Good Things Come To Those Who Wait
By Tony Mullen
Have you ever had your sights set on a particular place to hunt, just knowing in your heart of hearts that it would be an awesome place to detect? Or have you ever tried repeatedly to get permission to hunt a particular place, but somehow never managed to track down the owner? Either situation can keep a serious treasure hunter on edge for a long time. This story is about just such a place.
I work in a small town in North Carolina, about 45 minutes north of Charlotte. There has been a lot of history recorded in the area from the French & Indian War, through the Revolutionary War and Civil War. The community has done well in preserving many of the structures that survived the torches of the Union Army, and a great deal of work and planning has been done to preserve the older houses in many sections of town. A series of historic districts have been established, and covenants and restrictions are now in place to ensure that they will continue to be preserved. In many towns, the older areas often turn out to be the “rougher” ones as well. This town is no exception. While the historical districts are having a positive impact, many of the surrounding neighborhoods remain high crime areas. Detecting around these older homes provides a great opportunity to make some nice finds, but it is in your best interest to take a hunting partner with you!
About three years ago, my hunting partner Allen and his friend Mike had received permission to hunt one of the beautiful Victorian residences in the historic district. They made many nice finds in the yard of the home that was built in 1887. In fact,
Tony and Allen soon began finding coins like these around the historic house— over 100 on the front lawn alone.
A fully gilt eagle cuff button fairly gleams, just as it did in the indian Wars era.
A surprising and highly prized find was this Confederate Army officer’s button bearing a “W. Dowler / Superior Quality” backin ark.
they have been able to search that particular site for a couple of years, and each trip back has yielded a nice surprise or two. I too had hunted a couple of sites on the same street, though with less than exciting results. However, there was one particular house on a side street that caught everyone’s attention. Allen pointed it out to me one day, and we agreed that this would be "The"place to hunt. It’s a large Victorian, a little over 6,000 sq. ft., and I got excited when I noticed a light on in the front hallway. Unfortunately, the excitement didn’t last long: Allen told me that the light had been on for a couple of months. He already had some information on the owner, but could never catch him at home. Anytime we got a chance, one of us would go by the house to try to catch someone there. We asked the neighbors about the owner and were told that he was living in Charlotte but generally came home on Sunday afternoons to check on the house. We made many trips to the house over the next couple of years, even writing a letter, but to no avail. Since I work in the town, I made it a point to go by the house whenever I could. This went on for three years! No one was ever there, but the light was always on. It became a bit of a personal challenge with me. I was so determined to meet this man that I got to the point where I was not worried about the permission any more... I just wanted to find out where he bought his light bulbs! Finally, our luck was about to change.
Things at work had gotten a bit crazy one day, so I decided I would get out of the office for a while. It seemed like a good opportunity to drive by the house and see if the owner happened to be around. When I drove up in front of the house, some activity from the house next door caught my attention. The house next door is a creepy looking, abandoned place. Built in the 1920s, it seems painfully out of place among the older Victorian homes. The city wants the house to be torn down, but the ownership of the house is a subject of much debate. The lady who lived in the house recently passed away, and she willed the property to her cat! Now the cat has died as well, so the courts are trying to decide what will happen to the property. (Honestly, every word of this is true!) After chatting with the lady at the house next door, I got permission to detect that yard. She also told me that the neighbor across the street had a phone number for the man we had been searching for all of this time.
After work that day I went back to the house to detect. I was really just planning to hang around out in front, see if I could catch the neighbor coming home from work, and get a phone number. When I arrived, I heard a lawn mower running. I walked around the corner of the house, and could not believe my eyes. After three years I had finally found Mr. Walker! I introduced myself, and as we began talking, I soon realized that Mr. Walker was not only one of the kindest and most generous people I had ever met, but he also has an incredible knowledge of local history. We must have talked for an hour or more. He told me how he had come to inherit the property. His wife’s family had bought it at a public auction in 1872, and at that time the farm was 40 acres. Some of the nearby houses we had hunted in the past were part of the original home place. There was also a house that stood where the current house now stands. Mr. Walker and his wife had inherited it in 1978, when no other family members wanted it.
Then came the big moment: I asked Mr. Walker how he would feel about us metal detecting his property. He said, “That would be fine”— and that was music to my ears! I couldn’t wait to tell Allen the news. I left without even detecting at the house next door! When I called Allen, I think he was stunned. Finally, we had permission! I had already called my office and told them that I was not going to be coming in to work the next day, and I asked Allen if he was going to join me. He too decided that a vacation day was in order. So, we met early the next morning.
