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Metal Detecting What It Means to Me

Although you wouldn’t normally associate the first-time experience of turning on a metal detector as being mortifying, mine was. Most have fond memories of getting a metal detector for Xmas or from Uncle Billy and venturing out to the back yard and finding their 1st find – a matchbox car that some long-forgotten hooligan, long ago had stepped on and relegated it to a quiet grave undisturbed for 40 years.  Not me.  My first metal detector experience was more of a nightmare for a 12-year-old kid.  My dad was a good man who always seemed to cater to our interests and at this time, 48 years ago, I was beginning a lifelong interest in the Civil War. 

So, there I was, in Gettysburg, PA, stoked on battlefield juice. My Dad had stopped at the coolest store I had ever seen. It was a huge Civil War relic shop and I was in my glory.  The shop had a bunch of veteran collectors talking in a group near the main counter and there were numerous customers buying Rebel hats and bumper stickers. As I was standing there in the middle of the shop, I was hoping to catch some secret info or tip from these ” pros” chatting with the owner.  I hoped to make that if I made eye contact, they might take interest in me and include me in on their conversation. I glanced over next to me and saw a metal detector sitting on the counter. In those days, a metal detector looked more like a space device from a Star Trek episode, not exactly like the light, hi-tech pieces we deftly swing these days.  Everything seemed to go blurry around me. All I saw was the ” on / off ” switch. I lost all sense of reason. I mindlessly reached for that switch. ” Don’t do it” briefly entered my mind. It was too late. I was past the point of no return…. I flipped the switch.  The shop suddenly became filled with the loudest BEEEEP I ever heard. Everything stopped and everyone looked at me – an old lady holding a straw hat – a big guy holding a rusty pistol – some kid with a wooden rubber band musket and finally the owner who shouted out ” hey kid, don’t touch that, it ain’t no toy “!   I was totally humiliated and all my thoughts of me becoming a famous relic hunter flew out the window that day in Gettysburg, PA. one thousand and nine hundred and seventy- two. 

Time heals all wounds and I eventually did pick up a metal detector again and quickly found that something happened to me. Something almost mystical.  Every time I turned on my machine and the beginning tones would chime in my headset; I would be transported back in time to wherever my finds would take me.

It’s an incredible feeling to find something that has been frozen in time since the day it was lost. Sometimes stories can be pieced together.  Finding a musket ball in the woods is not such a mystery but catching an event “in time ‘ is a real thrill. A good old friend of mine had been detecting in a patch of woods some years back and found a NJ Horsehead copper. About 10 feet further he found another and 10 feet more, another. This continued 5 times. when he calmed down and stopped shaking, he realized that they were in a straight line.  The poor guy that lost them must have had a hole in his pocket or purse and away they slipped one at time. Not everyone takes this type of look at the ” what”, where ” and “why” they have found something. Finding something that can be identified to a particular person is especially rewarding.

Resurrection. Most associate the term with the significant biblical event but the basic meaning is somewhat lost in the miraculous happening almost 2000 years ago. The term “resurrect” is defined ” to revitalize or restore something to former status”.  it really isn’t a stretch to me to view the finding of lost items and bring them back into the light of day again as a mini resurrection.  Think about it, most of the crusty old bits that we find once had use, purpose, ownership and were most likely valued by someone until they slipped from their hand and long ago and ended up keeping company with worms. We bumble along swing our electronic gadgets scanning for whatever may lie beneath and we find things. Maybe the act of Resurrection should be preceded by the act of “Liberation “. As we sink or digging tool into the earth, we pull up clods of dirt until we see what our gadget told us was there. We extract the item from the hole and it’s free. No more dry, hot summer days and no more being frozen for 125 winters.  Free at last!  

Now the Resurrection.  We carefully wrap our new friend in something protective and we bring it home into our warm house. We clean it and lay it in a way that it can be seen. People come to see it. People praise it and wish it was theirs. It has life again and now holds a place more important than it ever had. The cycle is complete. Metal detecting is much more than swinging ” ‘ one of those things on a beach or in a park. It’s not just about that goofball in shorts with black knee socks and sandals.   A metal detector is a time machine of sorts that can not only bring us back to a fixed point in history but can also retrieve history and bring it back to the present. It’s more than finding junk, metal detecting is a personal experience that has as many meanings as there are detectorists. 

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