EDISTO ISLAND, S.C. (AP) — She stepped out into the early August morning to find the low-tide beach empty, gold and orange rays spraying across the sky. Inhaling the smell of salt and dampness, Maxine McLeod Miller began to stroll along the dune.
Ahead, sticks with bright ribbons marked two sea turtle nests. Instinctively, she scanned for signs of newly hatched life.
She had walked this stretch countless times over her more than 50 years, since the days when her childhood self raced across the hot sand and splashed in the foamy surf. Her grandfather had purchased property on this sea island in 1935, and the lot had since hosted two houses and four generations of McLeods.
Miller, now a Charleston resident, was visiting with her family for a week’s reprieve.
As she scoured the sandbank for turtle hatchlings, the sun’s morning rays winked off something stuck a few inches down in the strata. Reaching to pick it up, she thought it might be a cigar band. Yet it felt solid.
She held a gold ring.
It seemed like a miracle that she had spotted it at all.
The last high tide must have clawed at the sandbank enough to expose the ring. If Miller had taken her walk 30 minutes later, the wind or enthusiastic beachgoers might have buried it again.
Miller, a real estate broker, clutched the ring and headed back inside. Her husband was working at his computer, and her daughter hadn’t yet stirred for the day.
At a sink, as she rinsed the sand away, she saw that the ring was in remarkably good shape. It was a thick band of flat gold, probably belonging to a man. Simple as the outside appeared, engraving filled the inside, words of inspiration or memory surely important to someone.
A mystery! she thought.
In fact, three different inscriptions filled the inside of the band. One phrase, engraved in block lettering, was easiest to read: “virtus junxit mors non separabit” — a Latin phrase that translates as, “What virtue has joined together, death shall not separate.”
In contrast to the block letters, the other inscriptions were engraved in a curly script, thin and harder to discern.
Finally, she made out, “Herman H Hahn 1919.”
The ring was more than a century old.
Stunned, she snapped a few cellphone images of it, then perched on a wooden barstool in front of her laptop. Maybe someone had dropped the ring the night before.
Taking to the Edisto Locals and Friends Facebook page, then to her personal page, she posted about the mysterious treasure.
“I found this in the sand in front of our house this morning. Inscription appears to be Herman H Hahn 1919. Could this be yours?”
Several friends who saw the posts jumped in to help. One led Miller to search for Herman Hahn on ancestry.com, where they found him in the 1940 census. He was born in 1892 and lived in Aiken at the time with his wife and two children.
Another friend emailed Miller a link to a page about Aiken and wrote, “Herman Hahn was rather prominent.”
As she typed, Miller heard the stirring of her 12-year-old daughter, Emme, and called her over. Maybe her younger eyes could read the third inscription.
Emme deciphered what looked like initials and another date, although one of the ornate letters stumped her.
Miller added to her post, “There is a second inscription inside HAL(?) to ARW 2020.”
Another friend, a hand engraver, suggested the mystery letter was an S.
That meant the inscription read, “HAS to ARW 2020.”
Was this someone’s wedding ring?
As it is, a ring isn’t just any piece of jewelry. It is a uniquely intimate one. And this wasn’t just any ring. It was a symbol of vows a couple had shared just two years earlier.
Another friend suggested searching the local funeral home’s obituaries for clues about the Hahn family. Indeed, it turned up one for Hahn’s daughter, Edith — and she had a descendant named Andrew Wade.
The second set of initials in the ring were ARW.
Miller googled “Andrew Wade Aiken” and found a LinkedIn page. She also saw a wedding registry for Ashley Smith and Andrew Wade, who married in January 2020.
Miller couldn’t believe it.
It had to be them: “HAS to ARW 2020.”
Just as Miller clicked on Andrew Wade’s LinkedIn page, another friend found Ashley Wade’s Instagram. They didn’t know it, but Ashley’s first name is Hollis — the H in HAS.
Miller’s friend Kerry Adams sent the woman a private message: “Hi Ashley. A friend of mine found a wedding ring in Edisto. I’m trying to help her find the owner. It had an inscription with initials. Is it yours?”
On the other end of that Instagram account, Ashley was a little dubious. Neither she nor Andrew knew this woman with a mysterious ring.
Ashley typed back, “Hi Kerry, is it a diamond ring or a mens ring?? Happy to help, I apologize if so, but have we met before?” Then she added, “And can you tell me where it was found?”
Adams typed back, “So sorry it’s a men’s ring. We have not met, but I did some research looking for couples who got married in 2020. I think I have the wrong Ashley. My apologies.”
When Ashley read the message to Andrew, he looked at her, incredulous.
Ashley quickly typed back, “Oh my goodness, if it’s my husband’s ring, I am going to be shocked! Don’t want to get my hopes up, but we did lose it in Edisto in 2020. Is it a flat gold band? Any more info you can give me?”
The ring had been lost, buried in the sand or floating at sea, for more than two years.
Herman Henry Hahn was Andrew’s great-great-grandfather. Hahn had the 14-karot gold ring made just before he married in 1919.
A Citadel graduate, he settled down in Aiken and raised children with his wife while continuing his family’s third-generation grocery store. After he died, his family kept the ring tucked away until Andrew’s mother gave it to him when he got engaged, a special family heirloom for a special bond of love.
Andrew had it resized so he could wear it as his wedding ring. When he picked it up from the jeweler, it was a tad loose.
He and Ashley married in January 2020. The following July, the newlyweds joined her family for a vacation, piling into one of Edisto’s beachfront rental houses. With a bustle of young children in the mix, everyone spent long days building sand castles and splashing in the waves, including Andrew.
It wasn’t until they packed up to head home that he realized he didn’t have his wedding ring on. Maybe he had taken it off before heading to the beach.
Despite a frantic search of the house, they couldn’t find it.
The couple drove home, sick with worry. Maybe he’d left it at home. Maybe it had slipped off in the ocean.
Months passed. Years passed.
Not even six hours after Miller’s first post about finding the ring, the mystery was solved.
She and Ashley texted back and forth. Turned out, they reside only 20 minutes away from each other. Miller lives in downtown Charleston; the Wades live in Mount Pleasant.
Given the Wades have a five-week-old daughter, Miller offered to bring the ring to them when she returned to Charleston.
On Aug. 12, just 10 days after she found the ring, Miller and her daughter stood at the Wades’ front door.
With introductions barely finished inside, Miller pulled out a navy blue ring box and smiled at Andrew.
“I think this is yours.”
As he thanked her, she showed them a photograph of where she found it. They quickly realized that the Wades had rented the house between the beach and the McLeod family house. Miller found the ring buried in the sand right in front of those houses.
“It didn’t move at all then!” Ashley said.
Miller laughed. “I feel like it’s just divine.”
Andrew opened the box, looked at the gold band inside and slipped it back onto his ring finger.
“I can’t believe you found it,” he said. “Thank you very much.”
He planned to wear it again, but only on special occasions, and never to the beach.