"The Daily Times," Sunday, Feb. 13, 2005, p. 1C
by Brice Stump
That bit of change doesn't include the worn, dime-size silver Mexican real (pronounced re-owl) that dates to the mid-1700s or earlier.
It was a little after 8 a.m. when Wilkerson began his day in search of treasure. Drops of melting ice dripped from naked limbs as the morning's sunlight grew warmer.
Gold, silver, jewelry and coins await discovery as Wilkerson, wrapped in his 30-year-old down-filled parka, grabs his worn metal detector (one of 10), earphones, apron and spade. This is a day in the life of the adventure-seeking boy within, now a retired man whose days can be filled with hunting for treasure.
Wilkerson is excited about the day's possibilities, investigating old home sites that may yield objects untouched for almost three centuries.
Wilkerson, 63, is a metal detectionist, coin hunter, a treasure hunter. He overcame a brain aneurysm in 1982, and during his recuperation was introduced to metal detecting by his friend, Bill Draper. Then he got his own $500 detector in 1984. He's been "huntin' ever since."
Searching a farm near his home, he begins his usual ritual of "scrubbing" the field by walking slowly, swinging the metal detector side to side as he walks, waiting for the tone in the earphones that indicates a hit.
By 9, the fog had disappeared as a blue sky and warm sun made for a perfect hunting day.
Wilkerson had his detector set for locating all metal objects so as not to miss any "artifact," which could be a button, a piece of a candlestick, a key, or simply a nail or a can's pull tab.
His hobby, much like fishing, depends on patience, but it also relies heavily on luck, skill and "knowing the machine."
A hot rock and an Indian head
In just half an hour, the side-to-side sweeps now add up to the hundreds, good arm exercise. The detector emits a tone. Wilkerson slows his sweep, pinpoints the center of the hit and drops to one knee. A small spade opens a circular hole, some dirt is removed and the site is swept again. More digging. About 10 inches down, the detector fails to find anything. Each handful of dirt is passed over the detector as it is dropped back into the hole.
"It was a 'hot rock,'" he said. That's usually a bit of metal that has disintegrated, rusted away or it is just a concentration of minerals. Once disturbed, the sand-like fragments dissipate and the ghost that was, is no more. He fills the hole, replaces the sod and tamps it with his feet. He leaves behind an almost invisible intrusion.
It's not just the right thing to do, it's the sign of a considerate professional hunter who doesn't want to leave a site looking like a mortar field, he said.
Another hit, another hole, and this time the top half of a nail. The minutes roll by, marked by hits, digging and the discovery of bits of rusted metal, nails, wire and other trash.
Two hours into the search, his detector whines again, suggesting that a treasure lies inches beneath his feet. The spade cuts easily into the moist soil, ideal for hunting, he said. Handful after handful of dirt is swept over the detector and suddenly another whine. Wilkerson breaks up the clump and reveals an 1892 Indian head penny in near-mint condition, save for a deep green layer of oxidation.
Wilkerson turns and looks up toward a bank of clouds and says "Thank you, Pop."
"You might think I'm crazy, but my dad helps me find this stuff. He always wanted a detector but never got one. We always talked about getting one, but we could never afford it. So he's with me when I use mine."
Inspired, the hunt continues. After a walking lunch of a banana, the number of holes dug slips over the 60 mark. Still plenty of sunlight left.
There's lots of time to think about life when all alone in a field.
"I'm the type of person that, when I start swinging the coil, the whole world leaves," he said.
"I can go from morning till night and get mad because night came too quick."
Coins, jewelry, trash
The first year of detecting fired his enthusiasm. He found more than 17,000 coins. "When you first start out in this hobby, if you don't find something fast, you're goin' to be disillusioned quick." But the bug had bitten Wilkerson and it wasn't letting go. A few years later, he counted up his metal currency and passed the 27,500 mark.
That's many holes dug and filled for every coin found. There have been whole days spent with just penny as a reward. "But I have not been skunked," he said, "There's not a yard I can't find money in."
Even so, he has yet to find a silver dollar.
But he did find a whole of bucket of silver quarters once.
