It’s every homeowner’s dream: You’re cleaning your yard, gardening, or performing some other mindless task when you stumble upon something incredible.
Yes, it’s pretty far-fetched. For some homeowners, however, it actually happens. We researched a few stories of people who made amazing discoveries in their own backyards—and what they did next.
For instance, consider how…
1. A California couple found a complete fallout shelter in their backyard.
In 2013, Chris and Colleen Otcasek purchased a beautiful ranch-style home— only to discover a fully stocked fallout shelter on the premises.
John Rabe, former host of the KPCC radio show Off-Ramp, was one of the first people to document the shelter’s contents.
It was a little like walking into a home that someone had abandoned suddenly, but 50 years ago.
“I’d heard about fallout shelters my whole life … without ever once being in one,” Rabe tells Urbo. “So, as a history buff, it fulfilled a lifelong dream.”
“But it was also sobering,” he added. “They built the shelter because they were afraid. I couldn’t [help] but think about their mindset, the real fear they and most Americans felt in the 1950s and ’60s. I imagined living in the shelter for the weeks or months necessary and it wasn’t pleasant. I had the feeling I’d die inside before it was ever safe to go back outside. And not everyone in the shelter would die at the same time, right? A very grim prospect to imagine.”
Indeed. While the contents of the fallout shelter are delightful for any fan of history—who wouldn’t want to thumb through perfectly preserved books with titles like Personal Preparedness in the Nuclear Age?—there’s a definite dark side to this discovery: At some point, someone believed that they’d be living in the little room while the rest of the world struggled to survive.
“The most interesting component to me was the array of original supplies the original owner laid in: the toilet paper, the dehydrated food, etc.,” Rabe says. “It was a little like walking into a home that someone had abandoned suddenly, but 50 years ago. They gave texture to the experience, so it wasn’t just a place but a real living space.”
The Otcaseks decided not to fill in the shelter, noting that they’ll leave everything perfectly in place for their home’s next residents to explore.
2. A load of (potentially cursed) cash was hidden in a garden.
Not all discoveries have a happy ending. When Wayne Sabaj (“sab-eye”) of McHenry County, Illinois, found $150,000 in his garden in August 2011, he did the right thing: He took the money to the police.
They informed him that they’d hold onto it for a year, but if nobody came forward to claim it, he could collect it in late 2012.
Of course, several people came forward to claim the money. The most credible claim came from Delores Johnson, Sabaj’s neighbor, who told her daughter that “she had gotten rid of the money because it was cursed,” according to the Chicago Tribune.
Eventually, Sabaj entered into a settlement with Johnson. They were planning on splitting the money evenly, but days before their court date, Sabaj passed away from complications of diabetes.
“Apparently, she was right,” Sabaj’s attorney, Robert Burke, told the Tribune. “The money is cursed.”
Of course, this is probably just a strange coincidence. There’s limited evidence that the money actually belonged to Johnson, and for a time, authorities believed that the money had links to some sort of “criminal event.” Still, dozens of papers reported on the supposed curse.
“I don’t know if I want to take a fee,” Burke later joked. No word on whether or not he eventually decided to accept a payment—but we’re guessing that for attorneys, superstition only goes so far.
3. Two Michigan boys discovered part of a mastodon.
Eric Stamatin and Andrew Gainariu, both 11 years old, were playing together in a creek when they found what they thought was “a very weird rock.”
Yeah, we found an actual discovery. … This doesn’t happen to kids.
Recognizing it as something unusual, they brought it home to Eric’s father, who decided to consult with geologist John Zawiskie of the Cranbrook Institute of Science.
Zawiskie quickly identified the “rock” as a 13,000-year-old mastodon bone.
“I think it’s pretty exciting, really,” Andrew told USA Today shortly after the discovery. “Yeah, we found an actual discovery. … This doesn’t happen to kids.”
“Oh my gosh, we were like psyched,” Eric said to CNN. “I was like I think we are the first people in Michigan to find a bone (who) are only 11 years old.”