The finds started coming quickly. First a few wheat cents and then a couple of buttons. Soon Allen started finding Indian Head cents, and I dug a silver dime and a Buffalo nickel. It was apparent that we were the first to detect here, as there were literally targets everywhere. We hunted on for a couple hours, unearthing more old coins, old keys, buttons, and various other items. Then we stopped to take a break when Mr. Walker came home, and Allen finally got to meet him after “stalking” him for three years.
Mr. Walker said, “Do you know why I let you detect my yard?”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because you asked me,” he replied. He then told us that he had seen people just walk up in his yard two different times, turn on a detector, and start swinging. Of course, he quickly invited them to leave. All they had to do was ask. He then told us that he hoped we found something very valuable, and if we did he wanted us to keep it. At this point I was thinking to myself, “Allen is having a dream, and I’m just in it!”
We continued to hunt that day, and went on to recover about a dozen Indian Heads, several Buffalo nickels, silver “war” nickels, and “V” nickels. We also found silver Roosevelt and Mercury dimes, a 1926 Standing Liberty quarter, an 1886 foreign coin, an 1828 large cent, several watch fobs, old keys, and assorted buttons. In all, we found around 100 coins during the first hunt— and that was out of the front yard alone!
Allen left for a vacation at the beach the next day, and was gone through the following weekend. After church on Sunday, I went back to the house owned by the cat to search that yard. It started raining, so I went into Mr. Walker’s yard to try to get out of the rain. I continued to hunt under the large trees during the downpour, and I was able to find another Buffalo nickel and an 1874 Shield nickel. After a quick couple of keepers like those. I did not want to leave, but a sudden flash of lightning convinced me to come back another day!
That day came about a week later. This time it was my turn to head to the beach, but we wanted to hit the yard another time before I left, so we met early on Saturday morning. The heat was pretty bad, but we hardly noticed it for all the mosquitoes! We finally got into the back yard, where we were expecting more of the same results we were having in the front yard. However, the mosquitoes won this battle, and we quickly abandoned the back yard for the time being. Allen had to leave early for a prior commitment. so I moved back to the front yard, reworking the areas where we had already recovered more than 100 coins. I was pretty embarrassed at the results of this hunt, though not for the reason you might think. I thought we had done a pretty fair job of cleaning the place out, yet I promptly popped up an old bracelet, a 1928 Mercury dime, another skeleton key, an 1891 Indian Head, and another dozen Wheat cents. I also found a small coin spill under a pear tree— two silver Roosevelt dimes, three wheat cents, and a steel cent. I feel sure there are more coins around that pear tree, but swarming yellow jackets sent me retreating faster than the mosquitoes!
I returned to the house a few weeks later when I realized that I did not have any photos of the site. I hadn’t really planned to detect that day, but the wind was blowing fairly hard, and the mosquitoes didn’t seem to be a problem. I didn’t have a lot of time, but I thought I would at least test drive my Fisher Coinstrike around the backyard for a few minutes. I only dug three or four signals that day as my time was limited, and after quickly digging a couple of eagle buttons I called it a day.
When I returned home, my wife asked if I found anything, and I replied, “It looks like some poor "Yank" lost a couple of buttons up at Mr. Walker’s place.” Later, when I decided to clean the buttons up a bit, the first turned out to be a fully gilt cuff button from the Indian Wars era. As I started cleaning the big coat-size button, I noticed there was no shield on the eagle. Then I started working on the back and was able to make out "W. Dowler Superior Quality" on the reverse. That’s when I realized that I had found a Confederate Staff Officer’s button, and an unexpected quote from pro wrestler Ric Flair uncontrollably flew out of my mouth. Whhhoooooooo! My 2-year-old started crying because she thought Daddy had hurt himself! What a surprise it was to pull that button out of a site like this!
After years of waiting, we have already made some very nice finds at Mr. Walker’s. We often wonder what may still be hiding in the backyard. Unfortunately, right now the mosquitoes and yellow jackets are diligently standing guard! But winter is coming, and Mr. Walker has invited us to detect his property any time we would like. So we don’t mind waiting. Even if we don’t find anything else this has been a great site, but we’re confident that the future holds more good recoveries. And more importantly, we have been reminded once again that, “Good things come to those who wait!”
TONY MULLEN, in addition to metal detecting, has a passion for helping orphans in the eastern European country of Moldova. For more infornation, visit