Optimist Park Treasure Hunt

The Following Story was Published in "Treasure" Magazine February 1984
Used by permission of J.R. Hoff

In the city of Huntsville, Alabama on the corner of Oakwood Avenue and Andrew Jackson Way is a ball park now known as Optimist Park. This park was made into a softball and football field back in the forties. Before that, it served as the football field for Rison High School (built 1921) located on Oakwood Avenue. Just looking at this piece of territory would make any coin hunter drool immediately. We first stumbled on this site back in October 1980. I say we as my treasure hunting buddy Robert Hoard was with me. Permission was granted to hunt the park by a woman that ran a class for pre-school children in a YMCA located on the park grounds. One small problem developed; she didn't have the key to the gate but told us to enter in through the ticket window by the gate as it is always open. Needless to say we were inside the park before she barely got the words out of her mouth.

Now I'm not much on judging ground cover but I would say the park covers at least 3 acres. (We didn't know then but this was virgin territory.) The outfield of the ball diamond also serves as a football field. The sidelines extended another 75 feet on three sides to a brick wall encircling the entire park. Me and Robert went to work right away and I walked about ten feet and WHONK! my metal detector sounded off. The first coin, three inches down was an 1956 wheat penny. Hmmmm. This place has opportunities. We did just fantastic that day. I worked on old path between the ticket booth and grandstand and came up with three silver dimes and some wheat pennies. Coins were ranging in depth from an inch to four inches down.

That day we spent three exciting hours turning up coins like never before. I finished the day with a total count of 80 coins broken down as follows: 1 Mercury dime, 7 silver Roosevelt's, 16 wheat's, 7 clad quarters, 7 clad dimes, 41 pennies and a 1959 cinco centavo from Mexico.

If you all have read the spring issue of Treasure Found you pretty much know my philosophy and techniques about coin hunting. I just wanted to write a story about this park as it can be found in almost every city in the United States.

We returned to Optimist Park on the ninth of November 1980. That day Robert and I spent exactly an hour and a half coin hunting. I worked a small area that day. It was located behind the end zone of the football field. I started by the brick wall and worked toward the grandstand. I'm never going to forget this day. About three feet from the wall I got a loud signal. Two inches down was a silver quarter (Washington). I shouted with joy over to Robert at what I had found. Robert is smiling back and holding up two silver dimes.

I proceeded forward about ten feet and got another loud signal. I cut a small but deep plug in the moist ground and lifted it out and there shining back at me is another silver quarter. I retrieved it and in the process moved some dirt around the bottom and there were two more silver quarters staring at me. Plus a silver Roosevelt was among them. Eighty five cents in silver in one hole! What next? I pushed on toward the grandstand. About five feet further I got a signal that sounded like a dime at two inches. I cut a half round plug this time and folded it back and there was a beautiful (1922) silver dollar on edge at three inches down. I put all my equipment down and ran over to Robert and said "Hey, you gotta come over here and see this." We looked at it for a few seconds and then I carefully pulled it up out of the ground. The weight of the coin is what I first noticed. It's hard to imagine a "coin" that large being dropped and one, not hearing a loud thud and two, not being able to find it. It now has a nice home in my coin collection. I walked on a little further and was busy digging up silver dimes and wheat pennies. I turned around and started working toward the brick wall. Another loud signal turned out to be a bronze commemorative medal from the Cherokee Indian Reservation in North Carolina. A few more feet and yet another loud signal. This time a Walking Liberty Half two inches down. I was in total ecstasy. Could this be happening to me? In that one and a half hours I found 58 coins with a breakdown as follows: The silver dollar, the Walking Liberty Half, 4 silver quarters, 5 silver dimes, 18 wheat's, 2 clad quarters, 7 clad dimes and 20 pennies. My best day ever for silver coins and it still stands for my record.

Two days later I went back to the park alone during the week as it was a government holiday. This time I worked the opposite end of the football field. It was an area 150 feet wide by about 50 feet deep. I found 52 more coins that day but most of all I learned an extremely important lesson. I almost bypassed a really loud signal thinking it was a piece of trash. Instinct told me to check it out anyway. You aren't going to believe it, but up popped a 1960 Ben Franklin Half! You just never know. I finished the day out with: the Ben Franklin Half, 2 Mercury dimes, 1 silver Roosevelt, 13 wheat's, 2 clad quarters, 10 clad dimes, 23 pennies and a silver ring.

I want you all to know that I used a White's 6000-D during this period and operating in the GEB/DISC mode at pull tab reject discrimination. I bought two 6000-D Series II in March of 1981 and have had fantastic results with these detectors.

