot for two cows and 30 terra-cotta tiles before it was shipped off to America. Other accounts say Isidoro made a tidy profit on the sale.
"We keep talking about Isidoro -- he was a farmer; he gave the chariot away. But the money he got was a lot. He wasn't stupid," Bill Giovannetti said.
Some in the family had seen the chariot on display in a less elaborate showcase years ago at the Met.
"You could've knocked me over with a feather duster -- there it is," said Ronald Conti, who first saw the chariot 30 years ago.
"We've been waiting for this a long time," said Bernice Cottrell, who brought her two sisters -- one from Tennessee, the other from California.
"Overwhelming," summed up Lucille Hibbs, who came from Tennessee to see the chariot. "I can't imagine my ancestors found this in their backyard."
The chariot is an important find, curator Joan Mertens said, because so few have been unearthed in such good shape. And it truly was a status symbol, depicting scenes from the life of Achilles, the hero of the Trojan War.
"I call it a limousine," Mertens said. "You can think of it as a Rolls or a super-Cadillac of its time."
Yet it isn't without controversy.
The mayor of Monteleone called for the Met to return the chariot to his town earlier this year, and Hamilton Mayor Glen Gilmore got caught in the fray when he suggested the Met should do just that -- to the horror of the Mercer County Vannozzi descendants.
"If they want it back, where would it go?" Annette Conti Hogan asked. "It won't go to Monteleone. They won't be able to preserve it."
But for most of the descendants yesterday, the tug of war was easy to dismiss.
"We're really proud of this," cousin Evelyn Vannozzi said.
"It's like all the pieces of the puzzle came together," cousin Barbara Vannozzi Hart agreed.
And the reunion?
That was simple, cousin Jean Cullen summed up:
"There are a lot of Vannozzis here."
What seems to be new is that the group now has a website ... we should also note that an art dealer is rehashing some old arguments (mostly stylistic) to question the authenticity of the chariot ...