Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Giving Back

Buried treasures: every metal detectorist dreams of finding some.  Whether it be old coins in a farmers field, relics from a Civil War battlefield, or jewelry found along the beaches after a long hot summer, each new find is a possible keepsake.

But every once in a while a treasure is found that contains some small clue to its owners identity...and every detectorist must decide "if I found the person this belongs to, would I return it?"

Last spring, my husband and I were hunting a local small-town ball field.  I hit a strong signal in center field and was rewarded with a glint of gold at the bottom of the 4 inch deep hole.  I pulled out a heavy men's class ring, unable to believe my luck.  I'd found rings before...cheap metal rings lost from children's small fingers...but this was my first gold.  I carefully cleaned the dirt from the ring and slipped it on my finger...a perfect fit.  A keeper.  So it wasn't from my own graduation year...or even from my high school.  I liked it.  It was a keeper.

And then my husband walked over and brought me back to reality with a simple "I wonder who lost it?" 

I slowly pulled the ring from my finger and took a good look at it.  Coatesville Senior High School...Class of 1968.  A very small clue.  A garnet as the center stone.  Another very small clue.  And engraved on the inside of the band the initials JMZ.

The next day I contacted the high school and a woman in the library.  She informed me that yearbooks were considered private and she couldn't give me any information contained within them.  I explained my reasoning for wanting to look at a 1968 yearbook and she agreed to speak to someone "higher up" about it and that she would call me back.  A hour later she called to say that, though she could not allow me to look at the yearbook, she had looked through it herself and could find no one with those initials.  A dead end.

A week later my husbands sister called to tell me she had graduated in 1968.  She was in the middle of moving and her yearbook was packed away, but that to her recollection no one with those initials had graduated with her.  It looked like another dead end.

I looked in phone books, on reunion websites, even military records but always came up empty.  Eventually I put the ring away in a jewelry case and there it sat for the next 6 months.

By chance, one day, I was talking to our local township sheriff and happened to mention the ring.  He thought for a moment and then said "wait here, I'll be right back."  Ten minutes later he was back with news I couldn't believe.  Not only had he had figured out the owner of the ring, but he had stopped by their house, quickly told them the story of my find, and now was going to take me to return the ring to them.

To make a long story short:  the original owner of the ring had passed away almost twenty years before and the ring had been given to his daughter.  She had worn it on a chain around her neck until four years ago when it was lost during a softball game.  The look on her face when I placed the ring in her hand and the tears of joy that welled in her eyes when she said "thank you" are memories I will treasure...far more than a ring I couldn't honestly claim as my own.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

One Man's Trash...

I learned a valuable lesson recently...quite literally just hours after having heard the same lesson taught to someone else.

My husband and I were passing a local historic property, where we had hoped to gain permission to detect, when we noticed a fellow hobbyist who had beaten us to the site.  We left our detectors in the car and approached, not wanting to step on any toes but dying to know if anything of interest had been found.  "Mark" was quite happy to stop and chat with us and eager to show us the few finds he'd made. 

As we'd already guessed, Mark admitted the ground around the house was rather trashy, and seemed convinced finds would be few and far between.  He pulled a handful of items out of his pouch to show us what he'd unearthed.  One disc-shaped item caught my husbands eye and he pointed to it, only to be told that it was just a bit of trash, nothing more.  Joe asked to see it, rubbed dirt off it with his thumb, then said, "Congratulations, you've got an old coin there," before tilting the coin my way, where I could just make out the faint outline of a bust on its surface.  Joe returned the coin to Mark, joking that he should look closer at items before discarding them as trash.

We left Mark shaking his head in disbelief and mumbling, "You don't know how close I was to throwing that away."

Fast forward to the next morning.  Joe and I had gone back to the same house, trying our luck at finding any old coins or artifacts that might have escaped Mark's detector.  Later, we sat on the tailgate of our truck, going through our finds and cleaning the trash out of our pouches.  I had just thrown an odd-shaped metal plate into the discard pile when Joe's hand shot out and scooped it up.  I looked up at him, puzzled, as I heard him say "Do you know what you've got here?"  Obviously I didn't.  Turns out it was part of a Civil War belt buckle.

Now it was my turn to shake my head in disbelief and mumble, "You don't know how close I was to throwing that away..." 

