OCEAN CITY — For years, they’ve walked the beaches of the Jersey Shore, headphones on their ears, sweeping the sand for the slightest traces of metal beneath.
“There’s a lot of stuff just under your feet that you don’t know about,” said Joe DeMarco, of Millville. “Not only coins and stuff, but history under your feet.”
But on Sunday, metal detector enthusiasts from up and down the state came together in one place, at the 59th Street beach, to swap tales, show off their finds, and in many cases, just get to know each other for the first time.
“It’s very informal,” explained Brian Mayer, of Margate, head of the Jersey Shore Beach and Surf Hunters. “We have a Facebook page with more than 600 members. We’re a loose conglomeration of people all over Jersey, the U.S. — we even have a guy from Morocco.”
Mayer has been out on the beaches — as Dan Knight of Voorhees joked when asked the proper verb, “Detecting, hunting — either one” — for close to 20 years.
“I was always a packrat,” he said. “I used to find and drag stuff back to my parents all the time, like broken glass. ‘Look mom, shiny!’ So when I found out people could find stuff with a metal detector, I thought, ‘Wow, that’s a great thing.’”
Much of the recent popularity of metal detecting is tied to the rise in gold prices, he said. “But a lot of purists love to just find stuff.”
Added Knight, “Most people never get rich doing this. You may pay your bills and buy your equipment, but you’re not getting rich.”
Of course, he did show off wallet photos of some of the rings he’s found, including a gold ring with an opal that looked so large, one might wonder how it was lifted off the ground.
“That turned up in Atlantic City,” Knight said.
“There’s a lot of stuff in Atlantic City,” said Steve McAvoy, of Princeton. “All that stuff that went under during the Roaring ’20s.”
“Not pictures of his kids, you notice,” joked Tony Mendyk, of Dennis Township, of Knight’s wallet photos.
Responded Knight: “The kids are in the back!”
Mendyk was recently turned on to detecting by his coworker Ed Peckiconis, of Cape May, who has founded his own group, the Jersey Cape Metal Detecting Club, which meets on the first Wednesday of every month at the Villas Library.
“My father did it, and I’ve been doing it for years,” Peckiconis said. “I’ve found rings, coins — I’m more into old coins. Atlantic City’s probably the best (beach), but I probably go to Cape May the most.”
Added Chris Pascocello, of Brick Township, “I’ve found gold rings, silver rings, all kinds of weird things. Fishing weights, tackles, nickels, dines and quarters ... pens, a laser pointer, lighters, sunglasses ...”
Mike Linhares, of Cape May Court House, found a 1780 Dutch copper coin, known as a “doit”, while on a South Jersey beach — “I try not to give a location,” he said — while Rae Whisner of Egg Harbor Township, held up a 1778 Spanish “8 reales” coin, adding that the silver coin on a chain around her neck was a remnant of the Spanish Atocha treasure fleet, which went down off of Florida in 1622.
You don’t even have to be at the beach to find buried treasure. Rob Mickatavage, of Port Chester, N.Y., found an 18-karat gold, Indian head ring with diamond eyes in a public park far from the water, just three inches down.
Mabel Cowan, of Northfield, who’s been hunting for close to seven years, showed a couple of old ship’s spikes, still embedded in the chunks of wood they were nailed into decades upon decades ago. But her most notable discovery, she said, was a U.S. Naval Academy ring.
“I was hunting at the south end of Sea Isle City and I found the ring, which had the man’s full name on the inside,” Cowan said. She looked him up on the internet, “and I asked him, did you lose something in Sea Isle? Then I asked him what street, and he gave me the exact street I found it on. He was beside himself. So he came down, took me to lunch, and I returned the ring. He said he had lost it 29 years ago.”
Hunters also come in handy when something goes missing, Cowan said. “There’s always people coming up to you saying, ‘I lost something, can you help look for it?’”
“Sometimes I find keys on the beach,” DeMarco said, “and wonder how somebody got home.”
The detectors also compared their detectors, like McAvoy’s Garrett Ace 350, Mendyk’s Ace 250, and Peckiconis’s Minelab X-Terra. Some of the more elaborate models go beyond the usual “bing” upon finding metals and feature a numeric display that allows their owners to know what kind of metal is beneath their feet, from gold to silver to iron.
Detector dealer DeMarco, though, says that his biggest customers recently have been beginners. Starter detectors, he said, usually sell for around $200.
“A lot of people are getting into an inexpensive hobby,” he said. “People are looking for something the family can do where they don’t have to travel and they can stay close to home, at minimal cost.”
In the end, many said, it was the thrill of discovery that keeps them going back out onto the beach, rain or shine.
“When you hear a ‘bing’,” Mendyk said, “you never know what it could be.”
Contact Steven Lemongello:
Follow Steven Lemongello on Twitter @SteveLemongello