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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Unearthing the Forgotten at the Four O'Clock Hill House

When I was a pint-sized girl growing up on the outskirts of the town of New Santa Fe, I would use my vibrant imagination to open up doors of the impossible. I had heard stories of my brother and his classmates digging “treasure” out of the ground in New Santa Fe when houses were still being built. If I remember correctly, my brother’s class found some horseshoes and old nails on an “excavation” near New Santa Fe Cemetery.

Never once did I find hidden treasure while planting flowers, digging holes or turning over rocks. But that didn’t stop me from peering across the street, through the trees and into the woods to wonder what was being covered by layers of soil.

I was never alone on my journey, even when I was six years old.

My cousins, Mary and Karen were born and raised in California. In 1986, they were newly transplanted in Kansas City and acted as my cohorts.

During a family gathering in Overland Park, as our parents sipped beers and we ran wild next to 119th Street (before it was even busy out there!), Mary, Karen and I found a map... a treasure map, complete with an “x” formed out of the creases of the folds.

I remember it like it was yesterday. Our eyes lit up... this was special. 
L-R -- Diane, Karen and Mary back in the exploration days
The stories escaped our lips before we could even process the information. We finished each other's sentences. The stories were spoon-fed in our creative minds. Our ingenuity led us into a deep world created by our eagerness for excitement. 

Yeah, so the “map” we found was a discarded paper napkin, if memory serves me right.

That piece of super special road trash formed the Mystery Club, a club we were active participants in for years.

We had one thing in common that sticks out to me the older I get- we had active imaginations.

We made our own fun.

This newfound sisterhood resulted in hours of treasure hunts, planned meetings and explorations in the creek beds nestled in New Santa Fe.

I can even remember digging small  holes in my own yard in order to hide jewels for us to find.

Hey, I had to keep it interesting!

It was the wonderment, the experiences and the unending excitement that kept us close. Our young, fancied minds transformed any land into an unexplored frontier.

I’ve thought a lot about the three founders of the Mystery Club lately.

The last month of The Santa Fe Trailer has been overwhelming. Thousands of people read my post about the Four O’Clock Hill House, hundreds shared it and many people sent me inquiries about it. This was unexpected and immensely exciting. To read about the historic Four O'Clock Hill House, CLICK HERE!

I feel validated, and this has been remarkably energizing.

Maybe I was built for this type of thing- for this need of knowing and finding things. And this need to tell all these stories. 
Cool stories.

Courtesy of the National Geographic Channel
I’m sure it will come as no surprise that I am a fan of the National Geographic Channel. One show called “Diggers” has always had me one email away from recommending that these guys come to my neck of the woods.

I wanted someone to walk some of this land and give me answers.

For those unfamiliar with the show, two men travel the country to historic locations and use metal detectors to comb the land and locate historic objects hidden in the soil.

My email to the show is on hold indefinitely. I found my own legit “diggers.”

I’d like to introduce you to Jackalyn and Chadwick Oldham, also known as Jackwick Metal Detecting.

During the first few days my blog was posted on the Four O’Clock Hill House, a stranger caught wind of my blog and shared it with his friends… and the powers of the Internet did the rest of the work.

Jackalyn emailed me and posed an interesting question: Would the owners of the Four O’Clock Hill House be willing for a company to come out to their home and use metal detectors?

Well, I didn’t know… but I was willing to ask.

Chadwick and Jackalyn Oldham
Jackwick Metal Detecting became what it is today when in 2010, Chadwick received a metal detector as a Christmas present. By March of 2011, the couple had already upgraded their equipment and were fully engrossed in digging into the past.

“It’s like having a time machine in your hand,” Jackalyn stated while reminiscing about their journey.

I have to agree. Researching the area has done the same thing for me, too. I am transported into a time long since erased off the Jackson County landscape.

Before you run out and buy your own fancy metal detector, keep in mind that it has taken Jackwick hundreds of hours of practice, advanced (expensive) equipment, including GPS, research on properties and the ability to actually get permission to dig on these historic pieces of parcel.

This also takes homeowners that trust you- a piece that Jackwick has worked toward earning in the past five years.

Due to my own research on historic areas, I am well aware of how it works. After you spend hours researching, you have to make cold calls or write letters to unsuspecting Kansas City landowners that may, in fact, find me to be a wee bit crazy for knowing a lot of information about their property.

Sometimes I feel like a creeper!

It’s even harder to have people let me write about something they own. Just like I do for this blog, Jackwick just puts the pieces of the puzzle together, makes contact with people, and hopes it will turn into a new opportunity to excavate.

Steve and Wendy Hodgden didn’t hesitate when I proposed that Jackwick Metal Detecting come to dig on their land. They opened up their home to this insured, licensed company in order to entertain the possibility that there were more hidden treasures on their historic land.

So there it was- an invitation accepted and a date selected. Jackwick was set to explore the Four O’Clock Hill House.

The Four O’Clock Hill House was the site of a well-known stop on the Santa Fe Trail, and Steve has always been engrossed in its history. He even owns his own old metal detector but was ready for the new generation of equipment.

He jumped at the chance to see what this couple could find.

