Self-described treasure hunter Phil Gibson has been trying to top his most impressive find for 30 years.
On Oct. 30, 1983, Gibson and his hunting partner, then-Destin-doctor John Green, were out on Grayton Beach sand dunes with their metal detectors looking for Spanish and Indian artifacts.
"We only got one signal, three feet down in the sand," Gibson remembers.
The two men started digging until they reached a large mass of mystery. Gibson thought it might have been five or six cannonballs corroded together and threw it in the back of his truck and took it to his home in Santa Rosa Beach.
"I took it home and hit it with a hammer. The fused crust fell off and the underside looked like aluminum foil," he said. "That's when John said, 'That's not a cannonball.' Not knowing any better, I put it back my in truck. For about four days it was rolling around back there."
Gibson eventually brought the mass to Wayne Wooten, of Pensacola State College (it was Pensacola Junior College back then). Wooten, an astronomy professor, finally gave Gibson and Green the answer they couldn't find: It was a meteorite. Wooten got the men in contact with Harold Povenmire, a meteorite expert from Indian Harbor Beach.
"Within 24 hours, he was in Destin," Gibson said. "He looked at it closely, sent a sample to the Smithsonian for final verification. This is when things started getting bizarre."
Povenmire hypothesized the meteorite was 4.5 billion years old and had probably been buried for several hundred years on the beach. Only five recorded meteorites have been known to hit Florida. When it came time to name it, as Povenmire suggested, Gibson chose “Grayton Beach Meteorite” to commemorate where it was found.
Gibson said the Smithsonian had leaked the meteorite story to the Associated Press and United Press International, and the phone calls came pouring in to Gibson and Green. In an age before the Internet and social media, finding a meteor was a big deal, Gibson said.
Eventually, the two released a statement saying the meteor was in a bank vault to avoid any potential break-ins.
"The whole thing was bigger than what John and I ever expected," said Gibson, who is now the marina manager for East Pass Towers marina. "It was like going fishing in the harbor and catching a blue marlin."
Once the limelight started to wear off, Green and Gibson took turns possessing the meteor, calling each other for "visitation rights," Gibson said.
What's interesting about the timing of the treasure find is that the area Gibson and Green found the meteor became Grayton Beach State Park two weeks after they lugged the space rock home. If they had waited until then to go hunting, it would have been illegal to take home the goods. The fine line made Gibson nervous, and so he and Green decided to sell.
"Out of nowhere I got a phone call from John DuPont, of the DuPont company," Gibson said. "He was a very nice man, told me he collected those kind of things and made me an offer I couldn't refuse."
DuPont and two bodyguards flew in his private jet, complete with the DuPont logo, to the Pensacola Airport with cash stuffed in Delchamps paper bags. Gibson met Dupont at the terminal and walked the industry giant to his car, where the meteor was tucked in the trunk.
"I was numb all over," Gibson said. "I just kept thinking, 'Oh my Lord, this looks kinda shaky.'"
While Gibson politely declined to discuss the amount of money he received in the stellar sale, he did note that DuPont had paid him an extra $500.
Gibson called DuPont to let him know of the overcharge, but DuPont said to keep it for his time driving back and forth to Pensacola.
Even with the meteor out of his home, it has not left his mind.
The feeling of finding the meteor — once it was a confirmed meteor — has never gone away, Gibson said.
"I'd do it again in a heartbeat," he said. "I feel very privileged."
Gibson started searching for historical treasures while he was active duty military on Eglin Air Force Base and has amassed a collection of Civil War relics as well as Spanish and Indian artifacts. But his most impressive find is still the Grayton Beach Meteorite.
"I still have people who ask me if I've found another meteor yet," he said. "Of course I keep trying to top that find. It may not be a meteor, but I'm gonna hit it again."
WANT MORE INFO? Visit MeteoriteStudies.com and read Povenmire's official report here.
To read the Daily News' original story on the find from 30 years ago, click here.