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Hidden Treasure

Local detectorist digs history

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Chip Kirkpatrick is a history hunter. Every morning, he leaves his home in Yulee and ventures to a number of spots anywhere from South Georgia to Central Florida, accompanied by one of his trusty metal detectors. Sometimes he’s invited; sometimes he drives down country roads and knocks on doors to get permission to hunt.

“Sadly,” Kirkpatrick says, “the overwhelming majority of what you find turns out to be trash in the ground—rusty nails, buried cans, lumps of lead, rusty metal and so forth. But if you stick with it, and if you persevere, you can find something special. It could be in the form of a nice piece of jewelry, an old, interesting coin or some sort of amazing relic.”

Kirkpatrick learned to love looking for hidden treasure as a child. He and his brother and mother would look for sharks’ teeth at the beach, four-leaf clovers in fields, and sapphires in the mountains of North Carolina, where they often visited.

“As I’m going into my second childhood,” he recalls, “I remember the two best days of the year were always Easter and Christmas mornings. On Easter morning, you had the thrill and the fun of the egg hunt. On Christmas morning, you got to uncover your gifts with the hope that you’d been good and you were going to get a pony. Metal detecting is just like both of those. Every day, I know there can be a dozen to hundreds of potential prizes for me to find. I’ve got to look, I’ve got to find, and then I’ve got to carefully uncover them to see what they are.”

After retiring from a 32-year career with AT&T (long enough to see the company change from Southern Bell to Bell South to AT&T), Kirkpatrick was introduced to metal detecting by a hobbyist friend. His wife of 43 years bought him his first metal detector soon thereafter. Today, he owns 10 of these tools of his trade and his hobby.

His passion for the find far outweighs Kirkpatrick’s desire to get rich. He has found objects that have ended up in museums, and he offers his services at no charge to anyone who has lost anything or wants to explore their own property. There’s pride in his voice when he claims he’s returned 16 objects to their rightful owners. One, a ring, was valued at $8,000.

“Most of us are serious about this hobby,” he says. “Your serious detectorist [that’s what you call one who metal-detects] is in love with the history. Many of them could give college lectures. Those Civil War hunters know the munitions, know the strategies, how the battles went. If you’re really into it, you become very serious and you study and you work, and you prize the things you find. Even the trash you find.”

Kirkpatrick is no different.

“I have always been a bit of a history buff,” he owns up. “I didn’t really enjoy it in school because it was impersonal. We studied large groups of people, a lot of dates I couldn’t keep straight, and a lot of names I couldn’t spell or pronounce. But metal detecting can become really personal because you’re dealing with the trash or treasure of one person. You’re holding something in your hands that was a part of their life. If it’s a toy, you wonder about the child who lost it. If you find an old tool, was it a free man or a slave that used it? Recently, I found a button off an overcoat of a Union soldier. That tiny, insignificant part of his life made me wonder about the man himself. Was he old? Was he young? Did he want to fight, or was he forced into it? And did he make it home?”

Kirkpatrick is now a member of the Jacksonville Historical Society, the Amelia Island Historical Society, and the Yulee Historic Council.

One piece of history that Kirkpatrick found while detecting has hit exceptionally close to home. It was a silver Scottish medallion found on the Florida-Georgia state line. Thinking at first that it was mere debris, Kirkpatrick put the round object into a sack with other items bound for the recycling center. That’s when he noticed a loop for a necklace.

After a thorough cleaning, the doodad was revealed to be a silver disc, flat and about two inches across, engraved on both sides with iconic Scottish symbols making direct references to William Wallace and his execution. The medallion also mentioned Clan Kirkpatrick and featured the same words as the detectorist’s family crest.

The find has since been featured in international archaeology and metal-detecting publications. Kirkpatrick has plans to donate it to Closeburn Castle in Scotland, still owned by a member of the Kirkpatrick family.

“Unless I find Jimmy Hoffa, The Holy Grail or the Loch Ness Monster,” Kirkpatrick says, “that’s going to be the find of a lifetime for me.”

Those of you who are interested in connecting with Chip Kirkpatrick, learning more about metal detecting or having him come to a property to explore, or help find lost objects, call him at 904-868-9168 or email chipk@bellsouth.net.

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