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Hannibal Courier - Post - Hannibal, MO
  • A Mark Twain treasure hunt

  • As a journalist it's always fun to know you're going to wake up and do a fun story.
    A treasure hunter examining the grounds of the Mark Twain Boyhood Home was enough for me to look forward to what Wednesday had in store. I honestly didn't know what to expect. Was this going to be a typical feature? Was this just some guy hoping luck was on his side?
    Turns out I was wrong.
    What happened Wednesday was spectacular.
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  • As a journalist it's always fun to know you're going to wake up and do a fun story.
    A treasure hunter examining the grounds of the Mark Twain Boyhood Home was enough for me to look forward to what Wednesday had in store. I honestly didn't know what to expect. Was this going to be a typical feature? Was this just some guy hoping luck was on his side?
    Turns out I was wrong.
    What happened Wednesday was spectacular.
    The treasure hunter
    Randy Barnhouse is a retired history teacher from Cape Girardeau.
    In the summer time he runs a pool service company to keep himself busy, but that's not the activity he's doing to keep himself out and about in his retirement years. His hobby is treasure hunting and digging up artifacts of the past.
    "I was in Key West, Florida in 1985," he said. "I was one of the divers that helped find a sunken shipwreck called the Atocha. Ever since then I salvaged other shipwrecks and I try to do projects like (the Mark Twain Boyhood Home). Once I help discover the Atocha, it gets into your blood. It's fascinating whether it's treasure or if it's silver or if it's gold or emeralds or jewelry or a square nail. It's exciting to find."
    He's not as equipped as you may picture a modern day treasure hunter to be.
    With the exception of his $1,200 metal detector, Barnhouse has simple gardening tools, some rope and a tape measure. Simple stuff to assist in his quest for finding whatever lies in the Earth's crust that may have fallen there years and years ago.
    Barnhouse stands at about 6'3 with a boisterous voice, salt and pepper beard and a button nose. There's really no tactic to his searches other then slow and careful. The last thing he wants to do is miss a spot that could be harboring something.
    And he's quite the story teller too. Barnhouse has gotten pretty lucky when it comes to his trusty metal detector.
    "I was about to get married for the second time and two days before I was suppose to get married, I hadn't bought a new wedding band yet. Sixteen years before that I had lost my dad's wedding band that he gave me before he passed away. I had a choice, go to the jewelry store — buy a wedding band — or go to my old property with my metal detector and see if I can find that," he said. "I called the current owners of the property and they gave me permission to go look in my old garden area. I searched for about an hour, I was just about to give up, but with treasure hunting when you're about to give up you need to go a little bit longer. I got this certain beep, I dug a hole, and there was my dad's wedding ring. Then it hit me. I found it on August 10, that was the old man's birthday."
    Page 2 of 3 - Not only proof there's excitement with a metal detector, but assistance from a world beyond our own.
    "Once you catch the bug, it's just something you must do or you don't feel complete," he said. "If you don't have some kind of action on the shelf that you're involved in, you really don't feel complete."
    Discovery on Twain's lawn
    Just as Barnhouse and I were talking, he waved his detector to show how he easily glides it across each blade of grass gradually and delicately so that no section of dirt is missed.
    The machine gives off a high pitch beep like a whale deep in ocean waters.
    He marks the center of the location with a screwdriver and begins to sift through the grass and top layers of soil. His fingers claw away at the dirt.
    Within moments he has it.
    The object setting off the metal detector was a perfect circle. An iron cap that was clearly custom made. No etchings, no signs of what it's used for. But a find of interest nonetheless.
    Barnhouse measured the distance from the start of the fence, traced the object in his notes and even entered the GPS coordinates before moving on.
    There were nails along the fence and a beer can tab, but then it got interesting. That's because I got to use the metal detector.
    Random findings
    I'm not really one to go slow or stay in one spot when it comes to metal detection. For me, it's best to go for it.
    Barnhouse told me to give it a shot and I did.
    I walked around the lawn and a regular pace and kept the detector on the ground. Nothing was happening. I started to believe that nails and other products near the fence were the only things setting the machine off. And that iron plate was just a moment of luck.
    But then the detector went off.
    A small dig and there it was, an iron piece of pipe. Not the whole pipe of course, but clearly a connector at one time because of the crafted lip.
    Barnhouse seemed to like my "beginner's luck," as he described it. So while he took a moment to take a break, I continued a random walk around the next lawn and he decided to watch. Barnhouse said he'd take in the moment like Tom Sawyer did when he convinced all the boys to whitewash Aunt Polly's fence.
    I must admit I was getting a kick out of this. It was a lot of fun to walk around and dig for something every time the machine went off.
    But this time, it got interesting
    Page 3 of 3 - It was about five inches deep in the dirt and Barnhouse had to really yank it out. When he pulled away the dirt, broke off the rust, we had ourselves a multipurpose hook.
    Hard to say what it was used for, however, clearly something that fell on the spot and was covered up until today.
    It appeared it could have been a hook from a belt that was used to park a horse at a post or connected a strap to a plow. For all we know it could've been use to hang meat or hide at the corners so a family could have some form of covering on their wood floors.
    And this was no molded tool, this was something crafted by hand. The wrinkled and uneven surface feelings give that away completely.
    Not a bad find for my first try.
    Returning in fall
    Barnhouse said he plans to returns to Hannibal several times to scan and dig. He plans to return in September and says his visits could be extended over a period of years as he hears of other areas around town to snoop around.
    But the Mark Twain Boyhood Home is first on the list.
    Legend has it Samuel Clemens buried letters to Laura Hawkins Frazer. In fictional terms that's letters from Tom Sawyer to Becky Thatcher.
    Will he find such a thing? Only time will tell.
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