"A man called me who had buried a five-gallon bucket of silver quarters," said Wilkerson. "His house was being renovated and he was afraid the workers would take it, so he buried it in the field. But when he sold his house, and he had so many days to get out, he couldn't find the bucket. He lived an hour away from my house, so I told him if he'd give me $20 for gas, I'd come look for it, but I don't need a reward. I went twice, and on the second trip, I found it, 19 inches down -- 4,547 silver quarters, not clads."
And, over the years, there were also dozens of gold and silver rings, necklaces, bracelets and watches found. Along with the good, up from the dirt came hundreds of pounds of trash metal, old plow points, pieces of wood stoves, axes, files, hammers, car parts, buckles and spent shotgun shells. It's the jewelry that wife Anna Mae hopes he finds.
Time lost, treasure found
One o'clock comes and goes. For whatever reason, this detector's day is evaporating so fast, even he is a bit puzzled by the "where did the time go" factor. But go it does, as time, measured in miles of steps, dozens of holes and thousands of sweeps, swiftly passes.
Soon there's the discovery of two modern pennies.
By 3 p.m., another hit and a hole that yields a seated Liberty half-dime with an 1838 date.
Wilkerson makes another round in the field, in a measured course.
Another hit. This time a weak signal turns out to be a half-real, minted in Mexico more than 200 years ago, the currency of choice before America established its own monetary standards.
There is something magical in bringing to light a coin that has been untouched for centuries. Here, alone in a field, the past is suddenly revisited again. Who owned this coin? How was it lost? What adventures accompanied it on its voyage from Mexico to the Eastern Shore of Maryland? Was this coin fashioned from the sacred temple objects of the Aztecs, melted by the Spaniards to satisfy their lust for riches?
And there are more questions. What became of the person who lost this coin, once worth half a week's labor? How did the spot where Wilkerson stood appear to that individual so long ago?
It still amazes Wilkerson that his detector, an object with no moving parts, can "see" into the ground and touch the past.
His hobby isn't about money. Spending days, weeks, years of his life in search of the unknown is the best way to live, he said.
As founder and president of the Shore Seekers Artifact and Recovery Club, which started in 1988 and now has about 35 members, from teenagers to those in their 70s, Wilkerson has shared his avocation with many.
For club member Andy Nunez, Wilkerson is a living legend among detectionists. "We call him Lucky Doug, but his luck is as much a product of skill and determination as anything," said Nunez. "Doug has the instincts of a true hunter. One time, without a detector, he found a $3,000 ring on a beanstalk and gave it back to its owner."
For Bill Draper, club vice president, Wilkerson is also good at hunches. "You might say he has ESP. He has a feeling that certain things will be found at a certain spot and pretty often that's where they are found. He always works neat and he's fun to be with. He's a good example of what a treasure hunter should be," Draper said.
A $25,000 find
While Wilkerson is not a beachcomber -- the detectionist forever mesmerized by the shifting shore that may cover and uncover treasure -- he does don a wet suit on occasion and "water hunts."
"My most valuable find was at the beach in Ocean City. A woman came up to me and was crying her eyes out. She said it was her 25th wedding anniversary, 'my husband gave me my present this morning and I lost it this morning.' It was a gold bracelet with diamonds all around. I searched back and forth, back and forth. I found the bracelet. It was solid gold and all around it were one karat diamonds, about $25,000. She wanted to give me a reward, but I wouldn't take it. I said 'The reward is on your face, lady.' "
Not all wonderful surprises have happy endings. "I have found rings for people and some would say, 'Yeah, that's mine,' take it and walk off, not even say thank you, nothin'."
"I found a bracelet from the 1920s at the old Snow Hill High school. My mother-in-law lives in Snow Hill and I asked her if she knew the name that was on the bracelet. She did, and said she lived in Maine. I found out one month before I found the bracelet, she died. I wanted to send it to her," Wilkerson said.
"I don't sell nothin,' " he said of his discoveries. Friends and familiars are recipients of his discoveries.
By 4, the winter sun heads for bed and a chill returns, sweeping shadows across the field as Wilkerson tries to squeeze in just a few more "hits" in before it's time to head home. His wife expects him to be at the dinner table on time, he said, laughing.
This kind of day is not for every man, Wilkerson said, but he said he lives for days treasure hunting. "I could do it all day everyday and not worry about eating. That's the fun of the sport, you never know what your goin' to dig up."