Gary Cimino lives in McKean, Pennsylvania, with his best friend and wife Nancy. They share their home with a wide range of creatures, including a Doberman, four Chihuahuas, ten mallard ducks, and a deer named Lady (yes, a deer!).
Gary, a corrections officer in a local prison for the last 35 years, recently discovered a passion for beachcombing. He credits this newfound obsession to his wife Nancy, who has been beachcombing for over twelve years.
“Nancy is the one responsible for my addiction,” Gary says. “If I want to hang out with my wife, I have to tag along with her to the lake because she is there so much. I started bringing home rocks for a home project and ended up hooked on beach glass.”
Nancy goes beachcombing three times a week, while Gary goes only once a week due to his job. They collect beach glass, driftwood, antique bottles, doll heads, marbles, bones, and stones. They search at Lake Erie’s shore, anywhere from Buffalo to Cleveland, usually preferring to hunt in remote areas where most people won’t go or areas that require ropes to access.
Though they’ve both traveled to Maine, and Nancy has gone to Mexico (with her sights now firmly set on the beaches of Italy and Spain), Gary still believes Lake Erie is the best anywhere in the world. If you’re in South Lake Erie, Gary recommends you visit Presque Isle State Park—about halfway between Buffalo and Cleveland—which has beautiful beaches, trails, and of course, lots of beach glass. Gary’s top choice for a meal and a drink are Oasis Pub and Grill near Presque Isle and Big Bar in downtown Erie.
Together, Nancy and Gary’s massive beach glass collection weighs around 400 pounds. Instead of selling, Nancy stores their finds in glass jars and several five-gallon wine carboys.
“We always say we are going to sell but never do,” says Nancy. “We just like the thrill of finding treasure.” If their titanic and diverse assemblage of beach glass wasn’t enough to impress you, the centerpiece of Nancy and Gary’s collection surely will.
Gary takes us back to 2018. “It was early September, on a weekend. Nancy and I got up early and went to one of our favorite treasure hunting spots, an area close to the Pennsylvania-Ohio border. After we reach the water, Nancy usually goes in one direction and I go the other—the goal is to see who gets the best piece of the day.”
After finding some fairly common pieces along the shoreline, Gary decided to put on waders. “The water was clear and calm that day—perfect for wading in deeper water,” he continues. “I ventured out until the water was slightly above my knees. I could see a small blue spot on the bottom covered in sand and gravel.”
Gary went in to shore to find a long stick or driftwood to reach the blue spot, then tried to pull it out, but it wouldn’t budge, which made him excited.“I got more ambitious, wading deeper up to my chest to investigate,” Gary says. “I started digging the sand around the blue spot with my fingers and the sharp end of the stick. It kept getting bigger and bluer.”
He finally crouched down and with both hands dug away at the gravel and was able to free it from the lake.“When I pulled it out and the sun hit it, it was the biggest most beautiful cobalt blue I have ever seen,” exclaims Gary. He wanted to show my wife what he’d found and started yelling “Nance! Nance!” and ran down the beach, holding up the foot-long piece of cobalt glass and smiling. Nancy’s jaw dropped.
When they got home, Gary and Nancy weighed the glass and it came in at 8-1/2 pounds. Weeks later they posted the piece on two online beach glass communities that Nancy had joined, and the response was overwhelming. “One member commented that it looked like a blue pickle,” laughs Gary. “That’s how we got the name!”
The giant blue pickle most likely came from glass insulator waste dumped by General Electric, who had a lamp base plant in the area. The glass is usually found in dark purple and blue colors, often washed out of the hillsides on the lake after big storms (above).The blue pickle is now the centerpiece of their collection. When asked what their family and friends think of their collection, Gary and Nancy replied “They think we are nuts.”
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine May/June 2019 issue.