Lesson learned?  Know what you are looking for, do your research and never underestimate what you may have found.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Find of a Lifetime

In September 2008, my husband and I hosted a Treasure Hunt for members of an online forum we belong to.  We had detecting enthusiasts from all over the country in attendance, and one couple even made the long trip from England.

Our property is located in a triangle between the famous Brandywine, Valley Forge, and Gettysburg Battlefields.  Around 1870, a branch of the Newark Railroad had been built, following the creek which ran the length of the property, but it was abandoned by the late 1930's.  We arranged for guests to stay at an old Inn which had been built in the late 1700's, just a mile down the road from the Hunt site.  Though ours is not a property of documented historical significance in itself, we certainly are surrounded by it.

The Hunt was held over a weekend...two seeded hunts on the Saturday and a token hunt on the Sunday.  The grand prize for the token hunt was a brand new Garrett detector, so as much as we all enjoyed the seeded hunts, we were all pretty eager for the final event. 

I started out well, easily finding tokens with my ACE 250.  Then suddenly I got a signal from an object that was about 8 inches down.  Knowing the tokens had been buried no more than 2 inches deep, I was tempted to ignore the tone and move on to something else.  But the persistent chime of a coin signal made me stop and dig.  I'd only had my detector for a couple of months and I still had a lot to learn about its use.  My hole seemed to be getting bigger but I seemed no closer to finding the object.  I was just about to give up when my digging tool flipped a small circular disc out of the hole and into the dirt beside me.  I picked it up and couldn't believe my eyes...a King George I copper half-penny from 1717-1718.

I'm afraid, in my excitement, that after this find I forgot all about looking for tokens.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Suffer The Children

My husband, Joe, and I got out for a few hours of detecting this afternoon.  Being February, it wasn't exactly warm, but we'd got so tired of hearing about fellow enthusiasts recent finds that we decided to try for a few of our own.

We headed into town to a ball park where an old school had once stood.  We were pleasantly surprised to find the park empty and managed to get in a good 15 minutes of detecting before the inevitable group of youngsters arrived.  Joe and I don't usually mind when kids show up - they are naturally inquisitive and we enjoy sharing our hobby with them.  Generally they stand quietly by, shyly nudging each other until one has the courage to step forward and ask "whatcha doin'?"

Our answer is always the same..."we're hunting for treasure," and always illicits the same response...eyes widening in slight disbelief, an edge of excitement in their voices as they ask, "Can we watch?"

Today was a little different, though.  These kids, seven of them ranging in ages from 8 to 10 years, were more than inquisitive..they were enthusiastic.  After answering the usual "whatcha doin'?" question, we began to show them how our detectors and probes worked.  Joe knelt to dig a target, putting his detector down as he did so.  The next thing he knew, one of the boys had picked it up and was off and swinging with it.  

As Joe took off after his detector, I felt a stealthy hand reach into my belt and make off with my Vibraprobe as another small hand grabbed for my detector.  We got our equipment back with a firm "sorry, guys, this stuff is too expensive to play with."  But our young audience was not to be deterred.  They closed in tight around us, reaching out tentative hands to help us swing our detectors in the confined space.

One little girl asked what my pouch was for, and when I told her it was where I put any litter I found, she proceeded to empty her pockets and place her trash into my pouch.

Between us, Joe and I found a handful of pennies, two nickels, a dime, a housekey, and a variety of bottle caps and pull tabs.  Everything - even the trash - was quickly confiscated by the kids, who then proceeded to sit in a circle and show off the treasures we'd given them. 

Who knows, maybe we started something...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Few Words of Advice...

