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Finding Orion's buried treasure



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From left, Jim Bird, Rick Day, and Chuck Jacob observe some of the items unearthed under the streets of Lake Orion. Photo by Gabriel Ouzounian (click for larger version)
June 01, 2011 - History arrives in many different forms, but sometime it requires a little digging.

As the streets and sidewalks of downtown Lake Orion came up, treasure hunters Rick Day, Chuck Jacob, and Jim Bird came out, armed with metal detectors and passion for all things old. Day, who's been hunting for around 30 years, said he's always loved history, and initially fell in love with the idea because, often, downtown areas are covered with relics from a past age.

"It's almost like being an archeologist," said Day. "I've been in Lapeer, Clarkston, and generally any place they tear up the streets in downtown taking advantage of the small window of opportunity to find out what's underneath.

"It's like panning for gold - you get addicted to it."

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Bird said he'd been hunting for 25 years, adding that Day was responsible for originally interesting him in the hobby.

Jacob, who is relatively new to the project with about eight years of experience, said the hobby started for him because of his fascination with old coins. His interest grew when he began learning about the unsolved mysteries he said a lot of downtowns possess.

"A lot of these old towns have fires, and it wasn't uncommon for whole towns to burn down in the late 1800s," said Jabob. "When they lost a whole street block, they can lose records too, so a lot of towns have a mixed and confused history.

"We're trying to find out what was covered up years ago that is not always documented."

One such item of curiosity has been a rail track unearthed by construction crews earlier in the Streetscape project which likely belonged to a trolly system, according to the hunters. So far, the three hunters have also been successful in unearthing a plethora treasures, including old coins, knickknacks, and other items of interest. The trio have found, among other things, coins as old as a 1820 Canadian halfpenny, a 1828 U.S. large cent (about the size of a modern-day half dollar), an old style compact, a token stamped with the words "Griggs Drug Store," and two shotgun shell casings.

According to Jacob, who the group said was "their gun expert," the style of casing on the shells indicates they wouldn't have been around until around the late 1800s and early 1900s.

"Someone fired those downtown and ejected them right onto the sidewalk," said Day, laughing. "You have to wonder what happened when someone fired a gun right in downtown."

Altogether, the three have found some 100,000 coins combined in the history of their collecting, and have already added a good number from Lake Orion.

But with Streetscape's reconstructive efforts beginning, the trios treasure hunting days in Orion are coming to a close. Despite this, they all agreed to continue to hunt as long as there is an uncovered piece of land. Not even discouraged, they said the small time with which they are allotted at any given site is simply part of the hobby.

"It can be a real challenge to find things in construction projects, because along with all of the stuff we're looking for, there's debris and all kinds of stuff that get in the way," said Day. "When they tear up the streets, they unlock the ground, but, like archeologists in some cases, you have to look quickly before it's covered up."

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Donald Turner
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