The water temperature was 65 degrees – cool, but not as bracing as the 36-degree temperatures he braves in the winter, sometimes under a layer of ice. At its deepest the lake is 85 feet; because he was looking for bottles, he would stay 25 feet from the surface, but even so, algae, weeds, mud and autumn dusk would make conditions inky enough for him to also carry a light.

Sleek as a seal in his wet suit, he slid under the surface; from the water sprang a trail of tiny bubbles, the only trace of Mr. Holden. When nature’s light quit, he flicked on his. The beam pierced the water like a spotlight.

Although Mr. Holden had in the past emerged from this site with such objects as a Japanese sword and a chrome-plated revolver, he now had with him a freshwater clam, a soda bottle, a golf ball and a piece of carved wood. The wood and the golf ball he kept; the clam and the bottle he returned to the depths. Then he walked out of the water, across a little wooden dock, up a grassy bank, across the street to his van. His wet footprints on the dock looked like those of a great creature, fresh from the lake and stalking the land.


Mr. Holden and his wife pored over treasures collected on previous trips. Mrs. Holden, who teaches seventh- and ninth-grade English, is originally from West Virginia and until recently, she did not swim, much less dive. Now she accompanies her husband and his buddies underwater when she is in the mood.  »I got sick of sitting in the boat all the time, waiting for them. »

Mr. Holden pulled out several velvet trays, the kind jewelers use to display their wares.  »This is what I have retrieved over the years, » he said. Neatly arranged, one item in each partition, were charms and pendants – St. Christopher’s medals, crucifixes, lucky horns, initials, names spelled out in script, little flowers and animals; pins; bracelets; barettes; wristwatches; earrings; class rings and wedding rings; foreign coins; a tiny, intricately carved pair of binoculars; even a pipe.

 »When I find something, » Mr. Holden explained,  »I check for an inscription. If there is one, I look through the phone book for that name. » Recently, he returned a class ring to a Mahopac High School graduate who had been looking for it for four years; last month, at Lake Mahopac, he scooped up a wedding band inscribed with the date 1929.


Four years ago, in Copiague, L.I., someone told him that a woman had lost a ring in the general area of a certain campground. On the first try, he ran out of air before he could locate it. Next time, he found a white gold band set with three diamonds.

 »I walked around and talked to people who had been coming there six years or so, and asked if they knew anyone who had lost anything, » he said.  »I called the owner of the campground and she put me in touch with the previous owner. Finally, we found the woman, living in Red Hook, N.Y. When I called her up and her husband answered, I said, ‘You don’t know me but I’ve got something that belongs to your wife.’ I figured I’d get his attention that way. When I spoke to her, and asked her to describe the ring, she told me about the three diamonds: One had been her engagement stone, the other was her mother’s and the third had belonged to her grandmother. »

But with everything he hauls up -including old fishing rods that he restores to working condition – his favorites are probably the bottles. These decorate the shelves in his living room; they are packed in storage crates in his garage. In his basement – which doubles as a workshop is a big table covered with old bottles, like a ghostly bar stocked with beer and soft drinks from another age.

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