South Charlotte

Metal detecting turns up treasures – and new friends

New Jersey transplant Rocky Caponigro of Weddington is a treasure hunter. When he gets the chance, he likes to pan for gold or use his metal detector to find old coins, jewelry or historic artifacts.

But one of his best finds may have been during a search on the Internet, where he discovered the Metal Detecting Association of the Carolinas.

He joined the club in April, finding a potential treasure trove of friends, information, entertaining stories, search tips and laughter. The charismatic president, Charles Jones, and his cohorts keep things lively, as I discovered when I joined Rocky at the October meeting.

Rocky said the club is a great way to meet new people.

Members include men, women and children – all with stories to tell and discoveries to show off. Meetings usually feature special programs or speakers, and they also provide an opportunity for members to display recent finds in various categories, including coins, jewelry and artifacts such as old metal buttons or weapon parts.

At the meeting, I had a chance to see some treasures and hear the stories behind them. For example, John Taylor of Matthews showed me a long loop of string holding about 100 rings he's found. Eighteen of them have a particularly interesting history: He recovered them more than 30 years after a jewelry heist in Charlotte, he said.

Someone told him where the suspect had been captured, and he decided to scan the area with his detector for the stolen rings, which had never been found. He discovered a cache of 36 rings and reported his find to the police. The store and its insurance company had written it off so many decades earlier that the police told him just to keep the rings, he said. He split his find with the person who told him where the suspect had been arrested, he said.

Club members try to return property to its original owner whenever possible, according to the club's Web site, They also have cards printed with the “Metal Detecting Code of Ethics” that they follow. The code includes securing permission from property owners before metal-detecting, respecting private property and reporting significant discoveries to historians and museums. They are often contacted by people who want help finding a lost item, and they are happy to help.

Rocky was called to a S.C. site to help find a wedding ring the property owner's grandmother had lost 75 years ago. He never found the ring, but he did find silver and gold coins as well as “an Odd Fellow's delegates pin, brass, from 1919,” and other items.

The property owner was delighted enough with the old gold coins to tell Rocky to keep everything else.

“The value was probably $30,” he said of the silver coins. “But the thrill of it was worth much more.”

It still bugs him that he didn't find the grandmother's ring, and he'd like to go back and check for it again under some nearby privet bushes, he said.

He also found “a rusty, old iron bayonet from a Revolutionary War rifle up in Caldwell, New Jersey, about 10 to 15 years ago,” he said.

MDAC member Frank Brady of Denver, N.C., also had a Revolutionary War find worth bragging about. He said he found British Major Patrick Ferguson's medallion “right where it said he got killed” in the Battle at Kings Mountain in 1780.

“I couldn't even talk when I found it,” he said, adding that he gave the medallion to the Southeast Archeological Center.

Other stories, such as the time MDAC president Charles Jones found a $5,200 platinum and sapphire bracelet on a playground, can be found on the MDAC Web site. The club meets at 7 p.m., the second Monday of the month, at the Matthews Community Center. The club organizes a hunt every month and also plans social activities.