If you’re out in Shandaken on the weekend of July 29-31, and you see a bunch of people staring down while waving sticks over the ground, don’t be alarmed. They are metal detectorists in search of historical objects, part of the third annual Catskill Mountains Coin Shoot and Relic Hunt.
John Michelotti was inspired to begin the Shandaken tradition by an event held in New Hampshire, where a 100 or more metal detectorists gather annually for a weekend to search a big field. “I thought, we have music festivals and car shows,” recalled Michelotti. “Wouldn’t it be neat to do this here. We have so much history in the area.”
“Coin shoot” is another term for a relic hunt, which brought almost 30 people to Shandaken last year. Some of the participants brought their families along, to go tubing and patronize local businesses. The event will feature over a dozen places to detect, as a result of a partnership with the Shandaken Historical Museum in Pine Hill. Entry fees are donated to the museum, which has helped locate historic properties and obtain permission for detectorists to visit.
“We look for places where people gathered,” said Michelotti. “Old hotels, train stations, schools, post offices, an old park where they had circuses. We do farms, too. When we did the old trout hatchery in Big Indian, we found an old, very small fly reel, unique to the family that owns that property. They were very appreciative.”
When detectorists find an object specific to the property, the owner gets first choice of possession. If the owner doesn’t want it, it’s offered to the museum to put on display. If the museum isn’t interested, the discoverer will keep it. While some detectorists have collections of objects, the excitement, said Michelotti, is in the hunt. “It’s such a thrill when you find something of historic value. These guys do it for hours, and once in a while, they find something really significant — especially if it has value to a family. Their great-grandparents touched this and used it, and now the family has it back.”
He took up detecting as a hobby five years ago and mostly searches on the beach where he and his wife spend winters since his retirement. In front of a church in Big Indian, someone found a little piece of brass that turned out to be Civil War button, with an eagle on the back. Research revealed that an eagle on the front meant the button came from the uniform of a soldier on active duty. The eagle on the back indicated retirement from the military.
“We’ve found millions of horseshoes — also ox shoes,” said Michelotti. “Around the Shandaken Museum, which used to be a school, we found metal toys — cars and a horse — from the late 1800s. The guys come with trowels, since the metal detectors only find things eight to ten inches in the ground. They’re careful about replacing grass or plugs when they dig up things.”
Participation is limited to 50 people, with 35 signed up as of July 18. The cost for the weekend is $100, which Michelotti says is a bargain, compared to $250 or more for the New Hampshire event. “And we have, in my estimation, better places to detect. If you get 30 guys, they don’t all go to one spot, so most places only have three or four guys at a time.”
On Saturday, July 30, at 6 p.m., a barbecue will be held in Big Indian Park, hosted by the Pine Hill-Fleischmanns Rotary to raise money for the Margaretville Head Start program. Companies donate metal detectors, which are raffled off, along with other tools used in detecting. Shandaken Museum director Kathleen Myers will speak about the historical background of some of the places where participants will be searching.
To register for the Catskill Mountains Coin Shoot and Relic Hunt, contact Jesse Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org.