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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (06/2001) Relic Hunter (05/2001) Relic Hunter (07/2001)   Vol. 35 June 2001 
The Relic Hunter
As seen in the June 2001 edition of W&ET Magazine

You Can Go Back Home

By: Ed Fedory

For the better part of two centuries the old center-hall Colonial stood on the crossroad, witnessing the progress from rural country lane to asphalt two-lane highway... from farm wagons and horseback riders to SUV's and motorcycles. Toward her latter years, the signs of advanced age became more apparent, and from lack of tender care she swiftly deteriorated beyond repair. Today, she is only a cherished memory for some, or a faded photograph for others.

It was only a few months ago that her walls were bulldozed into the laid stone foundations and her remnants set afire. When I first visited the site upon which she once stood, smoke was still rising from the soil that had been pushed over her charred remains. For relic hunter Joe Anderson, the old dwelling held a special significance, as it was the home in which his mother had spent a good deal of her youth.

I always feel a certain sadness when I see an old building destroyed. Two stone dwellings from the 1700s have been put beneath the bulldozer's blade in our town in the last decade, and I viewed their demise as one would a giant eraser being drawn across the pages of history. Yet, how much more personally saddened must Joe have felt when he walked across that now vacant lot?

Had not the bulldozer's blade dug deep... had not Joe the eyes of an eagle to spot the circular edge of the object partially covered by the turned soil... had not these factors come into play, this would indeed be a short and sad story- but holding that retrieved large cent in his hand, Joe's thoughts turned quickly from memories to relic hunting!

"I wasn't feeling in the best of spirits," recalled Joe, "as I walked across the site. I thought about how many times I had driven past the old homestead and never given it too much thought, but now that she was gone, I missed her. I guess that little walk across the grounds was my way of saying, 'Goodbye'... and just perhaps, that large cent sitting on the surface to the side of the bulldozer's tracks was her way of saying, 'Don't be a stranger.'

"I wasn't sure just what was going to come out of the surrounding soil, but I was going to give it the best shot I had," said Joe.

Along with his cousin, Jimmy, Joe set about carefully searching the grounds, and almost immediately began making dozens of interesting finds from the past. Lured on by that initial large cent, Joe began uncovering quantities of Indian Head cents, as well as a few Barber dimes. "I knew there had to be more than just that single large cent somewhere on the land, but for the first few hunts, it didn't seem like I could manage to find them. I tried searching the area where one of the side lawns had been, but it seemed like the only thing I could find were Wheatbacks and newer silver. It was a little frustrating at times."

Changing his strategy, Joe decided to hunt a side bank that contained the remains of one of the outbuildings. Swinging his coil around the foundation remains, Joe suddenly heard a loud signal running through his headset. "From the reading on my meter, I knew it was probably another copper coin, but I certainly wasn't expecting what I was about to recover!"

As Joe related this part of his tale, he cut a large plug beside the foundation stones, only to find that he still had some digging to do, as the target was still within the depths of the hole. "I loosened the soil in the bottom of the hole and began running fistfuls of earth over the top of my coil. Finally, after about three handfuls, I knew I had the target in my grasp. When I opened my fingers, I could see the edge of the coin in the loose soil. It was another large cent, but this one was in perfect condition... and early. The date of 1803 was clearly visible once I rubbed the coin on the leg of my overalls!"

While Joe was digging the large cent, Jimmy was having his own run of luck in the area once occupied by the stables. "It was easy to tell I was working the stable site by the number of harness rivets I was digging. Every time I would get a signal and check the meter, I thought I was going to pull a nice copper coin from the ground, only to find that the recovered target had magically transformed into another rivet... but I really couldn't complain, as it broke the monotony of digging all those horse and ox shoes!"

As in most things, a certain amount of perseverance usually pays off, and when Joe and Jimmy finally took a break and compared finds, Joe was able to display his 1803 large cent, and Jimmy responded with a freshly recovered 1803 piece of Spanish silver! Obviously, in light of those morning finds, the hunt was resumed with new energy.

Like priming a dry pump, those initial finds were to lead to more recoveries during the afternoon. "I continued with my search around the foundation of the outbuilding and dug another large cent," Joe told me. "Well, to be honest," he added with a wry smile, "it was more like a half cent, as for some unknown reason, someone in the past had decided to make change by cutting a large cent in half. Never did find that other half!"

Searching the area of the old orchard resulted in a number of large one-piece buttons, and the oldest coin recovered. "At first, I thought it was another button," said Joe, but it was a lot thicker than the ones I had previously recovered. After a quick field cleaning, I found that I was holding my first King George copper from the site."

It was shortly afterward that the current owner of the property pulled onto the site to see how Joe and Jimmy were doing. "I showed him some of the finds we had made, and especially, the King George copper. He had never seen one before, and he was so excited to see something that old coming from his property, that I felt compelled to give it to him," Joe stated.

There aren't many relic hunters I know who could part so easily with so early a coin, and I said as much to Joe. "He gave me permission to hunt anywhere I want on almost 300 acres of his land," and with a wink, Joe added, "and he knows where there are two more cellar holes on his wood lot!" Sometimes it really pays big dividends to be a nice guy!

It would be several weeks following the series of hunts on the site, before I would hear about the find that meant the most to Joe. It was one of those cool, late November evenings, and I had just finished splitting wood for the campfire. The Hudson had yet to freeze, and the first flights of geese were coming in with the setting sun. Joe broke the companionable silence with a few simple words. "You know which find I liked the best from the hunt at the old Colonial?"

I ran down a short list of what I considered his best finds.

"No, it wasn't any of those old coins... it was the small gold ring I found down by where the old flower garden used to be. It was a long time ago, but I can still remember my mother telling me about a ring she had once lost, when she was a girl. It was the first gold ring she ever had. I don't know if it had a little stone in it, like the one I found, but I like to think that it did... Mom would've liked that."

For long minutes, the silence was only punctuated by the crackling campfire and the geese overhead...

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