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John W. Cullison

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A brief background to a mid century relic hunter of Gettysburg.

      One of the first people to utilize a metal detector at Gettysburg was the Gettysburg resident John W. Cullison. John Cullison was born on January 17, 1914 and died on July 27, 1977. It seems that most of his relics were found in the 1950s. However it is believed that he eyeballed relics beginning in the 1930s. In many ways he was Gettysburg's equivalent of the legendary relic hunter Virginia's William Gavin Gavin.  Relic hunting was a hobby and a source of supplemental income for John Cullison. John stored most of his relics in cigar boxes and labeled each box with the specific location where he found it. Almost all of his relics were sold to the Rosensteel family for their collection. Many of these relics were displayed in the family's collection at the musum in Gettysburg. When the family donated the Rosensteel Collection to the NPS for a dollar in 1970(1), the Cullison items became part of the NPS collection. However, the family did not donate all of their relics. Some members maintained their own personal collections, including items found by John Cullison. In the early 1990s these items were sold to the Horse Soldier by members of the Rosensteel family. The Horse Soldier then sold these items to the public. When buying items that were found by John Cullison, the buyer should be able to trace the relics back to the Horse Soldier. If that tracing cannot occur, the buyer should be leary of buying that relic. It seems that almost all if not all of John Cullison's items passed through the Rosensteel family and then directly to either the NPS or to the Horse Soldier.
     John Cullison had lived on S. Franklin street in Gettysburg. He was a WWII veteran, entering the army in 1942 and being discharged in 1945. He served in Europe with the Headquarters Comapny OISE section. He was wounded in the war. It is known that John Cullison also volunteered, at least part time, at the local fire station. He did not marry nor have children. It seems also that he did not have the easiest life. He had a sister who died while birthing a child just after WWII. Interestingly enough, he was a peer of John Geiselman. They both shared the experience of having difficult lives and finding peace in relic collecting, however there is no evidence indicating they knew each other and their lifestyles were very different.  John Cullison's items should be very desireable as he collcted at a time when it was still legal to use a metal detector at Gettysburg. He found many items on the Second Day's field. The Wheatfield was a common hunting ground for him. Of important note is that he did not just use a metal detector. He also used a heavy iron rake and would turn over large swaths of ground to find relics. This was reported by a living witness who had accompanied John Cullison on his outings on the battlefield. This particular witness had been with him when he found the three muskets in relic condition on the eastern part of the Wheatfield. These muskets are featured in Mike O'Donnell's book Gettysburg Relics and Souvenoirs. Anyone who has been able to observe and study large selections of his relics will note that a grouping of 100 miniballs found by him in the Wheatfield will have the same exact dirt and patina on them. One can tell that they were all found at the same field around the same time. This is also true of plates that he found and buttons. These are consistencies that are important. In buying these relics, you get the added bonus for providence of knowing who found them and when he found them and where he found them.  Imagine living in Gettysburg in the 1950s and having a metal detector! Needless to say the amount of items he found was massive and the documenting of the locations where he found them was detailed.  When it comes to relic collecting, providence such as this is hard to surpass.

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(above) Photo by Mike O'Donnell, from his book Gettysburg Battlefield Relics and Souvenoirs. Accoutrement plates found by John Cullison in 1955 on the fields of Pickett's Charge

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(above) Photo from Mike O'Donnell. Relics found by John Cullison in 1954. These relics belong to the Gettysburg National Park Service (note the trademark Rosensteel card). The Second Day's field was a common hunting ground for John Cullison who was not restricted by NPS laws against relic hunting. The metal detector technology was still relatively new at the time and no laws existed at the time prohibiting relic hunting.