In a Class by Itself – Bill Ladd

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Throughout my magazine stories, I often wonder why some of us have chosen treasure hunting as a hobby? It seems to me someone or something had to peak your interest in the metal detector. In one article, I went into great detail about how I got started. To a child, I think there is just something very dreamy about finding “buried treasure”. We’ve all seen drawings of the pirate with his eye patch next to his open chest spilling of gold and jewels. Movies I grew up with like “The Goonies” were based on the same premise. Nowadays, look how popular “The Pirates of The Carribean” movies are.

I imagine that starting out in this hobby while still in grade school really influenced me to want to give something back to the children today. It seems like just yesterday that I too was a child dreaming of getting a metal detector for Christmas. I feel blessed that through the hobby, I was lucky to have found valuable treasures, appeared in several newspapers, catalogs, and advertisements. I’ve also appeared on national television, and been able to tap into a writing talent that would otherwise have never surfaced. Maybe I feel exceptionally lucky and want to show young people that anyone, any age can find treasures. My success at age 13 is living proof. While in the field I always try to take the time to remove my headphones and talk to young children when they approach. I explain what I’m doing, show them some finds, and gladly let them watch. Many detectorists nowadays keep their headphones on and pretend they can’t hear them. They may consider children and other interested parties a bother. They don’t want to experience the “pied piper effect” of a gang of children in tow. This happens quite often on the beaches. But, I remember following an older guy around the schoolyard as a youngster asking questions. So, maybe I can relate to them and are therefore more tolerant toward their inquisitiveness. Images: club9a.jpg

Enjoying children, I always had in the back of my mind I would love to visit elementary schools with all my treasures. I just was never aggressive enough to visit schools or find out how to go about it. My collection had grown to museum quality proportions. Cannonballs, bullets, and colonial relics I would professionally label and display proudly in glass cases. It seemed a shame I had to keep my collection hidden in a safe, or locked up in a bank vault. I knew what it felt like to touch a piece of history like I did as a boy. I longed to have other little boys and girls experience the same magic.

club9aMy big break came after a newspaper article came out detailing my most famous finds; the salve tags. Thankfully an elementary school teacher that knew my mother read the story after just finishing teaching her 4th grade class about slavery and the Civil War. Like I always had, she correctly assumed my relics might help bring their textbooks to life. Of course I jumped at the chance, and packed up almost all of my finds. Although very nervous that first time, facing several 4th grade classes at once, the teachers raved about it. I think it’s good for children to be rewarded and escape the same boring daily class routine. I know how much guest speakers and field trips meant to me growing up and I still recall the specifics of some.

I began that first program with a VHS tape of the Antiques Roadshow appraisal. This became the model for all of my future presentations. A “famous guy” from TV was now in front of them, and I now had credibility, wide eyes, and their utmost attention. I’ve even been mobbed for autographs after speaking witch is incredibly flattering. There’s just something about hearing the “oohs and aahs” from a crowd of children staring up at you in amazement. Being able to be the one to physically place an object from the Civil War, for example, into a child’s hands is incredibly rewarding. I try to use as many “props” as possible when I speak to young pupils. Cannonballs and bullets, relics from or nations wars described in Social Studies class are always very popular. Pupils get to a hands-on experience of size and weight. As objects are passed around the room, I always hear comments like, “It’s so HEAVY!”, or “I wouldn’t want to get hit with THAT!” A related relic I try to put into the hands of the young and old alike are chewed “pain bullets”. I describe that this is item explains the origin of the saying, “bite the bullet”. articles: school31.jpgI stress that they are lucky enough to be touching an actual object a soldier chewed on; perhaps as he was dying. Being this dramatic really brings across the horrors of war. No textbooks ever described details such as these. I always have one powerful display of Native American stone artifacts on hand with children for a few different reasons. One would be to show students that primitive peoples lived right on the same soils that our houses now sit. That thousands of years ago man had to make do with stone, they didn’t have “Playstation” or even electricity. I finish by saying that most all of my “arrowheads” were picked up in plowed fields, so treasure can be found if you keep your eyes peeled. Early on in my program, I usually describe the basics of how a metal detector functions. Of course I bring at least one unit along so adults and children can hear what it sounds like without headphones. Adult groups I can go into greater details concerning the electronics, children just want to hear it “beep”. I attempt to convey that the principles of “beep and dig” are all not that complex. I’ll point out to the pupils some of the relics I located when I was about their age. Often times at the very end I let students line up in front of my display tables to examine more items up close and to hold a detector. This gives them a reel feel for what exactly it is I’m swinging. I like to also have a hand detector probe handy so children can “pinpoint” their own objects on display. I’m also certain to touch on our hobby’s Code of Ethics concerning the filling of holes, and getting permission. Hopefully if they ever take up the hobby they will go about it properly.school31

