Suburbia? A word like that has the sound of some remote Balkan country located midway between Albania and Bosnia... but I guess it's a word more and more of us are beginning to live with these days. It's a fact that's not very surprising, given the ever-increasing population. "Back in '61 when the streets were fun," as I often tell my students, the world population was around three billion. Today we're talking double that figure. America's population? Well, at that time I think we were hitting around 180 million, and after just checking the U.S. Census Bureau population clock, I see that we've added more than 100 million to that 1961 figure. The world sure seems to be getting a little smaller these days!
Remember the days when Fess Parker, playing Davy Crockett, had to pack up the wife and younguns and move to a more remote section of the woods, because he could see the smoke rising from his neighbor's log cabin in the next valley? Boy, those days are over. A good portion of us live close enough to our neighbors to hear them sneeze or snore.
So, it shouldn't come as any great surprise to us, today, to see historic grounds ripped apart to make way for a new highway offramp... a convenient store... a longer airport runway... another SuperDuper Mart, or still another McDonuts.
When you stand back and look for a couple of seconds, you kind of notice that there just isn't that much room left for history. It's something we have very little control over. Politicians and local planning boards call it "progress"- and tell us that we can't stand in the way of it. Maybe they're right, but it does nothing to ease the sadness I feel when I see a lush cornfield transformed into a housing development.
I applaud those relic hunters who go to construction sites and recover relics from our nation's past that are soon destined to be paved over and destroyed... the guys who are searching right behind the bulldozers. We could call them preservationists, but that's a $5 word to a guy who smokes a 5¢ cigar. They're just a bunch of good guys... guys who are doing the right thing!
Randy Glowacki is such a guy.
Randy found his little stretch of history in a wooded area bordered by a major highway, a middle school, a car wash, and a strip mall. To me, it doesn't sound like a prime area for relic hunting. According to Randy, despite its close proximity to the modern world, it's a site inhabited by deer and coyotes, foxes and owls. I guess they didn't have much of any place to go either.
"I first started metal detecting in the late 1970s," stated Randy, "but with the responsibilities of a job and family, I found that I didn't have that much time to detect. Eventually, the detector wound up in one of the hall closets. About three years ago, I bought a new detector, and with a little more free time I was able to resume where I had left off... almost. A good portion of the areas I once searched had seen new development, or new restrictions. It was getting harder to obtain permission."
Randy first became interested in that small tract of land after noticing a few older homes along the highway, and an old church. "The standing church was built in 1838, on the site of two older churches- a clapboard church from 1775, and a log one built in 1755. I figured that if there were churches back that long ago, there had to be some old house sites as well. That's about the time I noticed a stretch of woods on the other side of the highway."
Proving that a little research, combined with a little common sense can bring you a long way toward success, Randy decided to give the wooded area a shot with his metal detector. Once he had obtained permission to search, it wasn't long before the first early flat buttons began to appear!
"The first couple of targets out of the ground were certainly less than inspiring... some shotgun shells, and a length of old barbed wire, but when I saw a shank on the back of what I thought was another shotgun shell, I knew I was in the right spot."
Randy's random hunting became a little more organized as he slowed down and began mentally sectioning off the areas to search. "I was working in this one area between what I believed was an old roadway and a long stone wall, when I received a really strong signal running through my headset. I pinpointed the target, and at a depth of about six inches I saw the upper surface of this round object. It was a beautiful, early, brass crotal bell. It was the first one I ever found, but it certainly wasn't destined to be the last. In fact, the first time I took my hunting partner, Ramone Santiago, to the site, he was able to pull a smaller version, with the same "flower petal" design, from the ground, to go along with a really nice large cent he had found only a few minutes earlier!
"One of my favorite finds from the site was found one misty April afternoon. I had left work a little earlier that day with the intention of getting in some digging. I don't think I was on the site for more than a half an hour when I got this signal that reminded me of any number of old cans I've dug up. I just said to myself, "What the heck, I might as well dig this one, too." At a depth of about five inches, entwined in a maze of roots, I saw a square of greenish metal. I had no idea what it was until I pulled it from the ground. For the life of me, I don't know how I possibly recovered it without putting my shovel through it, but in a matter of minutes I was holding my first militia belt plate from the period of 1820-1830! What an experience it was to hold a piece of military history in my hand for the first time!
"I think Ramone would have to agree with me, if I were to say that he knows which is his favorite of all the finds I have made. On one of our hunts we became separated for quite a while, and I hadn't seen Ramone for the better part of an hour. I saw a couple of areas where the leaves were pushed aside and the ground had been freshly dug. I figured Ramone had been searching in this area, and was about to leave when I saw something lying on the surface of the ground. It was a thick wallet. It was a wallet I was sure I had seen before. Sure enough, when I opened the wallet, there was Ramone looking at me from the picture on his driver's license!
"I can't say that all of the luck on the site has fallen in my direction, because Ramone has pulled more than his share of interesting items out of those grounds. Probably the most interesting and unique of those items is a plain crossbelt plate he recovered. Well, it's actually only plain on the outside facing surface. On the other side is inscribed the date of 1777, along with the initials of its former owner!
"Over the last year or so, I've found quite an assortment of ash and treasure... everything from old horseshoes to gold rings... parts of cast iron cooking pots, and relatively modern silver coins. Over that time, I had grown to expect that anything could possibly come out of the bottom of one of those holes. I really didn't think I could be surprised. I was wrong!
"About six months ago I was searching the site and got this really loud signal. It was late in the day, and I figured I would end the day with digging that last target. I was on my way past the five-inch mark when the ground started to get that rusty red look to it, and I was sure that I was on the trail of another horseshoe. Seconds later, the tip of my digging tool struck a hard surface. Using my fingers to scoop out the soil, I uncovered the rounded surface of an iron object. It was about the same time that I felt my heart begin to climb into my throat!
"I was torn between leaving the target in the hole for a couple of minutes and just looking at it, or pulling it up and possibly having my hopes dashed. I had always wanted to find a cannonball... the size didn't matter very much, and I'm really not sure what the lure and fascination of finding a round piece of rusty iron is all about. But I knew it would be an important benchmark for me and my return to metal detecting.
"Let's just say that the target flew out of the hole once my mind was made up, and sure enough, it was a cannonball. I'll probably never know how it got there. Maybe it was a war souvenir that did peacetime service as a doorstop. All I know is that it sure looks good on the shelf in my den!"
I guess it all goes to prove the point that you just never know what's going to come out of the ground- or just which ground that might be. Even if it looks like the most unlikely place to swing a detector, you could be passing up a couple of really great finds.
Just ask Randy... he'll convince you!