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Urban archeologist Greg Van Antwerp visited the Newtown Senior Center, 14 Riverside Road, on Wednesday, June 7, to share stories from some of his recent travels.
Brookfield resident Mr Van Antwerp has worked at Charter Communications, now Spectrum, in Newtown for 25 years, but spends his free time going to tag sales, estate sales, and people’s homes who request his services to find items long since forgotten.
He uncovers pieces of the past, researches and documents them, then shares his findings with others on his blog that he started in 2009 called “Confessions of an Urban Archeologist.” He also visits different towns and does a lecture series on his archeology finds.
Director of Senior Services Marilyn Place introduced Mr Van Antwerp before his presentation and spoke positively about the work he does, saying, “I think it’s creative, I think it’s wonderful, especially what he has to share with us today.”
Mr Van Antwerp told the group that he has always been fascinated with exploring the history of old items and recalls actively pursuing his hobby after his mother taught him how to drive. He joked that she would purposefully have him practice parallel parking at tag sales as an excuse to go to them.
“I’m just naturally a curious person,” Mr Van Antwerp said. “I’m always looking for something that interests my brain.”
He loves old photographs and going through magazines and newspaper to find ads that are “wonderfully, beautifully ridiculous.”
During his slideshow, Mr Van Antwerp gave an informative, and many times humorous, commentary about the images for each item.
He played videos of his searches that were filmed from his point of view so those watching could see the exploration unfold before their eyes.
One video he played for the audience was filmed the previous weekend, he said, and took place at a sale on Buttonball Road in Newtown. The audience got to see him looking through the rafters of the building’s basement as he uncovered old jewelry boxes full of gold and silver.
“I love to look in places nobody else has looked. I love to find things,” Mr Van Antwerp said.
Come to find out, for that particular exploration, the man who had owned the home had loved to hide the family’s jewelry there before going on vacations, but had long since forgotten that he put them there.
Mr Van Antwerp was able to return the valuables to the owner’s family, who was very thankful.
To Mr Van Antwerp, urban archeology is about “finding things and then trying to find the right places for them. It’s not my goal to hoard and run down to the peddler and pawn shop and sell it for a profit.”
What he enjoys most from his discoveries is not the items’ monetary value, but the historical significance. What fuels his searches is the desire to learn the backstory of an item and the family’s history associated with it.
By gaining that knowledge, he is able to make “content creation,” as he calls it. Being able to take photos and videos of the searches he does allows him to make the information as accessible as possible for people.
Not only has he been able to pass his stories on to his online followers and lecture audiences, but he has continued the love of exploration and discovery to his daughter, Amethyst, who now joins him on his archeology quests.
Last October, the two went to a house in Newtown that the owners self-proclaimed was one of the oldest houses in town.
Mr Van Antwerp and his daughter used a metal detector and dug through the yard, and were able to find pottery, items of clothing, ceramic buttons, an intact bottle, and even smoky quartz crystal, which is rare to the area — all of which he was able to photograph and give to the owner.
“It was great fun digging,” Mr Van Antwerp said. “[The way] this hobby starts in one place then leads to all these other things is like a karmic experience.”
Mr Van Antwerp’s experiences are certainly far from over as he knows more than anyone that there is no telling where his urban archeology explorations will lead him next.