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Wrestler turned relic hunter stars in 'American Digger'

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Written by KATHERINE CALOS, Richmond Times-Dispatch   
Thursday, 05 April 2012 08:29

Frank Hugulet, aka Ric Savage, in his pro wrestling persona. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) – Until time travel is possible, the most direct connection to the past may be buried just out of sight. Whether it takes the brute strength of a former professional wrestler or research skills inherited from college professor parents, Mechanicsville, Va., relic hunter Ric Savage is determined to dig it up.

He's taking America along on the journey in a new television series, American Digger, which premiered recently on Spike TV.

“I want to educate people that it's out there so they'll appreciate the history of it,” he said at Sgt. Riker's Trading Post near Ashland, Va., an antiques shop that figures into one of the first-season episodes.

“You can't get any closer than finding an item dropped by someone in that time period and the next person who picks it up is you,” Savage said.

Through his company called American Savage, he specializes in digs on private property with permission of the owner, who gets a share of the profit. In the series' first episode, he goes to Alaska gold-rush territory to see what the miners left behind.

“A lot of places are hunted out,” he said. “They've been beat to death for 50 years. The bigger, more valuable items are gone. If you can get to a place where no one is allowed to dig—now you can get into the good stuff.”

Once they reach a site, metal detectors are the first step for the four-man crew, which includes Bob Buttafuso of Manassas, Va., who has written a book on relic hunting.

Rita Savage, Ric's wife, researches potential sites and handles the logistics, while son Giuseppe Savage is the chief handyman. Rue Shumate, who owns automotive repair shops in Colonial Heights, Va., is unafraid of wells and tunnels.

Ric Savage grew up near Asheville, N.C., where his father was an English professor and his mother a librarian. His interest in the Civil War started at about age 8 when he read a book on Robert E. Lee. From then on, he wanted to take vacations at battlefields instead of beaches.

“They bought me a Civil War bullet at Appomattox, my first relic. It's still in my collection.”

His professional wrestling career was “totally by accident,” he said. In the Army at Fort Bragg, he won a competition for a spot on the base wrestling squad. After an injury to his left knee resulted in a medical discharge and a year in a knee brace, he hired a personal trainer to help him get back into shape. The trainer happened to be preparing for a pro wrestling career, and Savage was intrigued.

“I got to do something I liked to do, which is entertainment,” he said. When his seven-year wrestling career ended in 1997, he started working for an auto parts distributor in New Jersey. In 2008, he moved to Mechanicsville, where it was much easier to indulge in his passion for Civil War relics.

Savage, 42, has become an expert in spotting fakes, which he details in a column for American Digger magazine. Looking through a tray of Civil War buckles at Sgt. Rikers, he said the Confederate relics are more valuable because they are more rare.

A Confederate tongue-and-wreath style buckle could go for $2,500 if both parts are in good condition. A US Army box plate might be worth $200.

“US stuff was mass produced,” he said. A box plate held down the front flap on a cartridge box, but it wasn't essential. “Soldiers discarded it quickly. It was a little bit of extra weight and it was an extra shiny target for sharpshooters.”

He never knows what he'll find on a dig, he said. Episodes of the show will feature Brooklyn, N.Y.; Detroit; Chicago; St. Augustine, Fla.; Louisiana; and Mechanicsville.

“We don't hit gold every time,” he said. “You can accurately say something happened here. You can't accurately say stuff is still in the ground.”


Information from: Richmond Times-Dispatch,

Copyright 2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP-WF-04-04-12 0223GMT


Confederate two-piece tongue-and-wreath style buckle. Image courtesy Archive and Alderfer Auction & Appraisal. 

Last Updated on Thursday, 05 April 2012 08:56

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