Metal detector leads to a wallet lost 40 years ago

Mar. 27, 2014 @ 05:44 PM

Lisa Ward’s ears perked up when her metal detector sounded a “hit” on an object beneath the dirt last weekend in the woods on on Vaiden Street near the Caldwell Heritage Museum in downtown Lenoir. The land once was the homestead of Dr. Alfred A. Kent, a wealthy medical doctor and state legislator.

After digging down nearly a foot, they found a leathery flap, turquoise on one side. Digging farther, they uncovered more flaps and eventually realized the ragged pile once had been a wallet.

Inside a couple of the pieces were an aluminum card — possibly what triggered the metal detector — with Social Security information, and a driver’s license. Based on the expiration date of the driver’s license, 1974, it had been buried at least 40 years. Beneath the faded plastic was a woman’s photo and her name. Ward wondered whether the owner, who according to the license was born in 1933, was still alive and still in Lenoir.

“I’d like to find out if her family is around, if they would like to have it,” Ward said on Tuesday.

Not sure where to turn, Ward called the News-Topic, which through its mighty journalistic resources (Google) found Thelma Dula, 80, at her Dulatown Road home.

Dula was stunned to hear of the wallet.

“It’s a miracle to me,” she said.

She at first didn’t remember losing a wallet, but after a bit she remembered her purse once being stolen from her car while parked in the Kentwood area, not far from where Ward found the wallet. She just can’t remember exactly when.

“It was a long, long time ago,” she said.

Dula and her husband, James, met Ward Wednesday to retrieve what had been found. Ward gingerly passed each piece, still bearing a film of dark earth and smelling slightly of decay. Thelma Dula looked intently at a plastic sleeve holding a faded photo of a young child and passed it to her husband, who studied it.

“That looks like Peanut,” James Dula said.

Another photo, of a woman with a dog, looked familiar too.

Ward, 53, always showed an interest in old houses and history. Well, almost always — she lacked interest in history while in school. But last year, she decided she wanted a metal detector. She got one for Christmas and has been having the time of her life looking for hidden treasures. She has found an 18-karat-gold wedding band, a cannonball and lots of change, including a silver dime. She once found a badly worn brass-and-gold ring that a jeweler thinks dates to before the Civil War.

Ward regaled the Dulas with tales of treasure hunts, some resulting in nothing but old nails — mostly, it’s discarded beer cans that set her metal detector off — but all filled with discovery.

Judging from the reaction, besides the wallet Ward also may have found James Dula’s new hobby.