Though it usually takes several trips to my car and several boxes full of display cases, I enjoy making a big splash. I long to show others my extensive collection and to appear like a traveling museum. I’ve lugged TV’s, extension cords, and displays all over New England and people think I’m crazy for volunteering to do this. Others doing similar talks about their hobby, on a much smaller scale don’t have much of an impact. One display case of best coin finds and long winded speeches, especially to school children can turn wide eyes into yawns quickly. The key is keeping their interest up. I keep historical objects circulating the room the entire time. It keeps children excited; knowing a British Cannonball from the Revolution is coming down the row next. Now I know some people are thinking this is dangerous, and I many not get everything back right? Well, I have never had a problem, and I always try to explain to the teachers what I intend to do, and to please help me gather up all of the items. I also try to get a sense of time allotted from the teacher or persons in charge. Through my love of the hobby, I can seemingly tell stories and show individual objects all day. But the problem lies in the fact that maybe the students have to get to a class in an hour or so. Ideally I like to have 2 hours time. If that is not possible I just plan accordingly and adjust here and there. The presenter must keep their eyes on the time to be certain there is enough time for questions. I like to use the last half-hour for this. Probably my worst effort was when a teacher had me end my routine early without questions. Amazingly after most every presentation I see almost every hand go up. Some children even ask 2 or 3 different things. I love to see this and feel this is proof that I have captured their interest and my effort was a success. The questions that come up are often very good ones. Some have even left me tongue tied, such as when a 4th grade boy inquired if biting a lead bullet gave the soldiers lead poisoning. The most popular question that arises with the children concerns the detector itself. How much do they cost, and where can they get one? The teachers often tell me that every kid runs right home and begs their parents for a metal detector. Hopefully parents don’t end up cursing me, but I imagine the thrill passes for most kids soon after I leave. But who knows, maybe one little boy or girl really loves history class now, or was moved by my presentation. If one young person was touched it was worth donating my time. A fellow detectorist once scoffed at my presentations by claiming that I was influencing too many people to take up the hobby. He reasoned I was creating a new breed of young detectorists that would now be out in the field “hunting out” the remaining sites. I disagree. There’s enough out there for everyone if you do your research and it seems silly to worry about a 4th grader getting a detector.

When children are involved I always volunteer to speak at no cost. I really jump at helping out schools and cub scouts more than any other organization. Unfortunately bad experiences at detecting seminars and certain clubs have forced me to either require compensation or be very selective about speaking engagements. Sadly this has led to some people believing success has gone to my head. Yet, organizers have no idea the amount of labor it takes to produce a great show. Long hours driving after work, carrying several hundred pounds of glass cases, TV’s, VCR, etc., sure takes its toll on a volunteer basis. Plus, several costly glass display cases and picture frames have been broken during the whole travel process, and thus must be replaced. I’ve spent hundreds of hours in my spare time printing and cutting out labels for my finds, much to the chagrin of my better half. Hence, I really don’t think asking for a bit of expense money is all that unreasonable. Besides, I’d much rather see the wide eyes of young children anytime. Often teachers or the PTA will insist upon compensation, but I now only ask schools if it’s possible to get school15handwritten letters from the children. This is something that the first teacher at that first talk presented me with and it made it all worth while. The pencil written letters are precious, and now one of my most treasured items. articles: school15.jpg I have placed most all of the hundreds of letters I have received in 3 ring binders with plastic sleeves. They mean so much I keep them in the safe with the display cases. Some of my favorite ones even feature drawings of their favorite artifact, or “stick figures” holding a detector. Many are very laughable. Whenever I’m feeling blue I can open those letters and read about how I performed as their teacher for a day. Letters from pupils also are useful indicators of what items made the most impact. If 75% say, “I loved the cannonball!” I know I can never be without that item at future shows. My all-time favorite letter says, “You are the greatest ground finder ever to walk on earth”. That should make anyone feel proud. “GroundFinda” became a handle I used for awhile in the online detecting forums. I’m sure little Nicholas Brown has no idea how much his letter meant to me. He’s probably long forgotten about “the famous guy” with the metal detector. Or maybe he’s out there right now with his own Christmas gift, following in my footsteps?
Bill Ladd

  • March 4, 2009

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