GLEN RIDGE, NJ — Still collecting after all these years, Glen Ridge High School Class of 2021 graduate Jack Wooten started amassing his array of collectibles as a small boy.
“I was big into Matchbox cars and seashells I found at the beach,” he recently told The Glen Ridge Paper. “I have all the cars in a bin and and all the shells in glass jars.”
Along the way, he received a metal detector from his grandparents and began to investigate local parks and backyards, looking for objects covered over by time. A collection of these discoveries was exhibited at the Glen Ridge Historical Society before the pandemic.
The exhibition did not put an end to Wooten’s metal-detecting adventures. Wooten has continued to search for lost treasures.
After the exhibition, he found an old “BHS” high school ring in Glen Ridge and, failing to identify anyone from Bloomfield High School as the owner, traced its ownership to a Bernardsville High School graduate. Wooten contacted the deceased owner’s sister, who was living in the Midwest. She suggested he sell the ring and use the money to pursue his interests.
Currently a sophomore at Skidmore College, Wooten did not have as much luck with a Class of 1969 ring from Le Moyne College. He found this ring near Skidmore, in an area owned by the college called the North Woods. Le Moyne College is in Syracuse, N.Y., and Skidmore College is in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
Wooten went online to view Le Moyne College yearbooks, even though time had badly corroded the initials scratched into the band.
“It was tough,” Wooten said, “and I didn’t pursue it.”
Also tough is the weather where he attends school.
“I did it for only a few months,” he said of metal detecting in Saratoga Springs. “It gets really cold, and the ground freezes. I found rudimentary stuff such as lead bullets and metal soldiers.”
Closer to home and on summer vacation, Wooten is currently employed at John Michael’s Estate Jewelry, on Broad Street in Bloomfield, and does not have to go very far to find objects to collect. From the store, he selected an 1880s medal commemorating the unveiling of a Beethoven monument in Austria and a collection of World War I medals. Among these decorations is a Purple Heart, a Celebration of Service medal and infantry badges.
“It’s a nice presentation and an insight into history,” Wooten said.
In Montclair, he found a Vermont copper, which is an early Colonial coin, circa 1787.
“It was weird it was found here,” he said.
Wooten posted a picture of the coin on TreasureNet.com, which is a forum for treasure hunters.
“There’s a lot of knowledgeable people, and someone knew what it was based on the design,” he said.
When he finds something, he does very little to its surface.
“I try to clean them with water,” he says. “I have small brushes and try not to scratch them.”
But the most rewarding and puzzling discoveries are probably those from a familiar neighborhood. About 18 months ago, Wooten uncovered a Spanish-American War medal on Bay Street in Glen Ridge.
“It’s dated 1904,” he said. “It says ‘2nd Class Marksman.’ It was awarded in a Massachusetts camp.”
Wooten found this medal on the property of someone who responded to a flier he left in their mailbox. He uses the internet to learn when a house was built and then determines if the property is worth investigating. If it is, he will advertise. When he finds something, the owner generally does not want it.
“I do it for a historical pursuit,” he said. “It’s physical activity and the thrill of the hunt. A lot of people in town know I detect, but no one’s contacted me out of the blue. There’s not really a market for what I find.”
Another notable find was an 1876 French coin he found on a Forest Avenue property.
“I showed it to the owners and they did not want it,” he said. “It wasn’t worth a lot and it meant more to me than to them. They were kind enough to let me have it.”
Although he has put considerable effort into metal detecting over the past five years and gained commensurate knowledge, Wooten, who is considering a college major in anthropology, is now pursuing another quarry: vinyl records.
“It’s been my passion for the last couple of months,” he said. “MGM records from the early days: Fred Astaire, Betty Grable and Gene Kelly.”
Photos Courtesy of Jack Wooten