1920 - 2017
My good friend Gene Cooley was in his 90's the last time I spoke to him. Of course, Gene was telling me about one of his many relic hunting stories that I had already heard for the umpteenth time and patiently listened to again. After a while I believe I knew his stories better than he did regularly helping him remember by filling in the blanks. On this occasion the story was one of his favorites (and mine) which involved not only Gene but also the property owner, from whom he had received permission to hunt relics. In the middle of a large fallow farm field, Gene had located a pit of buck and ball that apparently took days to recover. There were literally thousands of .69 caliber round balls and buck shot in the hole that General McClellan left behind, which Gene now wanted. On one day in particular while Gene was busy on his belly removing them by the handful from the crater he had dug, the property owner noticed him in the field and walked out to see what he was up to. Gene explained what he had uncovered and the property owner, a significantly younger and rather attractive woman, joined right in for the afternoon to assist him in the recovery. At that point in his story Gene looked at me with a wry grin and remarked, "now that doesn't happen every day!"
Gene relic hunted every chance he got, and while I am confident that his family was his first love, relic hunting was indeed his second. Born in 1920 in Springfield, Ohio, his family eventually moved to and settled in New Boston, Ohio where his father was a railroad engineer. Gene kept in shape as a teenager by becoming a Golden Glove boxer. By World War II, he was in the US Army and had been stationed with his engineering unit just east of Richmond, Va. at Byrd Field (now Richmond International Airport). Two decades later, with a birthday approaching, Gene jokingly expressed to his family his desire to obtain a metal detector. The family didn't think it was a joke, so to his surprise, he was given a "Jetco" metal detector. Gene laughingly admitted that it did its intended job, that it was quite good at finding metal, but mainly metal on TOP OF THE GROUND! After a while he upgraded to a MetroTech, then a Double Eagle, and on and on to the next level of detector that would find those items deeper and deeper in the ground with all the bells and whistles that come with the latest model. The year was 1967 when his passion for unearthing relics began to grow and, when time permitted from his career in the automobile business, he would pack up the detector and digging tool and head for the fields and woods. Using his head, and his business connections, he discovered that one of his automobile clients just happened to be the owner of several thousand acres situated along the banks of the James River. Fortunately for Gene, this acreage had been occupied by General George B. McClellan's troops after the Battle of Malvern Hill during the summer of 1862. Gene began to dig, and dig, and dig.
Sadly now, my friend is gone and while I do miss him, I am honored to offer a few of his items from time to time on this site.