The Dayton Diggers dig up the past

History comes to life through what members unearth.

Tony and Diane Mantia of Bellbrook are just two of the more than 100 members of The Dayton Diggers, founded in 2009. This large group represents 50 cities in the Miami Valley and beyond; 10 members are from Kettering, and four are from Centerville.

Besides metal detecting, the group does bottle digging, mainly at the sites of old privies. Now that’s dedication. They go on group digs and hunts.

The Mantias, like other history buffs, research their finds afterward to learn details of the item and the time period.

Three years ago, the couple was metal detecting in Miami Twp., close to Waldruhe Park on the east side of Ohio 741, and Diane found a large copper coin. She was excited and called her husband over to look at it.

“I confirmed that it was an 1805 Large Cent. Back then, it could have bought a loaf of bread or 10 pounds of nails,” said Tony. “It was minted during Thomas Jefferson’s second term, and we had just purchased the Louisiana Territory. It was an exciting time in American history.”

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This past March, Tony Mantia found a Civil War button in the Bowersville area of Greene County. The couple found out the 19th century property owner was a Union soldier captured at the Battle of Chickamauga in 1863.

“What happens in the past has a lot of bearing on what will happen in the future,” said Tony, who has been a member of the Dayton Diggers club for the past six years and is currently the club’s secretary. “We try to connect our finds to somebody or some special event.”

Former Kettering resident Jared Shank is a past president who stepped down as the group’s leader as he and his wife, Robin, are expecting their first child. He’s an Army veteran; he was in field artillery in Afghanistan for a year. One of his big finds started out as a fluke just outside of Springfield around a circa 1900 house. He was called out to the property to find a man’s wedding ring.

“He found it in his RV. Since I was there, I went around the rest of his yard and found an old 1812 artillery button,” said Shank, who moved to Beavercreek the first of this year. “There were probably a million reasons why it could have been there; Ohio played a large part of the War of 1812. Being an artillery person myself, I thought it was amazing that I found a piece of that history.”

Some members participated at Wright State University’s bring your sons and daughters to work day. They had 30 kids from age 8 to 18 for two presentations.

“We’ve also contacted law enforcement. We’re the perfect group to find evidence that’s been hidden in the ground,” said Shank. “I was once called by an attorney to find a bullet that the defendant said was shot into the ground just off the porch as a warning shot. I couldn’t find it, though.”

Like Shank, most of The Dayton Diggers are coin collectors.

“Most people think we resell items that we find. But probably 95 percent of the club members keep everything they find,” said Shank, who has found a silver bracelet, an old American-made toy car and wheat pennies in his yard. “Most are really about preserving history.”

For more more information about the club, go online to www.daytondiggers.com.

Contact this contributing writer at PamDillon@woh.rr.com.

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