The bone, which only weighed several pounds, probably came from an 8-foot-tall mastodon that weighed somewhere around 6 tons. Since the boys had made the discovery, they were allowed to keep the bone, and Eric’s mother said that the experience made both kids into amateur paleontologists.
“They want to learn more. If it’s not a career, at least it will be a hobby,” she said.
4. A group of kids found a buried Ferrari.
Amazingly, the car was in pretty decent condition when it was recovered from the Los Angeles property in 1978.
According to The Los Angeles Times, a group of children were digging in the backyard of 1137 W. 119th Street when their shovels hit a strange piece of metal. They alerted a nearby police officer, Joe Sabas, who returned to the scene with a skip-loader and several volunteers. Soon, they’d exhumed a 1974 Dino 246 GTS Ferrari.
That, of course, raised a few questions: How did the car get there? Why would someone bury it? Why didn’t any of the neighbors report anything?
As it turned out, the car had been stolen in 1974. It originally belonged to a man named Rosendo Cruz, who’d been reimbursed for the loss by his insurance company. Nobody knew how the thief had buried the car without attracting attention from the neighbors.
“It’s not like planting cabbages,” Sabas joked at the time.
The car was in great condition, given the fact that it was buried, although it required some significant repairs. It’d been effectively entombed for four years. Today, it’d be worth over $60,000, per Jalopnik.
Here’s the last strange twist: After the car was recovered, it was unsuccessfully put up at auction. Soon after, it fell off the Ferrari Dino registry, which effectively meant that it went missing again. Jalopnik was able to track it down though—and no, it wasn’t buried when they found it.
5. An English boy found a cheetah.
Nine-year-old Toby Taylor ran to his mother crying when he saw the enormous cat.
His mother, Julie-Ann Taylor, thought that her son was imagining things. After all, it’s not every day that a massive predatory cat invades a quiet subdivision.
“I thought he was pulling my leg but he was white, shaking, and shrill,” she told The Telegraph in 2008. “We peered out of the kitchen window and there it was, sitting bang in the middle of our lawn, looking towards the house. Then it got hold of Toby’s bike and started ripping it to bits. I was in a blind panic and didn’t know what to do so I phoned [emergency services].”
The six-foot cheetah had escaped from Hamerton Zoo, and its handlers quickly arrived on the scene.
“Akea was hand-reared from a tiny new-born cub by our head-keeper, and as a result is perfectly tame,” said Andrew Swales, a spokesperson for the zoo. “We are sure that the problem was caused by a faulty electric-fencing unit, which has been replaced.”
That wasn’t much consolation to Taylor, who noted that her son experienced regular nightmares after the incident.
6. A Swedish woman found her wedding ring…on a carrot.
Lena Paahlsson lost her wedding ring in 1995 when she took it off in order to do some baking with her daughters. It went missing—but 16 years later, she found it. That’s an amazing story, but the details really add to the wonder: When she rediscovered the ring, it was on the top of a small carrot.
“The carrot was sprouting in the middle of the ring. It is quite incredible,” her husband, Ola, told Swedish paper Dagens Nyheter.
The ring was in decent condition, although it no longer fit Lena. It held special sentimental value, as she’d designed it herself, and while she’d replaced it, she took the ring’s reemergence as a sign. She told reporters that she planned on having it resized.
“I had given up hope,” she said at the time. “Now that I have found the ring again I want to be able to use it.”
7. A Utah homeowner found human remains.
Fortunately, this isn’t a horrific story. In 2014, Ali Erturk, a 14-year-old Salt Lake City resident, stumbled onto human bones while attempting to dig a pond and promptly notified local police.
We do run into situations where progress runs into the ancient past.
According to The Salt Lake Tribune, medical examiners quickly identified the remains as old—very old.
“Humans have occupied this valley for up to 10,000 years,” said Geoffrey Fattah of the state’s Department of Heritage and Arts. “We do run into situations where progress runs into the ancient past.”
The bones belonged to a Native American who lived about 1,000 years ago. That probably stalled the Erturks’ plans for a new pond indefinitely.