Michael McMeekin enjoys digging up the past. In fact, he’s spent more than 40 years doing so.
McMeekin does his digging at Long Island beaches and parks, often for the benefit of others. The 65-year-old Hicksville resident is a member of the Atlantic Treasure Club, a metal-detecting organization that was formed in 1973. It is believed to be the oldest such club in the tristate area. Now in its 44th year, the group is starting to see a steady increase among its active members — a trend it hopes will continue.
“It’s not what you find. It’s not knowing what the next find is going to be that makes it exciting,” McMeekin says.
THE SPORT OF THE HUNT
The 60 or so active members — who range in age from teenagers to a 92-year-old — meet monthly at Wantagh Memorial Congregational Church. But they treasure hunt year-round.
Each year, members recite an oath, vowing to take every measure to return anything of value that they find from detecting — a task made easier with the emergence of social media. In the past 40 years, that has led them to return engagement, wedding and class rings, war memorabilia, keys and family heirlooms.
“It’s a niche sport. I don’t think it’s dying,” says club member Gary Wargo, 68, of Floral Park. “We’re getting some young people in it now.”
Wargo, who joined the treasure hunting group eight years ago, counts the collar brass of an enlisted soldier and a partial dog tag among his most valuable finds. He recovered both items on separate occasions at Custer Park in Garden City. Despite their condition, Wargo was able to trace the items back to World War I. And while unable to return either one to their rightful owner, Wargo determined the collar brass belonged to an enlisted soldier from the 13th Infantry Regiment.
A retired Army veteran, Wargo says these types of returns are sentimental and invaluable.
“Those are the finds I find I am most proud of,” says Wargo, who retired from his career in insurance sales several years ago.
And they’re the type that keep him searching.
Canvassing the beaches, if done properly, can be time-consuming. McMeekin, Wargo and club member Doreen Warwick of Massapequa say they spend several hours each time they go out metal detecting.
“If you join the club, it’s a nice bunch of people. It gets you out,” Wargo says. “You’re in the fresh air. You’re walking around. You’re getting exercise. You’re not sedentary when you’re doing this.”
The three friends own current, more costly models of metal detectors that can easily differentiate between a bottle cap and a quarter while the item is still buried underground. This feature has saved them plenty of time digging for naught.
Like most members, they prefer to search Long Island sands once the sun has set and beachgoers have fled.
“We let the people enjoy the beach,” Wargo says. “We look for stuff afterward.”
McMeekin has been treasure hunting since his early 20s and recently sold his Bellmore shop, Treasure Unlimited (now Kwaks Trading Post), which sells and rents metal detectors and related accessories.
As for what hidden treasures he hopes await, McMeekin says he is keeping his ears open for his machine’s telltale beep.
“That’s the thing, you never know what the next sound is going to be,” McMeekin says. “It could be junk or it could be something interesting.”
Atlantic Treasure Club
WHEN|WHERE Meets 7:30 p.m. Sept. 13 (and most second Wednesdays of the month) at Wantagh Memorial Congregational Church, 1845 Wantagh Ave., Wantagh
INFO 516-785-6971, atlantictreasureclub.com
ANNUAL MEMBERSHIP $40 covers costs of renting meeting space and club activities such as an annual group hunt on Jones Beach.
Treasure hunting is a relatively inexpensive hobby.
PERMIT Don’t assume any public spot is fair game for metal detecting — check local ordinances. New York State-owned parks and beaches allow it with a $40 annual permit that can be obtained at the Long Island State Park Headquarters in West Babylon. Treasure hunters are also expected to leave the sand or soil where they do their digging as they found it.
GEAR Metal-detecting machines vary in price and detectability. A basic machine costs a couple of hundred dollars, while an advanced device — one with a touch screen and the ability to identify a potential find still buried — can run upward of $1,500. A rental is available for $15 a day at Kwaks Trading Post in Bellmore, 516-785-1618.