In the backyard of Florida police sergeant Gary Gross stands a testament not only to his faith, but to his talents as a sculptor and treasure hunter.
Using old pocket knives, keys, rings, chains, nails and other items found using his metal detector, Gross, who works for the Lakeland Police Department, has welded together a cross measuring eight feet high and five feet wide. Rusty or shiny, valuable or junk, Gross incorporated everything he'd found in years of hunting into the unique religious symbol. It's even topped by a crown of thorns made out of rusty nails wrapped together by strips of copper.
“People just threw these things away, but I just couldn’t,” Gross said. “I just started collecting it after I got five-gallon buckets full of metal and I started playing around with it.”
Gross originally began using his metal detector as a form of exercise. The idea of making a cross of all of his finds came to him from both a desire to honor his deceased parents and the memory of a 12-foot wooden cross his son-in law made for his church in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina.
“I have always had a fascination with crosses,” Gross told FoxNews.com.
People just threw these things away, but I just couldn’t. I just started collecting it after I got 4 or 5 gallon buckets full of metal and I started playing around with it.
- Sgt. Gary Gross
“His cross also gave me the inspiration. He sent me some really cool photos. I just kind of had the thought in the back of my mind, and it just seemed to work out,” he added.
Gross found the pieces to make his cross by using his metal detector for three to four hours a week, while also spending his free time designing and assembling the cross.
“It would depend on my days off,” he said. “Some days I would just sort of get into it and work for about 8 hours.”
Metal detectorists can tell you where and when they made their proudest finds. Gross recalls finding a six-foot chain on an abandoned property. After his detector signaled metal underground, he began digging, first unearthing a few small links. But the chain wrapped around the roots of an oak tree, which Gross believes grew around the chain over years.
Another one of his favorite items was a three-inch padlock whose rusty patina did not hide the engraved words “New York.”
“I want it to continue to rust,” he said. "One of the reasons I put soft sand stone underneath the cross was to catch color of rust when it rains.”
The one component of the cross Gross didn’t dig up with the metal detector was the red stained glass that serves as a symbol of the blood of Christ. All the other parts Gross welded together by using scrap metal he collected, such as bronze and copper. The pieces were then glued, screwed or welded onto a metal frame.
He also had to make adjustments after the original cross came out too big.
After all the modifications, Gross proudly put his cross on display in his backyard underneath two palm trees.
“It really hit me when I got done with it,” he said. “It didn’t really when I was doing it. It didn’t feel like a major sense of accomplishment until it took three of us to move it into the yard. That’s when I really felt the effect. It helped me escape the everyday stress of being a police officer.”
Gross’ family and friends flocked to see the cross. He described the feeling as overwhelming, with many of them just standing and watching in amazement.
“As a cop I was able to step out of my box and be creative,” he said. “I am very abstract, like Salvador Dali, who is one of my favorite artists. I think it has a deeper meaning than your traditional flower painting.”