The Longest Wait
By: James Filippi
Summertime in Florida... water and beach hunting are in full force, and relic hunting is pretty much put on hold until winter. Ticks, mosquitoes, and snakes are everywhere. The woods are grown up, and most of our fort sites and house sites have to wait until winter due to their locations.
It all started back in 1995. I was just 22, out of the military, and had entered the police academy. I had also just started metal detecting and loved it. Another police academy student who was a military reservist told me about a lakeside military base that had been used during WWII. It sounded like a sure thing, so I packed up my CZ-5 and CZ-20 and drove an hour to the base.
Being a reservist myself, I could get on base because I had military ID. It looked great- old barracks, foundations, and swimming areas- and I soon realized that I was one of very few people to hunt there either on land or in the water, because I recovered hundreds of silver coins, jewelry, and military artifact that should have been found long ago.
The water was crystal clear and spring-fed, with a sandy bottom. Who could ask for a better place to hunt? Some of the rings and silver coins that came out of the water were dated as early as the 1940s. There was something else that caught my attention, too. Across the lake was a swimming park enclosed by a dock with dive platforms and slides, truly a dream place for any TH'er. It was also in use from the 1940s until the present day.
Half of the lake is surrounded by a military base, and the other half by private homes. There are only two ways into the lake (boat ramps), one through the base and one through the swimming park. Hoping to obtain permission to search the park, I met with the owner, who was in his 70s. He had owned the park since the 1950s and lived on the site, but my request was met with a firm refusal. We talked for a while, but it became clear that any metal detecting was out of the question. Oh well, I still had access to the rest of the lake through the base.
For the next seven years, I worked areas on the base, finding jewelry lost by summer swimmers. Every day I would also see that swimming park and dream of going in there, knowing that nobody had ever hunted it. Not even a deputy sheriff in that county who worked security for the owner was allowed to detect it, so it was definitely untouched. In 1998, after working two years as a road officer, I moved to this area and took a job with the Department of Corrections at one of the state prisons. Now I lived seven miles from the lake instead of 70, and could hunt that base and lake every day, because it was right down the road from my house. I still wanted to get into that swimming park, however.
"How can he own the water?" I wondered. "After all, it belongs to the state and people." A friend of mine who worked for the freshwater fish and game department explained that the owner had been "grandfathered" in and leased the water in his enclosed docks from the state at 48¢ a square foot and paid taxes on it. Any new owner could not lease it, however, and would have to tear down part of the dock so as not to enclose the water.
Sever years went by, and when the owner passed away in May 2002, his children decided to sell the park. It closed for the summer, and the place was sold two months later to a contractor, who paid $2.1 million for 21 acres on the lake. When I learned that the contractor was going to tear the docks and slides down to build houses, I knew the time had finally come- the time to make my move.
Now there was only one way into the lake... the base. If you did not have military ID or know somebody who lived on the lake, you were not getting in. I figured I would have this place pretty much to myself, limited as it was to detectors. I started scuba diving the area first, working in the deeper water under the slides. I literally could not swing the coil without hitting coins- they were everywhere, along with jewelry. Diving there for a week straight (about a dozen times), I found over 100 silver coins, and clads were plentiful as well. After switching out tanks, I would have to empty my bag because it was so heavy from all the coins. And although I don't expect much sympathy for it, my hand hurt badly by the end of the week due to digging so much.
After the deep water was cleaned out, I started searching the shallows. I waded for another week straight- I work midnights, so I can hunt every day, a great shift for this hobby- and it was like starting all over. Another 100 silver coins, more jewelry, and tons more modern change... It was a goldmine! The new owner came down one day while I was detecting, to check on his employees tearing down the docks. We talked for a while, and he wished me luck and went on his way. This was great: no hassles, the new owner was nice, and I was the only person hunting this place.
Even the guys tearing down the docks would talk to me every day, offer me sodas, and come over to see what I had found. They even turned on the water slides one day during their lunch break, and began going down the slides. Of course, they invited me to join them. So, I took my lunch break, put the detector down, and had some fun myself. Later, I gave them all some silver dimes and quarters for being so friendly and kind.
I hunted this place from June until October 2002, finding a total of 17 silver half dollars, 53 silver quarters, 172 silver dimes, 14 silver "war" nickels, 16 Buffalo nickels, an Indian Head cent, 196 Wheat cents, 1,147 clad quarters, 1,228 clad dimes, 883 nickels, and 1,767 Memorial cents. I also found 53 pieces of gold jewelry, 61 pieces of silver jewelry, 18 assorted buttons, and numerous miscellaneous items. It was a long wait, but well worth it. Sometimes patience pays off in the long run.
JIM FILIPPI, 29, is a state correctional officer. In his spare time he scuba dives and metal detects, usually five days a week.