Warrenton resident Junell Nixon has been digging up relics ever since she started swinging a metal detector some five years ago. Sometimes she hits on nails or recent coins other detectors wouldn’t bother with. Once, she unearthed a valuable 1820s belt buckle that she returned to the property owner, because that’s the right thing to do and her personal philosophy.
Last month, Nixon helped take local treasure hunting to a whole new level with celebrity status, as Gary Drayton, a metal detection expert from the History Channel’s popular “The Curse of Oak Island,” joined a small group in search of Civil War items on several acres on a Warren County dig.
The show, which airs on Tuesdays at 9 p.m., follows the efforts of a team led by brothers Rick and Marty Lagina of Michigan to find buried treasure and historical clues on a small island off the coast of Nova Scotia.
Nixon was emailing with a fellow metal detector one night who is a friend of Drayton’s and passed along a message to tell him hello.
“He’s done a lot for metal detecting, and he’s kind of my idol,” Nixon said, “so I said, ‘Invite him to our hunt, ha ha ha.’”
Nixon’s friend said she would mention it to him, and two to three days later, Nixon got this reply: “He’s in.”
“I freaked out on my message board, I was so excited,” she said.
Nixon’s friends on the hunt, especially Archie Babcock, whom she has known for several years, gave her a good-natured warning: I hope you’re going to be cool, she said he told her.
“I’m going to be so cool, it’s like just one of the guys,” she said she told them. “I was so cool, but on the inside, not so much.”
Drayton arrived in Warren County from his home in Florida on a Friday, metal detected on Saturday and Sunday, and found some unique pieces, Nixon said. The experience was a learning experience for him, she said, as he is used to detecting at the beach, not in wooded areas.
“He’d never done a Civil War site,” Nixon said. “I was so fascinated with him and watching him. I didn’t find anything exciting that weekend.”
Over dinner at a local restaurant Saturday night, Nixon said the group heard some stories about Drayton’s time on Oak Island, which has finished filming for the season. They even tried to learn some inside information on upcoming unaired episodes, but she said Drayton was vague and didn’t reveal anything new.
“He was gracious, so friendly and humble,” Nixon said.
Metal detecting groups each have their personalities, and having a celebrity metal detecting expert on their dig calmed her group down more than usual, Nixon said of their weekend.
For her, digging up relics, whether they are new or old, is a matter of history talking.
“I dig anything to me that tells a story,” she said. “That’s what I like about ‘The Curse of Oak Island.’ They’ve dug a cross, they’ve done coins, they’ve done buttons, and they’re trying to piece together what happened on this island several hundred years ago where you can make a story out of it by digging these things.”
Nixon said nothing excites her more than chains, iron, locks, axes or even hatchets.
“If you discriminate that out, you miss what I think of everything being history. You never know when you’re going to hit something big,” she said. “I’m good digging a plow point … and I dig some nice stuff, too. Once I turn that machine on, I am so happy. It’s an amazing hobby.
“I really appreciate everyone who has allowed me to detect. It’s so much fun, and they’re so gracious.”
Anyone interested in finding out about relics on their property is invited to contact Junell Nixon by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org. There is no fee for her to indulge her hobby, and she returns her finds to the property owner.