Ce­cil col­lec­tor finds trea­sure hunt­ing un­der the ground

Cecil Whig - - LOCAL - By ED OKONOW­ICZ

Spe­cial to the Whig

— Trea­sure hunters have a say­ing: “There’s more gold in the ground than there is in the banks.” While that might be a bit of an ex­ag­ger­a­tion, North East res­i­dent Dan He­witt has found his fair share of old coins — and other long lost ob­jects — un­der Ce­cil County’s his­toric soil.

He­witt, 47, who works at Aberdeen Prov­ing Ground as an en­ergy data an­a­lyst, said he col­lected base­ball cards as a young­ster, but got into metal de­tect­ing and col­lect­ing more se­ri­ously about seven years ago.

About twice a week, armed with one of his de­tec­tors, he roams the county’s forests and fields, search­ing for in­ter­est­ing, un­usual, his­toric ob­jects that have been lost or forgotten.

But one shouldn’t ex­pect to buy a metal de­tec­tor, turn it on and dis­cover a pot of gold un­der a park play­ground or be­neath one’s back­yard. Ac­cord­ing to He­witt, metal de­tect­ing de­mands a lot of pa­tience and even more re­search.

“About 85 per­cent of the sites I’ve got­ten per­mis­sion to ac­cess in­volve re­search,” he said, which in­cludes an­a­lyz­ing old maps, read­ing books on lo­cal his­tory, and talk­ing to long­time county res­i­dents. “One of my best re­sources are farm­ers who plow through the dirt. They’re able to tell me the lo­ca­tion of an old foun­da­tion.”

While ad­mit­ting he has un­cov­ered thou­sands of worth­while ob­jects, they aren’t all great finds.

“For one good thing you find, you have to dig up a hundred pull tabs or nails or old pieces of pipe. But then ev­ery once in a while you’ll get that ‘aha’ mo­ment that keeps you go­ing,” he said.

Over time, new hunters will de­velop pa­tience and bet­ter learn how to read the sig­nals dis­played on their ma­chine, he added. But he also has learned to rely upon his EBD. EBD? “Eye­ball De­tec­tor,” he ex­plained, re­fer­ring to in­creased per­sonal an­a­lyt­i­cal abil­i­ties that come with years of ex­pe­ri­ence. “Also, as with any kind of hunt­ing, you try to in­crease your odds by putting your­self in a good spot. You won’t duck hunt in a park­ing lot.”

Be­sides nu­mer­ous coins — some dat­ing into the 1700s — He­witt has un­cov­ered a wide range of ob­jects, such as a Civil War belt buckle, black pow­der re­volver, 6.5-inch skele­ton key, War of 1812 can­non­ball and the Holy Grail of but­tons — a 1789 Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton In­au­gu­ral but­ton.

To the sur­prise of many, all of th­ese and He­witt’s thou­sands of other dis­cov­er­ies have been found within Ce­cil County’s borders.

As the col­lec­tor picked up a small “War Ser­vice Ship Build­ing” badge, he be­gan to talk about its his­tory, won­der­ing how the un­usual item had found its way from Philadel­phia’s Hog Is­land to Ce­cil County.

In 1917, as part of the World War I ef­fort, the U.S. govern­ment con­tracted Amer­i­can In­ter­na­tional Ship­build­ing to build a ship­yard at Hog Is­land, along the Delaware River. At the time it was the largest ship­yard in the world, with 50 slip­ways. One area leg­end claims the large sand­wiches eaten by Hog Is­land work­ers were called Hoa­gies, the name that still refers to Philadel­phia’s pop­u­lar sub-like sand­wiches.

To­day, the present Philadel­phia In­ter­na­tional Air­port cov­ers Hog Is­land and all rem­nants of its his­toric past.

With each item’s re­cov­ery, the hunt is only be­gin­ning, He­witt said. There’s also a story, or sto­ries, wait­ing to be un­cov­ered.

While many would think a valu­able his­toric find would top He­witt’s most mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ence list, that’s not the case.

“The most sat­is­fy­ing things I find are those I


can re­turn to a per­son,” he said.

On the grounds of an old school, he found a class ring. Based on the en­graved name and ini­tials, he was able to re­turn it to its owner. In such in­stances, he ac­cepts no re­ward, and asks only for a pho­to­graph of the happy re­cip­i­ent for his files.

While de­tect­ing at a site of a re­cent car­ni­val, he no­ticed a young man look­ing down at the ground, ob­vi­ously frus­trated. He­witt learned the fel­low was part Dan He­witt dis­cov­ered this ship­build­ing badge while on a lo­cal hunt, but does not know how the item found its way from Philadel­phia’s Hog Is­land to Ce­cil County.

of the car­ni­val — which was pre­par­ing to leave the area — but he had lost the key to his rig. The man told He­witt, “I’m not sure of what to do.”

Us­ing his


He­witt re­cov­ered the lost key and gave it to the greatly re­lieved man, who of­fered He­witt a life­time of free rides when­ever they came back to the area.

“I told him to get an­other key made,” He­witt said, smil­ing at the mem­ory. “In that kind of sit­u­a­tion, my sat­is­fac­tion goes off the charts.”

With in­creased de­vel­op­ment and the in­evitable dis­ap­pear­ance of open spa­ces and farm­land, many as­sume there are very few sites left that will yield worth­while trea­sures and relics.

But He­witt dis­agreed, ex­plain­ing that a lot of op­por­tu­ni­ties to hunt on pri­vate land still ex­ist, but it’s first nec­es­sary for hunters to es­tab­lish and main­tain good re­la­tion­ships and rep­u­ta­tions with landown­ers.

“I’ve been for­tu­nate to es­tab­lish long­time friend­ships with many of the peo­ple that have been kind enough to al­low me onto their prop­erty,” he said.

Re­flect­ing on his hobby, He­witt said, “I also love do­ing this be­cause of the va­ri­ety of things in our area, which is in­un­dated with ar­ti­facts. The Ch­e­sa­peake Bay was the I-95 of the Colonies. If you can find a site on high ground, near the wa­ter, that cor­re­lates with an old map lo­ca­tion, you’ll have a good chance of find­ing some­thing.”

To sug­gest a Ce­cil col­lec­tor to pro­file, email let­ters@ ce­cil­whig.com.


North East res­i­dent Dan He­witt finds hid­den trea­sures and his­toric items with the help of his metal de­tec­tor.


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