Sucked into the vortex of lost rings and their miraculous rediscovery

John Kelly
Columnist April 20

I did magic as a boy. I still have my tricks in a box in the attic: the tiny folding screen from which I could pull scarves and silk flowers, the pitcher of milk that I could pour into a funnel of newspaper and turn into confetti, the metal rings that seemed to penetrate each other. . . .

The best magic tricks are ones where you borrow something from a member of the audience, vanish it, then make it reappear in an unexpected place: a marked playing card lodged in a book selected at random, say, or a dollar bill inside an orange that is sliced onstage.

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

I never advanced to that level, but I was reminded of these tricks when I spoke with John Eichelberger of Burke. John’s been reading my continuing series of amazing reunions, where I describe how some lost item has been miraculously found. He figured his story might beat them all.

Two years ago John’s wife, Mary, and daughter, Allison, were in New York City for a dance competition. The pair took in the musical “Wicked” at the Gershwin Theatre.

When the show was over, Allison noticed something at her feet. It was a little gray drawstring bag. Inside was a ring. She and her mother took it to the theater’s lost and found. When no one claimed it, it was theirs to keep. Mom was amazed to see that the ring was from Tussey Mountain High in Saxton, Pa., the same high school her husband had graduated from in 1966. What were the odds of that?


John Eichelberger of Burke, holding the ring his daughter Allison found in New York City a few years ago. It turned out to be her father's high school ring, which he sold for cash in 1980. (Mary Eichelberger)

John arrived in New York the next day to watch Allison dance. He cleaned inside the ring and saw . . . his initials.

And this is where we must cue the “Twilight Zone” music. In 1980, John had spotted a cash-for-gold place on Route 5 in Waldorf, Md. Since he never wore his Class of 1966 Mount Tussey High School ring, he decided to sell it, along with a few other items.

“I forget how much I got for it all,” John told me. “Maybe a few hundred bucks.”

He figured the ring had been smelted long ago and now there it was, in New York City.

John swears this story is true. He has no explanation.

“It’s got me spooked,” he said.

I asked John if he was going to sell the ring again. After all, he did once before.

“I’m going to keep it,” he said. He posted something on Facebook about the ring, hoping one of his friends from high school might be able to provide a clue.

“One of the people I graduated with, her dad was the jeweler that designed that ring in my home town,” he said. “Of course, she saw that, she gave me a lot of gas about selling that class ring.”

Ken Herst had a much more methodical way of finding lost things: After retiring as a Navy budget analyst, the Springfield resident set up a little business where he emptied the vacuum cleaners at gas stations and car washes. “I worked out an arrangement with all the owners,” Ken wrote. “I would clean their vacuums out on a regular basis, free, and report any outages to them. In return, I got to keep whatever treasures I found.”

At his busiest, Ken was cleaning almost every vacuum between Arlington and Woodbridge. This was a volume business. Though he found a few hundred-dollars bills, mostly what he found was small change. But lots of small change makes big change. He typically took in about $8,000 a year — along with countless Chuck E. Cheese tokens.

Well, actually, counted tokens: Ken kept detailed spreadsheets of everything he found. In 2007 his haul included $86 worth of Chuck E. cheese tokens, four Susan B. Anthony dollar coins and 13 Sacagawea dollars.

“My best year was 2002, in which I found over $15,000,” he wrote.

That same year, Ken found a school ring while cleaning a vacuum in Reston. “It was a lady’s ring from St. Joseph’s University, Class of 1992, with the initials ‘VAM’ on it,” Ken wrote. He contacted a dean at the school, did his best to sound sincere and asked her to check her alumni.

“Three days later, I received an e-mail from Valerie Ann McNamara of Conshohocken, Pa. Apparently she had lent her car to a friend and he drove it to Reston, deciding to vacuum the car before returning home. The ring had been under her car seat all that time. She gave me her address and I mailed the ring back to her, making for one very happy camper.”

Ken retired from the gas station vacuum bag-cleaning biz in 2010. “It was feeling like work and not fun any longer,” he wrote. “So I decided to hang up my hose.”

Twitter: @johnkelly

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

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