Optimist Park was loaded with pull tabs but I knew if I wanted to find gold rings and nickels the discriminator would have to be turned down. Well down it came and boy did I ever dig pull tabs. Hundreds of them, but every one was worth it as I found two gold class rings (1935, 1947) and a gold wedding band. I found the owner of the ring for the class of 1935. It took very little research to find the owner. The 1947 ring had the school name worn off but the initials were inside. I called all the schools in Huntsville that were in operation in 1947 but no luck as of yet. I haven't given up.

Well I finished my last day at Optimist Park on the 11th of March 1982. That day I found 1 silver Roosevelt, 4 clad dimes, 9 pennies and a gold wedding band. There are still coins there to be found but being in the military it is time to move on as I've been selected to serve as an Army Recruiter and will be leaving soon.

As I mentioned earlier all cities have an "Optimist Park". They are out there, just do a little research and find them. Huntsville has two old ball parks but the other park only turned up around "200" coins. Just ask for permission to hunt when you find your park and make it look like no one was there when you leave. The following shows the total amount and type of coins that I alone found. My coin hunting buddy's, Robert in particular, also did extremely well.

Total number of coins: 928. Silver face value: $11.45. Total coins face value: $45.31. Silver dollar: 1. Silver Halves: 2. Silver quarters: 15. Silver dimes: 57. Silver War Nickel: 2. Buffalo Nickel: 2. Indian Head Penny: 1. Wheat Pennies: 186. Clad quarters: 49. Clad dimes: 136. Nickels: 31. Pennies: 44. 1 Canadian Penny and 1 Mexican Nickel.

Jewelry: 2 10K gold class rings, 1 14K gold wedding band, 1 silver bracelet, 1 silver religious cross, 1 silver skate charm and 2 silver rings.

Optimist Park Epilogue
It has been almost twenty years but I can still vividly recall the day I gave the 1935 class ring back to the owner. (Actually, the owners sister). Rison High School had probably shut down in the late 1960's. One could still hunt for coins on the school grounds. I hunted the place to death until I found a Mercury dime. I just had to find silver at this site. One could still peer into the windows and catch a glimpse of the old school. You could just imagine what it looked like in it's glory, with students running up and down the hallways. Now, trees were growing up through the floor and out of the roof.

Metal detecting and research go hand in hand. In this case it was research after the find. I went to Huntsville High School and talked to the officials there and as luck would have it (I believe the correct word would be serendipity) one of the more mature secretaries just happen to know the old Rison High School Principal. She gave me his phone number and when I got home I called him. We arranged to meet the next day. I could hardly wait.

The principal was an older gentleman, perhaps in his 70's. Again, as luck would have it, he just happened to have all of the records of Rison High School! I gave him the initials J.H.R. and the year 1935. He told me to give him a couple of days and he would call me. He called the next day and asked for me to come over again. When I arrived he greeted me at the door with school files in hand. He appeared as excited as I was. The initials stood for James Henry Routt. He had a sister, Mildred who after graduation and college had become a teacher at...you guessed it...Rison High School. She worked for the very principal I was talking to. He did not know the whereabouts of James but did have the phone number for Mildred.

I called Mildred Routt Fanning the very same day and relayed my story to her. I asked her about her brother and she invited me over for a visit. Mildred was a very southern and proud school teacher. She told me the story of her brother and how he lost the ring. He was at football practice, the year 1934. He had lost it during drills. He was very heartbroken about losing his ring as he had to work very hard in order to purchase the ring. This was during his junior year. Sometime during his senior year he got on the bus to go home just like any other day and had stuck his arm out the window for some unknown reason and a passing truck in the opposite lane was a little to close and he lost his arm! No football and no class ring. He was devastated.

I gave the ring to Mildred as her brother was in Mobile, Alabama in the hospital. She asked what I wanted for a reward and I told her a letter would be nice. A few days later the letter arrived in the mail. Attached to it was a $10 bill. The following is word for word from her letter:

Dear Sergeant Hoff,
My brother and I haven't words to convey to you our appreciation for your recent courtesy and service to us. Your hobby not only brought joy to you but joy to our family as well. You will never know how much happiness you and your metal detector brought to my brother when he laid eyes on his high school ring which was bought and lost in 1934, while playing football for Rison High School on a field now known as Optimist Park.

Even though the ring had been cut by something, like unto a "Bushhog" while cutting grass and embedded in four inches of thick sod, it still remained bright and gave off the glow of that old Rison spirit as it displayed with honor the Rison emblem, the date 1935 and initials J.H.R. (James Henry Routt).

My brother is terminally ill. Your bringing this ring to him at this time renewed his youthful spirit and he is enthusiastically re-living those glorious years. He's as proud of his football years as is Joe Namath. His friends, nurses, and doctors will surely hear all about this treasure that has been buried for forty eight years. Nostalgia is refreshing therapy for a terminally ill patient. Thanks to Sergeant Hoff and his metal detector for giving his time and sharing his findings with so many.
Mildred Routt Fanning
Sister of James Henry Routt

Who says metal detecting doesn't pay off?