Digging through the past

If John Shuler had his way, he would spend all of his time digging.

Digging through the earth and through the past in search of relics and collectibles discarded long ago.

Since he was 10 years old, Shuler, now 48, a Saratoga Springs resident, has been entranced with history. He started looking for relics from the late 1800s to 1915.

"It's a fascination for history. I like the American West, post-Industrial Revolution," Shuler said.

It started as mostly bottles, but in his quest for pieces of the past, he has uncovered numerous items that now litter his home.

"I've dug up perfectly whole pitchers without a crack in them," Shuler said. "I have found some strange stuff in the holes. We found two wedding rings, and you wonder, did they fall in there, or was someone really mad?"

One of the best sources for discarded material, according to Shuler, is the sites of old outhouses.

"It was a convenient place to discard things. Plus back then, it was where people kept their private lives," Shuler said.

Some of Shuler's most interesting relics will be on display at the Roberts House Museum, 1207 N. Carson St. He will give a talk about them at 2 p.m. Saturday at the museum.

"It will be a little about the history reflected in some of the digs and then some interesting anecdotes I have collected," Shuler said.

Roberts House volunteer Paula Cannon said the museum was happy to display Shuler's relics.

"We thought people would be interested to see his collection, and it would be something that would appeal to citizens of the area. Also, it's something with historical significance," Cannon said.

When he is not digging, Shuler is an antiques wholesaler and also does appraisals. He is encouraging people to bring their own unique finds to his talk on Saturday.

"They are welcome to bring their own stuff, and I try to give them some history and an appraisal," Shuler said.

Among the items in his collection are a Chinese opium pipe, beer bottles used by the the brewery that was once located where the Brewery Arts Center now stands, oil lamps, pitchers and bottles of every shape, size and color.

He said that he intends to bring out his most unique find during the talk.

"It's a trippy thing. I found it in an old mining town near Ely. We do find some weird things, like false teeth or an 1800s-style syringe," Shuler said.

Yet with all the pieces in his collection, Shuler said picking a favorite is just too difficult.

"I have bottles that go back to when I was a kid that are important. I enjoy them all because there's always a story or a neat place connected to the location," Shuler said.

But Cannon said it's not what he finds that makes Shuler keep digging.

"He keeps doing it because he gets a kick out of it. He thinks it's fun," Cannon said.


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