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Dan Conradt: Treasure hunters unearth a doorknob

It had been quiet for so long that the sound took us by surprise — a quick little chirp like the first warning that the smoke alarm battery is dying.

"Go over that spot again," I suggested.

Steven took a step back and started a slow-motion side-to-side sweep.

A two foot arc to the right … chirp. A two foot arc back to the left … chirp.

"There's something down there!" he said, a tone of excitement creeping into his voice for the first time in 20 minutes.


He cut the arc down to one foot … BEEP.

Six inches … BEEEEEEEEP.

He set the metal detector on the ground: "There's DEFINITELY something there. I'm going to dig it up!"

I opened the plastic bag I'd been carrying and pulled out the garden spade. He took it from me and dropped to his knees.

"Did you hear how loud that was?" he asked as he cut a divot out of the lawn and tossed it aside.

"This is going to be even better than the last thing we found!"

I peeked into the bottom of the bag: it might be hard to beat a Hamm's beer bottle top …

The metal detector had been a birthday present, but because it came in the middle of winter it had been relegated to the bedroom closet until the weather improved. An early spring thaw had created enough bare spots on the lawn to send us outside with the metal detector, a spade, and optimism.


It took two minutes to get our first hit.

Steven stabbed the ground at the spot that generated the beep, and two spades full of dirt later he was rubbing something on his jeans. "What is it?" he asked, handing it to me.

"It's the top from a beer can," I said. "They used to put tops like this on cans. You'd pull the whole thing off with this ring … see? This part would seal the can, and you'd tear off the whole thing. They stopped using them because they were causing too much litter."

"Are they valuable?"

"Uh … no." I could see that he was disappointed, so gave his discovery a positive spin: "But we know your metal detector works, and if it could find this little thing down in the dirt, it shouldn't have any trouble finding something valuable."

His frown didn't exactly turn into a smile, but it stopped being a frown.

"Let's try to find something else," he said.

A minute later … BEEP!


We swapped metal detector for spade, and he tore into the grass. Half a dozen scoops and: "I found something."

"It's an old nail," I said, genuinely impressed. "One of the old fashioned square ones."

I dropped it into the plastic bag, and then it was my turn to say "Let's try to find something else!"

The beeps came regularly for the next 15 minutes … a scrap of foil, a piece of wire, two more pop-tops, the Hamm's beer bottle top.

Then nothing for 10 minutes … 15 … 20. We were about to give up when: BEEEEEEEEP.

"Did you hear THAT?" he asked, the dirt already flying. "What if it's a bunch of coins? Or a horseshoe?" He stopped talking while he worked his way around a shallow root: "Or an old gun from the Civil War?"

I sat on the ground and watched him dig. A moment later — clink, clink.

"I can see it!" he said. "I don't know what it is … but it's BIG!"


I peeked into the hole and he tapped the point of the spade on something barely visible in the dirt – clink clink. Whatever it was was too big to get out through the narrow shaft, so he started digging outward. The hole was a foot wide and six inches deep when he shouted "I've got it!"

He wedged the spade under whatever was in the hole and pried it out.

"This is cool!" he said, brushing off moist dirt with his hands. "What is it?"

He handed me his treasure for inspection: "It's a doorknob!"

"A REAL doorknob?" he asked. He took it back from me and gave it a close-up examination.

"Could it be from the Civil War?"

"I don't know much about doorknobs …" I admitted.

He jumped to his feet: "I'm going to go show Mom!" he said, racing toward the house. He stopped after a couple of steps and turned back: "I'm going to take this to school tomorrow for show-and-tell! A Civil War doorknob!"


I have a feeling that the kid with the Wisconsin Dells tee-shirt is about to get upstaged.

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