People like to make discoveries. It makes them feel important, that they've found something unique. Children especially like to have something to show off and I was no different. When I was about 9 or 10 I tried to get something I found put in a museum -- the Holland Land Office Museum.
As it turned out, the thing I found belonged in a dumpster, not a display case.
It all started because of jealousy. A kid I knew had uncovered an arrowhead in his backyard or somewhere. The local museum had it displayed in a case with his name by it and every time I saw it I turned green with envy. Why wasn't it me who unearthed something while digging around as kids do?
I loved that museum. They had antique guns, a drum from the Civil War, an actual hangman's noose from the old jail -- great stuff. But nothing contributed by me, David Reilly. Every time I went there I imagined a card with my name on it next to something that every visitor would remark about.
One day while prowling around the attic of a house where we were renting an apartment, I found an old, dented, beat up bugle. I ran to show it to my mother and asked if it could be a valuable souvenir, possibly from the Civil War. She didn't think so, especially since if it was valuable no one would have left it in the attic. Of course.
Crushed, I trudged back upstairs. But as I went to put the bugle back in the cobwebs, a seed of a scheme entered my mind.
What if my mother was wrong? After all, wasn't our house on Ellicott Avenue? And wasn't Joseph Ellicott the man who was the land agent for the Holland Land Company and the one who made the plans for the city of Batavia, New York? And wasn't my favorite museum down the street named The Holland Land Office where Joseph Ellicott had his office for many years?
That bugle could have been his! Or at least belonged to someone that he knew.
I thought, “Maybe if I take this bugle to the museum they will put it in a case, type up a card with my name on it, and finally I'd be famous, at least in Batavia. Nah, they'd never fall for it. But on the other hand... oh why not give it a try?”
The next day I went to the backyard, rubbed some dirt on the bugle so it looked like it had been dug up, and nervously headed for the museum. I hung around in front playing by the cannons for awhile trying to get up my nerve. Finally, I entered.
“What can I do for you young man?” the elderly woman at the desk asked.
“I found this bugle and it's got dirt on it and it was in my backyard right across the street on Ellicott Avenue and I dug it up and I bet it was lost there by Joseph Ellicott or at least by someone he knew look see how old it is can you put it in the museum?” I spewed out the words like my voice was trying to win the Indianapolis 500.
“Oh,” the woman said thoughtfully. “Ellicott Avenue you say? Well, that's right close by isn't it? What is your name young man?”
“Oh boy!” I rejoiced in my mind. The neatly printed card next to my donated bugle was looking pretty clear to me now.
“David Reilly,” I replied, “and I live at 20 Ellicott Avenue where I dug it up.”
"Well, David,” the woman said, “I'm going to show this to our museum experts and we will check it out very carefully. You come back next week and we'll let you know.”
All week long I couldn't sleep, paced the floor, and thought incessantly about that bugle. Finally, the big day came. I walked to the museum, marched straight to the lady's desk and looked imploringly into her eyes.
“What can I do for you young man?” the woman asked.
My heart dropped to my stomach. She doesn't even remember me? But wait. She's old; at least 90. She's just forgotten.
“I'm David Reilly. I brought in Joseph Ellicott's bugle last week.”
“Bugle? Oh yes, of course. I wouldn't forget a thing like that. We took a very close look at it I can assure you.”
My stomach felt like butterflies were having a gymnastics competition. “Yes! I'm in! I've got it!" I thought. If there was such a thing as a high five back then I was giving myself plenty of them mentally.
“Unfortunately, David, that bugle is no more than 20 years old at most. Are you sure that you dug it up in your yard?”
"Oh boy. What now?" I thought. "I'm done for on the display case. Can I get arrested for lying?"
But I proceeded nonetheless.
“Oh yes ma'am, it was way down there," I told her, then blurted out this realistic tidbit: "I thought it was gold when I first saw it."
My palms were sweating so badly now that they were leaving streaks on the sides of my corduroys.
The lady reached into the drawer of her desk and pulled out the bugle. She handed it to me with some of the dirt still clinging to the sides. She wiped her hand on one of those little old-fashioned hankies.
“Well, young man, I'm sorry that we couldn't use your discovery, but it's always nice to see someone your age so interested in history. If you ever come across anything else be sure to bring it in.”
I took the bugle and managed to utter a quick “Yes, thank you ma'am” before making a hasty exit.
As I slunk back home I could almost hear the guffaws of the museum staff as they mocked my find of the “bugle of Joseph Ellicott.”
Looking back on it, the museum volunteer probably had a little laugh after I gave it to her, then put it in the drawer and never thought about it again until I came back.
As I clumped up the back steps, I chucked the bugle into the garbage can where it clanged forlornly, never to be seen again.
As I went through the kitchen my mom stopped me. “Where've you been Dave?” she asked.
“Oh, just down at the museum,” I replied.
“Again? You must have been there a hundred times. Anything new down there?”
“Nope. Nothin' to toot about anyway,” I told her and headed off to check out that new comic I had stored under my pillow.
PHOTO: Bugle shown is for illustration purposes only; it is not the bugle David found.