It's all about the hunt for these treasure hounds in Keene
KEENE - It could be gold that was lost in a wreck. It could be the dog tags of a war hero. It could even be the button worn by an enthusiastic patriot as the first President of the United States paraded through the streets. For Rick Guhse of Keene, it was a dime.
"It's a great thing for a grandpa and grandson to do together," Guhse said, standing next to his 6-year-old grandson Andrew Sawyer, at the Best O' North East four-day treasure hunters convention Saturday. Andrew came prepared, armed with his trusty magnifying glass.
Guhse took Andre out for his first hunt. Right out of the shoot, the six-year-old found a dime in his yard. Grandpa still has that one.
"It teaches (kids) history," Guhse said. "It gives them a sense of what came before and broadens the horizons of a young person's mind."
Now in its 20th year, the convention is hosted by Streeter's Treasure Hunting & Prospecting Supplies, the oldest metal detector outfit in New Hampshire. The event brings out hunters, prospectors and the curious from all over New England. On Saturday, enthusiasts came out to the Keene Recreation Center for the exposition portion of the weekend, where they could find the latest detectors and metal-finding gadgets and ogle fellow hunters' finds.
But this year, it was a button that stole the show.
"It's from 1789," said Jim Doray, of Barre, Mass., speaking of the very rare George Washington inaugural button sitting on his table.
"Some buttons were given directly from George Washington to his troops, the elite troops that fought alongside him," he said.
Doray loves this button. One can hear it in his voice.
It's in the excited way he recounts its history and the place of prominence it has on his table.
Doray recently found it in his hometown of Lester, Mass. And he worked hard for that find, he doesn't mind telling listeners. His sister-in-law told him that the house in which he found it had once belonged to a colonel who fought with George Washington.
"He was in direct command with Washington. He fought alongside him in the Revolutionary War," Doray said. "Once I heard that, I knew I had to get permission to get on that property."
The house was sold to a college and he thought himself sunk - until it turned out his brother knew a member of the grounds crew at the house.
After a week of red tape and "hanging by my thumbs," Doray got permission to carefully search the land surrounding the house.
"I knew there was going to be a lot of history in the ground," he said. "I knew I was going to find something."
And he did.
The button, though worn and dirty, still bears the year 1789 clear as day.
And where most non-hunters would immediately wonder why it was sitting under glass at his table in Keene, instead of turned in for a pile of cash, Doray just smiles.
"It has more historical value to me than monetary value," he said. "Why get rid of it? Because the money is going to be gone, and the button will be gone, and I won't have anything."
And that's at the crux of what treasure hunters love about their hobby.
These are all items that any museum could have in collection, but, said Doray, "This is mine. I get to hold it in my hand."
Tablemate Erin Stevens, also of Barre, is a member of the New Hampshire Bob's online treasure hunting community and has a similar take. She points to a box of buttons and coins on her table.
"I know these people," she said. "I know their history, I've read their diaries, I know who dropped this stuff. . I love the history (of treasure hunting), every single piece is special to me."
And she acknowledges, a little sheepishly, it's also the thrill of the hunt.
"It is an adrenaline rush," she said. "It's really addictive."
It was that way for George Streeter of Marlborough, the sort of granddaddy of treasure hunting in the Northeast.
He taught Doray and many others at the convention Saturday over the course of the 40 years he's been running his shop.
"Every person has a desire to get rich for free," Streeter said of how he got started.
"And I thought if a metal detector could actually find things in the ground, I knew of places where I could go and use it. And I got greedy. I got a whole bunch of metal detectors in, and without thinking I sold them all. So I never found out how good the detectors were, except from my customers. And they all found some really great finds."
Streeter eventually became a hunter, too. And, at nearly 72, he still takes groups of people out to the Caribbean for every-other-month treasure hunts.
"I search for lost valuables in the ocean," he said. "Whatever we find is ours. We return what we can and keep the rest. I've found so much, you wouldn't even believe me. "
And Streeter is no different from every other hunter at the convention, each of whom has that one thing he or she is looking for, their white whale. Streeter is still looking for his.
"Everybody is looking for something," he said. "The treasure may be in the ground, it may be a friend, it may be a place you want to visit. But it's fun looking for it.
"I don't think I've found it yet. I think that I found a lot of things and that if I drop dead tomorrow, I'm happy. I think I've probably found more than I should have," he said.
"I think I am a very lucky, fortunate person. I believe in God, and I believe sometimes he steers us in the right direction. And as long as he steers me, I'm going to keep looking."