Unearthing Monroe’s history

PEEKING INTO MONROE’S PAST — George Lattanzi is displaying his collection of local artifacts at Edith Wheeler Memorial Library. Lattanzi’s hobby is collecting items found only in Monroe of historical value that he and his son, Jake, have found using metal detectors. — Brian Gioiele photos

George Lattanzi first began metal detecting as a young boy — spending hours with his father, Bill, and uncle, Jim, scanning, from various lots to sandy beaches, seeking to unearth treasures.

It was an interest George Lattanzi has carried with him throughout his life, culminating in his decision to merge his metal detecting with his love of history, all in hopes of digging up artifacts that would give him a better perspective on his lifelong home of Monroe.

“If you don’t preserve history it will be gone,” said Lattanzi. “It is important for people to see this is part of your town, part of your town’s history. I want people to see it, touch, it, feel what it was like.”

And residents now have that chance, thanks to Lattanzi’s decision to display some of his discoveries — including the pommel of a sword, dating back to the late 1700s; a clay pipe, from between 1710 and 1750; eyeglasses from the late 1800s; and a button from the War of 1812 — in a large glass case at the entrance to Edith Wheeler Memorial Library.

“I started using a metal detector when I was a kid with my father and uncle,” said Lattanzi, who has passed on his interest to his 9-year-old son, Jake. “For me it’s twofold. I’m big into history. I appreciate history in general. It’s important to know where you came from … same with American history. What we find is part of our town’s history.”

Lattanzi thanked not only the library, the Monroe Historical Society and Town Hall employees for their assistance with his display but also his wife, Christel, who assists with the cleaning and preservation of his finds.

Recalling his childhood, Lattanzi said he remembers practicing using a metal detector in his front lawn, trying to make sense of all the sounds coming from the device.

“Fast forward to today and my son is doing the same thing and much more,” said Lattanzi. “Through the memorable times along with the learning experiences they gave me, I am just as passionate and love to pass the knowledge forward.”

Lattanzi said his son has taken to his hobby, and it is “fun to see him learning our town’s history and having fun. It is such a great feeling watching your son pick up what you enjoyed, it’s a bonding thing.”

The library display contains items collected over the past four years, all dating from before the 1600s to the 1800s, and Lattanzi says all the artifacts were part of everyday life for the residents of Monroe and, before 1823, Stratford.

Lattanzi uses his metal detector on local properties, such as old farmland or old sites that would have areas used for garbage dumping decades, even hundreds of years, ago.

“It’s tough finding the pieces; when we do, we need to put them together,” said Lattanzi, citing the eyeglasses he unearthed as an example of an artifact that required reconstructing, fitting the pieces together like a puzzle.

The search can take only a few hours or an entire day, and Lattanzi said he has used his metal detector on some 15 different sites in Monroe.

Some of his favorites are a button from the War of 1812, British coins, a pair of eyeglasses, a toy train, and a sword pommel, which Lattanzi said is a true rarity.

“In the metal detecting world, buttons are a dime a dozen. To find something like (the pommel of a sword) is not your everyday find,” he said. “What amazes me is when I find something that is well over 100 years before our independence.”

But the discovery is only the beginning, said Lattanzi, adding that he then researches the object to determine first what it is, then the time period from which it originates. From there comes preservation, with cleaning and maintaining a significant part of the process.

“Preservation is a big part,” said Lattanzi. “If you do nothing, you leave it the way it is, oxidation takes over, and it becomes nothing, it falls apart. Facebook has been a tremendous help. I have contacted people that way that have helped with research and how to preserve the artifacts.”

The artifacts will remain on display in the library through the end of the month.

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