Buried Beneath The Sand

Buried treasure, the legendary riches hidden in the ground by pirates, is a part of mythical lore. That hasn’t stopped intrepid explorers from searching, and the beaches of the North Coast are a haven for metal detecting enthusiasts.

Nehalem resident Richard Mulcahy spent 31 years teaching writing to Neahkahnie High School students. As his career wound toward retirement, he wondered what he would do with the extra time on his hands. Little did he know that a holiday gift would provide him with years of fun and fulfillment.

Mulcahy was given his first metal detector as a Christmas present in 1997 and has been a fan ever since. “A friend of mine used to poke around Bayside Gardens with a metal detector for fun,” Mulcahy said. “We’d go out together and find a few old coins and a couple gold rings here and there. It was a great way to pass the time on weekends, and I was learning something new every time I went out.”

As the years went by, Mulcahy realized that beneath the beach sand and river rocks was a veritable treasure trove of lost and forgotten items. “When I started metal detecting, I never expected to find anything too spectacular. I was just having fun,” he said. “The more I looked, the more I found. There were always a lot of coins, old and new. I even found a coin from the 1880s.”

While he became more familiar with the ins and outs of metal detecting, Mulcahy began branching out to all parts of the North Coast. “I’ve been all over the area, from Warrenton to Pacific City. It’s a lot of legwork,” he said. “I spent a lot of time combing the Tillamook County fairgrounds and Fort Stevens. Nothing beats combing a beach after a Fourth of July weekend.”

While Fort Stevens and other Oregon state parks used to allow unimpeded detecting, much of that has since been curbed. “A lot of that has to do with safety concerns, like buried electrical cables. There’s also the issue of disturbing potential archeological sites,” Mulcahy said. “I would encourage everyone to check park rules before you go.”

Mulcahy realized that while finding coins and rings was exciting, they may be missed by their owners. To that end, he transitioned into a beach sleuth, lending his services to individuals who had lost something valuable. “It morphed into a hobby/business,” he said. “I had a card made up and passed it around to local merchants, chambers, hotels and police stations. I’ve picked up quite a few referrals.”

Helping people find lost items comes with its own set of incalculable rewards, as Mulcahy began to discover. “It’s a special feeling to help someone reclaim something they thought was lost forever,” he said.

During a seemingly normal day of detecting near the Wayfarer Restaurant in Cannon Beach, Mulcahy was called into action by a frantic wedding party. “One of the ladies in the wedding party had lost a platinum ring with a diamond,” he said. “The Wayfarer had my card, and they gave me a call. I was right down the beach so I came over.”

After a few tense minutes of sweeping the area with his metal detector, Mulcahy found a signal that resembled the ring. “I waved the young girl over, pointed at the sand and said, ‘Wanna dig?’ She got down and began scooping, and there it was. Everyone was cheering and clapping. It was a great feeling.”

Besides rings and coins, Mulcahy has come across some unique odds-and-ends as well. “I’ve put together a nice collection of vintage toys, which always come in handy for grandkids at Christmas,” he said. “I’ve got more fishing lead than I know what to do with.”

One strange thing Mulcahy has recently collected is 11 gold dental crowns in various spots. After having them appraised, he discovered they were 18 karat gold, something not used in dental care anymore. “The mystery writer in me can come up with the start of a good novel for that one,” he said.

Mulcahy stresses that metal detecting is educational and easy. “It’s something anyone can do, rain or shine” he said. “The detectors are fairly easy to operate and come in all price ranges. Definitely do your research and read the instructions.”

Mulcahy takes the greatest amount of satisfaction in knowing that he can share detecting. “There’s nothing I enjoy more than going out to a spot with my grandkids, getting a ping and letting them dig for something. That’s all the excitement I need.”

Dan Haag
Born and raised in the great white north of Minnesota, Dan Haag felt the pull of the north Oregon Coast in the early 90s. Finding that rain never needed to be shoveled, he married an Oregon girl and settled in Manzanita, where he works as director of the Manzanita Visitors Center. He is also a freelance writer whose work has appeared in a variety of state and national publications. He spends his free time wandering the area’s many trails, supporting the Oregon wine and beer industry, perusing coastal bookstores, and chasing his black Labrador, Lilo, along the beach.