(Posted June 7, 2023)
By Dedra Cordle, Staff Writer
Presenter Mark Germann issued a word of caution to those who visited Hurt/Battelle Memorial Library recently to learn about the weird and wonderful world of metal detecting.
“I have to warn you all that once you start metal detecting, you are probably not going to be able to stop metal detecting,” said the avid relic hunter from West Jefferson. “It can be addicting in ways you could never imagine.”
Mark first caught the metal detecting bug after his older brother, Frank, rented a metal detector to help a friend find a ring she lost while doing yardwork.
“Frank was about 10 years older than me, and he never wanted me to come along with him to, well, anywhere at that point,” Mark said. “But I was young, and he knew that I liked to dig up things and get dirty, so he allowed me to join him in trying to find her ring.”
The metal detector Frank rented looked nothing like the lightweight, sleek models on the market today.
“It was this black box that didn’t make any noise when it picked up metal in the ground, but it did have this needle that went crazy when it detected an object hidden below the earth,” Mark said.
The brothers took the metal detector all around the property, crawling on their hands and knees and digging holes when the needle told them an item was nearby.
They managed to locate the ring, along with a handful of other items, including old coins and some compacted trash. Mark loved the thrill of the hunt.
“I went home and begged my mother to buy us (a metal detector),” he said.
Through the rest of his childhood and into his teenage years, Mark scoured old houses and farm fields near his home in southern Franklin County, finding hundreds of historic objects.
“I was always on the lookout for arrowheads and other Indian coins, but I had to put the metal detecting away for a while” when jobs and family came into focus, he said.
Thirteen years ago, Mark’s wife Vicki asked for a few gift ideas to celebrate his upcoming birthday. She didn’t know his passion for metal detecting had bubbled to the surface again.
When Mark made the odd request for a metal detector, Vicki said she just gave a big sigh and rolled her eyes.
“He could have asked for something worse, I suppose,” she joked.
With a new metal detector in hand, Mark resumed his beloved hobby and even got his reluctant wife involved.
“It is very fun and addicting, but he enjoys it much more than I do,” Vicki said. “He does all the research, finds out all the places to go, and I’m just along for the ride.”
Mark said the research facet is something he has grown to love over the years. Most local museums have maps of the county dating back to the 1800s that can point relic hunters to potentially great finds, he said.
For example, Mark and Vicki have used the maps to find a Seated Liberty half-dollar from the 1800s and two breastplates worn by Union soldiers during the Civil War. Although they have individually and collectively found hundreds of antique coins and artifacts, the couple said these items are counted among their most prized possessions.
“I don’t know if they have any monetary value because I am afraid I would be too tempted to sell them if they did,” Mark said, “but I do know these have a lot of personal value to us.”
It’s not just the thrill of the search that keeps him involved in the hobby –“although it is fun to go out there because you never know what you are going to find,” he said–but everything else that comes with it, like the conversation and connections formed with other relic hunters and with property owners who allow him on their land.
“What I love most about metal detecting is that it gets you out of the house, it gets you outside, it gets you moving,” he said. “You meet interesting people, you talk to interesting people, and it has kinda brought me out of my shell a bit because it has made me get out there and talk to people.”
Mark said he never thought he would be comfortable walking up to people in the field to ask them about the history of their property, just as he never thought he would be comfortable hosting a presentation about metal detecting to a room full of strangers.
“It’s a lot of fun, and it’s full of surprises,” he said. “I would recommend metal detecting to anyone who has a curiosity about the community and about the world.”
Mark shared a few basic rules of etiquette for those interested in metal detecting. They include:
• Respecting private property–Always ask for the property owner’s permission to detect on their land.
• Getting that permission in writing, if possible.
• Offering to share any valuables with the property owner.
• Leaving as little sign of your presence as possible by filling in holes.
• Being courteous and throwing away uncovered trash.
• Being respectful of wildlife and the natural environment.
• Reporting the discovery of any items of possible significant historical value to a local historian or museum.
• The prohibition of metal detecting around archaeological monuments.
• Reporting live ammunition to other potentially lethal objects to the authorities.
Mark said those interested in getting started should research the various types of metal detectors as some are more technologically advanced than others.
He also encourages people to ask questions. They can find answers on the many Facebook pages dedicated to the hobby, including the Central Ohio Metal Detecting Society’s page. Additionally, members of the Darby Creek Chapter of the Archaeological Society of Ohio are always willing to answer questions and share tips. The chapter meets at 5:30 p.m. the third Wednesday of each month (except June, July, August, and December) at the Madison County Historical Society, 260 E. High St., London.