Town featured in new reality television series
By Sally Voth -- email@example.com
MIDDLETOWN -- Spike TV will be digging for dirt in Middletown this spring -- in former Mayor Marshall J. "Mark" Brown's backyard no less -- in a new reality series that starts tonight.
"American Digger," which premieres at 10 p.m., will follow a group of relic hunters led by former professional wrestler Ric Savage. Each of the 13 episodes will take place in a different location.
"After pinpointing historical locations, such as Civil War and Revolutionary War battlefields, Savage's first task is to convince reluctant homeowners to let his team dig up their property using state-of-the-art metal detectors and heavy-duty excavation equipment," a press release from Spike TV corporate communications manager Melissa Leung Sugiura says.
Manassas resident Bob Buttafuso is on the relic-hunting team, along with recovery expert Rue Shumate, Savage's wife Rita and their son Giuseppe, the release says.
Buttafuso is a Civil War buff and owns Centreville Electronics in Manassas, where he buys and sells Civil War relics, and sells and repairs metal detectors. He is an author and has a website, cwrelics.com, he said in a Tuesday afternoon interview.
Buttafuso met Savage through a website Buttafuso had set up to combat trade in bogus Civil War artifacts. Savage owns American Savage, which the release calls "the top artifact recovery company in the country," in Mechanicsville.
Filming the series took about six months, and only "fruitful" digs will be televised, Buttafuso said. That includes the trip to Middletown.
The crew dug on the Cedar Creek Battlefield and on Brown's property, Buttafuso said. Brown abruptly stepped down as town mayor last week and was joined in resignation by councilmen Gilbert D. "Gil" Barrington and John Wesley Blaisdell Jr.
"We excavated a well [on Brown's property]," Buttafuso said. "That will be in a future episode, and I won't tell you any more about it."
The series took the team to various sites, including Alaska, Detroit and Brooklyn. In Chicago, they looked for Al Capone relics, while they searched for Hurricane Katrina debris in the bayous of Louisiana, Buttafuso said.
In Tombstone, Ariz., "we knew there was stuff there from Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday," he said.
"We traveled the entire United States for 13 episodes," he said. "It was great. Knocked a few things off my bucket list. I'm 66, well, 66-and-a-half. I love to learn. History is unlike when we were kids. They were forcing us to memorize in school and read the books."
Now, TV shows bring history to life, Buttafuso said.
"It just makes it more exciting for the kids," he said.
Rita Savage would get the names of property owners in areas the team suspected would be rich with relics.
"We would go and knock on doors, asking if we could have permission to dig their land," Buttafuso said.
Any valuables found would be sold and the profits split with the landowners, he said.
"Throughout the series, items with great historical and cultural significance will be found, including a late 17th century British Carronade naval cannon, a 5 million year old Megalodon shark's tooth and a 19th century Kentucky long rifle," the release says.
The idea of relic hunting is controversial in some quarters, Buttafuso said, with some archeologists "up in arms," and thinking of metal detector-treasure hunters as "grave robbers and looters."
"It really ticks me off," he said. "There's no law against hunting on private property, with permission, obviously. It's an ongoing feud that we've had for years."
Some metal detectors' hackles have been raised by the prospect of the show, said Mike Kehoe, who is Stephens City's town manager, is on the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation and has been metal detecting since he was 14.
There are fears the hobby could be changed by the show "because all the property owners are going to think it's a gold mine on their land," Kehoe said. "They will want a share of the profits, or won't let people go.
"Of course, the archeologists don't like it because they think it's going to promote more and more metal detecting at sensitive areas. Some people think when you find something, you're protecting history, but you're also taking part of the history away if it's not recorded correctly. What's not national park today, may be national park in the future. A lot of the relic hunters are more into [the hobby] not for the dollar value, but for the historic value of it."
Kehoe also doubts the veracity of the show's purported finds.
"I would question the authenticity of some of the finds," he said. "It's so rare to find a sword, or a musket, or anything. It's been 50 years of metal detecting."
In their quest, the American Diggers used metal detectors, ground penetrating radar and even bulldozers, according to Buttafuso. The shark's tooth was found in Mechanicsville after the crew dug 25 feet to what used to be an ancient ocean floor, he said.
"We used the most technical equipment available," he said.
Buttafuso described metal detecting as a fun hobby that gets the enthusiast out into fresh air. But, those who get into it hoping to make money are foolish, he said, noting a lot of beer can pull tabs were uncovered.
"You dig a lot of junk with the good stuff," Buttafuso said.