- Associated Press - Sunday, October 12, 2014

FREDERICK, Md. (AP) - It started with a rosebush.

Shawn McDermott of Frederick was digging in the backyard of their East Third Street row house to plant new flowers in April when he overturned not just dirt, but a glass milk jug.

Then his 9-year-old son, Liam, and wife, Jeanne, jumped in, too, discovering bricks, coal, marbles, pottery, a thimble, beer bottles, iron nails, animal bones and more. The array of debris is estimated to date back to the 1830s, Jeanne McDermott said.

Jeremy Lazelle, president of the local chapter of the Archeological Society of Maryland, said most of the McDermott finds are from the 1920s or 1930s.

“She’s got what every backyard in the city of Frederick has,” Lazelle said. “It wasn’t anything unexpected.”

Their treasures were broken material that accumulated over time, he added.

“You’re talking pre-systematic garbage collection,” Lazelle said. “A dish gets broken and you don’t have regular trash pickup, you’re just going to go out and bury it around the edge of your property.”

He recommends people keep similar finds at home so they don’t lose their context, since they are common in the area.

It might be old news for the area, but Jeanne McDermott said the project is a new adventure for her autistic son with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. She believes learning history hands-on has made a large difference for a child who couldn’t hold a pencil two years ago.

Learning the patience to dig and find and categorize is beneficial to Liam’s special needs, she said.

“It’s a treasure hunt,” she said. “There’s an excitement about it.”

Liam’s favorite find is a piece of blue-and-white enameled pottery that McDermott said resembles others from the Schifferstadt Architectural Museum.

“It looks like Cheerios here,” Liam said, pointing to its pattern. “This is a bird with antlers, and maybe an abacus.”

The McDermott family is constantly surrounded by history outside of their 19th-century home. Jeanne McDermott, an art teacher at the 168-year-old Visitation Academy in Frederick, also volunteers as a guide at Rose Hill Manor Park and Museums. Shawn McDermott does battle in Greco-Roman historical reenactments.

“I always wanted to live in an old house,” Jeanne McDermott said, showing her home’s original baseboards and brick cellar. “It was charming for about five minutes.”

But living in Frederick is like walking through a movie set because every house has its own story, she said. That love may be rubbing off on her son, too.

Liam has a fascination with and sketchbook full of abandoned buildings, from nearby Frederick Towne Mall to Hilltop House Hotel in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. His favorite time period is the early 1700s “because that’s when George Washington was born.”

Perhaps, he said, he’ll be an archaeologist when he grows up, conducting digs for real information rather than accidental fun.

“You find old things that are not around and things they don’t make anymore,” he said. “Things that might be a mystery.”

Despite Liam’s protests that he’ll always like archaeology, his mother is waiting to see if it’s another typical childhood phase. But people who love old things are often bitten by the bug when they’re young, McDermott said: “Some things stick with you.”

She wants to use their new treasures as a way to research more about the area’s past or teach Liam related subjects like art. They could take a pottery class, she said. His eyes lit up from both history and bathroom humor: He’s excited for the chance to make a chamber pot.

The family could also be your friendly neighborhood diggers, McDermott said, called in to excavate other old sites in the county and surrounding areas. Given the choice of exploring the historical sites of any city in the world, Liam picked Hagerstown.

Now begins the hardest part of labeling and sorting their finds, McDermott said. She hopes they might be a conversation starter for friends and houseguests, or potential hands-on lessons for her students. There are recycling bricks found underground into their own landscaping work as well.

And there may be more to come.

“Who knows?” McDermott said. “We might end up doing the whole backyard.”


Information from: The Frederick (Md.) News-Post, https://www.fredericknewspost.com

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