Steve worked side-by-side with Jackwick Metal Detecting
When I pulled through the pillars at the Four O’Clock Hill House to meet Jackalyn and Chadwick for the first time, I was excited to see what they had already found and how they worked.

I wasn’t disappointed.

The buzzing activity was contagious. The faint beeping of the detectors made my heart race with excitement. Each changing tone was one more chance to find something rare.

The married duo bounced around the yard, sweeping in motions with multiple detectors, in search of concealed fortunes.

Patience is a word that became new in my vocabulary (I am one for instant gratification…) as I casually grabbed a detector, untrained yet overambitious, ready to be the one that found the big ticket item.

For the record, I didn’t. I found nothing.

Next time. ;)

The clay pipe uncovered by Steve on his land
Steve even laid out prior items he had found throughout his years living at the Four O’Clock Hill House. One item, a clay pipe, was especially interesting to our newfound metal detecting sleuths.

“That is very rare,” Jackalyn stated matter-of-factly.

A clay pipe may not seem interesting, but when you open up your mind’s eye to the massive history of the house, that clay pipe makes you think of a time long since retired.

I can picture Mr. William Gray, the first long-term owner of the property, dangling that clay pipe out the side of his mouth as he watched the wagon trains meander west past his property, stopping for water at the well.

Items found in the earth are more than just remnants of history. Stories unfold and unwind in your hands.

The high ringing noise rattling out of the metal detector makes the heart jump and the possibilities endless. Grab a shovel, plunge it in the soil, and see. It could be anything.

Jude Vander Vegte checking what he picked up

Patience is a virtue, and it leads to victories for Jackwick.

Jackwick’s main mission is to share the history that so many people are missing. In order to get people involved and rest the minds of the owners of historic property, they give everything they find back to the homeowners.

“The items need to stay with the history of the property,” Chadwick explained.
One of the big selling points of Jackalyn and Chadwick’s “sales pitch” for their digs is that they love to involve everyone, especially the homeowners, in the excavation, no matter how young.

You don’t surrender your property to them; you work side-by-side with them.

Steve and Wendy invited their daughter, Heather, son-in-law, and grandchildren, seven year-old Jude and ten year-old Finn over to participate. They were given their very own metal detectors supplied by Jackwick so they, too, could be a part of the living history.

Finn Vander Vegte sweeping for finds
The boys were enthusiastic about their metal detecting lesson from Jackalyn and Chadwick. Armed with their own detectors, the boys bounced around the landscape looking for their own buried treasures.

Finn found a 1934 Mexican coin, one of the more thrilling (and unexpected) items pulled from the earth.

Thumbprint on pottery
Jackalyn and Chadwick have been on numerous properties and have located priceless treasures at every location. Some of their favorite finds at other places in the area include an 1809 Spanish reale coin and a several old pieces of crock earthenware that included a deliberate fingerprint in its glaze of whomever had created it.

There is was, that fingerprint, frozen in time.

In a cow pasture east of Liberty on the site of an old church long since demolished, Jackwick unearthed a flat button dating back to George Washington’s days as President of the United States.

How cool is that?!

Flat button discovered at the dig east of Liberty

These finds send chills down their spines. The endless possibilities are what keep them spending their free days toting metal detectors and shovels to locations across the Kansas City metropolitan area.

And all they charge property owners is the ability to share the uncovered stories and the permission to take photographs of the finds.

As sunlight dimmed across the landscape, we crowded together to lay out all of the treasures found at the Four O’Clock Hill House. We surveyed the hundreds of items plucked from the property’s ground, including a saddle cinch buckle, almost completely in one piece.

There were several harmonica reeds and a stirrup found, all most likely from the days of the Santa Fe Trail.

“I could just imagine those trail riders sitting around a campfire playing the harmonica at day's end,” Wendy commented.

That’s just it. All of us gathered to touch, feel and imagine the items in front of us in use during these pioneer days. History came alive on this Saturday afternoon, and we all felt blessed to be a part of its magic and wonder.

A view of the items uncovered during Jackwick's visit

I thought again about that imaginative little girl and her Mystery Club. I only dreamed back in 1986 about the prospect- the rare chance- to be a part of something like this.

Jackalyn and Chadwick's professionalism and passion for history was evident as we surveyed the day’s finds. They helped unearth the treasures sitting in front of us, rusted yet part of the pieces of the bigger puzzle of the past.

Steve and Wendy were so thrilled to have Jackwick come out and dig for treasures on their old Santa Fe Trail property, and their whole family was a part of it. Wendy explained, "For me, having my grandchildren know the history of the home and having them taking part in the discovery of the finds was pure joy."

And this is the type of success story that keeps Jackalyn and Chadwick going. 

Why would they do all this work and not physically take anything away from it?

"We believe the value comes from not only the digging and finding history, but also from the friendships we develop along the way," Chadwick clarified.

And Jackwick Metal Detecting did just this- they shared their knowledge, dug for history, and left with a group of new friends.

To learn more about Jackwick Metal Detecting, please visit

*Below are additional close-up photos of items found on the dig*

Harmonica reeds
Items found, including a 1930s house key
Parts of a clock

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