You've purchased your metal detector, installed the batteries, glanced quickly through the manual, and now you're ready to take it out for a spin.  You take a couple of swings through your back yard, get a signal, and begin to dig.  And dig.  And dig some more.  Frustrated and empty handed you fill in your hole and begin again.  Second signal...another hole, slightly larger than the first...and there it is - your first find.  Is it foil? or maybe a pull tab?  Or maybe signals are chiming so fast you don't know where to begin to dig.  Sound familiar?  Well, before you give up and relegate your detector to a dark corner of the closet, let me offer you a few words of advice.
  1. Learn your detector.  Read your manual carefully and familiarize yourself with every aspect of your machine from the control box to the coil.  Learn the sounds your detector makes by placing different objects, such as a coin, nail,  and piece of foil, one at a time beneath the coil.  Take note of the distinctive tone each item makes and its target ID on your screen.  Once you are ready to take your detector outside, take your time, move slowly, and listen to your detector.
  2. Dig everything.  The key to metal detecting is practice, patience, and persistence.  Very few detectorists hit gold...or anything else of value...on the very first signal.  Most likely you will dig a lot of trash before you unearth your first treasure.  But removing the trash is essential as oftentimes an iron or foil tone will hide the tones of a coin buried close by.
  3. Diggers and pinpointers:  Don't leave home without them.  There are several different brands and styles of diggers and pinpointers on the market, each with their own pros and cons.  Choose each for their comfort, ease of use, and personal preference as they are both invaluable tools and will assist you in the recovery of items from holes quickly and easily. 
  4. Join an online forum or a local club.  Forums and clubs are communities of friendly and supportive detectorists.  Here you will find like-minded hobbyists who are not only eager to offer tips and advice, but also to share in the stories, photos, and excitement of your finds.  They are also excellent resources for research into and identification of those finds.
  5. Respect your surroundings.  There is an code of ethics in the world of metal detecting.  You are a representative of a hobby that, unfortunately, has been viewed by some with negativity, and we will all be judged by how you act.  Respect private property and do not hunt without the owners permission.  Do not litter and remove all trash that is uncovered.  And most importantly, be as discreet as possible in your digging.  Never dig in a manner which will damage or destroy vegetation and always fill in all holes no matter how remote the location.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Go Green - Become a Detectorist!!

A question asked of me quite often, mostly from those people who don't quite "get" metal detecting, is, "Don't you ever get tired of digging trash?"  Truthfully?  Yes, at times it is very discouraging.  Nothing is so disappointing as thinking you are digging a coin only to pull out yet another aluminum can, bottle cap, or gum wrapper.  

When I first began metal detecting I was warned..."you have to remove the trash before you can uncover the treasures."  In my three years of metal detecting I have certainly removed a lot of trash from the ground.  Bags of trash, in fact.  Of course, it is tempting to pass over a signal that, mostly likely, is just another pull tab.  But as discouraging as it sometimes is, at the end of the day, to have a pouch full of trash, it is also satisfying to know that I am doing my part for the environment.  I like knowing that when I have detected a local park or playground, I am leaving the area somewhat cleaner - both above ground and below.  And yes, sometimes I am even rewarded with a few coins for my trouble.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

If Only These Finds Could Talk

Everyone who detects knows the thrill of unearthing an extra special find, a find that keeps you talking and wondering for days and weeks to come.  It is impossible to hold such a find in your hand and not ask yourself...Who held or wore this last?  What brought them to this spot?  How did they come to lose it?  How long has it been buried?  If only these finds could talk...what stories would they tell us?

At times, through doing research in books or on the internet, the answers to some of these questions can be found.  But oftentimes you find yourself guessing at romanticized truths based on what little information you can glean from an object.  Did the wedding band found beneath some bushes slip unnoticed from the finger of a careless gardener, or was it thrown to its present resting place in a fit of despair by a jilted lover?  Was the button from a civil war uniform torn off in the heat of battle or did it fall to the ground because of a soldiers unskilled work with needle and thread?

In our three years of detecting, my husband and I have pulled many finds from the ground which have given us cause to ponder.  Some have been historic, such as the George Washington Inaugural button my husband found at an old abandoned home site, and the British Naval button I discovered by a neighbors hidden pond.  Others have been oddities...old hotel keys found deep in the woods and a child's art medal unearthed beside an abandoned railroad.  Distinctive markings on each find made them easy to identify and just as easy to date.  But the answers to those questions left us asking more...who brought these treasures to such desolate locations? and did they mourn their loss?

But sometimes the finds will whisper just enough to allow us to track down an owner and learn the real story behind how they came to be buried.  Tracing a name engraved on the casing of a watch found in 3 inches of sand will lead us to a grateful, though somewhat sheepish owner, who will admit to shaking out a blanket at the beach before remembering their watch had been placed carefully upon it hours before....so it wouldn't get lost.

And one day, long after my husband and I are but distant memories, someone might venture into a cluttered attic, take down a long forgotten treasure chest from its place on a dusty shelf, and the questions will begin again.  What are these objects? Why were they placed in this box? Who did they belong to?  Oh, if only they could talk...what stories they might tell.