When we moved, we not only inherited a monster amount of property but also a historical site that lays just 10 miles from our home. One night we were watching How The States Got Their Shapes, an informative show aired the History Channel that uncovers things that I never learned in 5th grade, when a section about the first gold rush in American history appeared. Figuring I could show off my non-existent history prowess, I informed DU that it was in Alaska, of course. Shaking his head the way he always does when I attempt to overstep my English major boundaries, he informed me that the sparkly stuff was first discovered here, in North Carolina. Fixated on the images flashing across the screen, I was shocked to find that AU's made its grand appearance down the road at Reed Gold Mine. I quickly decided that the next course of action would be to visit the historical site, which is exactly what we did.
Reed Gold Mine began its rich history back in 1799 when a boy took a walk down a river. A regular day, really, for little Conrad Reed. He may have awoken to the sound of his mother screaming about how he neglected to feed the farm horses for the thousandth time and for that transgression, he must go to church. Ignoring the wishes of his mother, the 12 year old gathered his siblings for a fishing outing. Reaching the creek, the brood may have settled with a picnic, Conrad eating his meal happily as he walked down the river until something caught his eye, a yellow substance shimmering beneath the surface. He swiped the 17-pound rock and presented it to his father. Being unable to identify the substance, the father threw the stone to the corner where it functioned as a doorstop for years. Conrad's father finally took it to a jeweler who told the farmer to name a price. $3.60 was the sum, which the deceptive jeweler gladly paid for the $3600 worth of gold he had just received. Years later, in 1803, Peter, a slave of one of Conrad's father's friends, unearthed a 28 pound behemoth which sold for $6600, a positive fortune back when the average person earned $16 per week and a quart of milk ran .56 cents. A gold rush ensued, forcing Conrad to expand his operations only to call it quits a mere year later. What remains are stories and a historic landmark that forces its patrons to see life for what it was back before all we know wasn't even concieved of yet.
The site is a lengthy ride from Charlotte but just a small jaunt from our door. Buses with boisterous children enveloped our truck as their multicolored clad passengers filed out, lunch bags in hand. The walk to the main entrance was a short one but in the late July heat, took sweat-drenched minutes. We obtained our walk-through guide, meandered around the mini-museum, ogled the 28-pound replica nugget, and meandered back outside. We walked for a few moments, pausing where the guide instructed us to, myself orating the words in the best announcer voice possible. Venturing on, we felt the mine shaft before we saw it. A blast of subterranean air blasted through a small opening, chilling all those within the vicinity. I was reminded of standing before the tombs in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt; the tunnels that never seemed to end, the air as stale as when the mourned pharaoh entered, the eerie silence that permeated the area surrounding the sarcophagi.
No long deceased pharaohs met us at the bottom but what did was awe. Tunnels the size of a small child (or of a certain vertically challenged huntress, you pick) winded through the space as towering shafts bellowed from above. Creeping through the 60 degree earth left me feeling claustrophobic, a little scared, and extremely impressed that anyone, especially in the early 1800s, decided to search for gold amongst the tiny crevices. Quartz veins winded up the walls like albino snakes searching for its next meal, a veritable road map for those gold seekers who happened upon them*. Soon, we came to an ancient looking pneumatic drill which served as the main instrument for rock destruction. The drill had two moving parts and that's it. Besides dynamite, hammers, pick axes and their own intuition, the men who drilled there were on their own, lone rangers in a hellish underground cavern.
Beyond the drill I spotted a solitary candle flickering against the red stones, standing almost completely still in the immobile air. I figured that since electricity was not available back then, the men had to use something to light their way. However, the candles served a life-saving function. As we're all well aware, fire cannot exist without oxygen. If you snuff a candle, depriving it of its sustaining force, it will go out. Hence, the men of the mine not only used candles as an lighting source but also as a way to test the oxygen in the air. If the oxygen grew too thin or disappeared completely, the candle went out and the men would retreat (if they could) to find better air. The men also carried canaries, the yellow bird whose tolerance for oxygen-depleted air is nonexistent. The birds would pass out or drop dead the second the oxygen level got too low, hence the men were afforded a window to obtain better air. These facts baffled me, along with the absolute feats of human strength and determination that surrounded me some 150 below the earth's surface.
We walked the whole area and even panned for gold a couple of times (DU always the only one to strike gold each time we've visited). The spot is perfect (and free!) for a day visit from out-of-town company so when my mom and other WNY friends made the 12 hour trip, we took them to Reed's. Each time I visit, I am struck with the same thought. If the men who called Reed Gold Mine home for its duration as a gold yielding area came back to life, would they be surprised or even upset that they did not think to harness the technologies and techniques today? Would the look at our drills, safety features, and mining industry as a whole, shake their heads in disbelief and think their efforts sub-par? Or would they feel as I do about my beloved lawn mower? Would they see their work as a testament to the power of the human spirit; a mine that accrued some gold, never collapsed and still stands today? Would Peter or Conrad laugh at the huge drills and fancy technology when all they had to do was search a creek bed? Would they scoff at oxygen monitors when a simple candle or canary could do the trick?**
Progress for progress' sake may work for the majority of society today. But for me, I'll stick with walking behind a mower for days on end, reading books with real pages as opposed to small devices with buttons and levers that can hold the entirety of my library with room to spare, hanging clothes on our homemade line in the basement, and most of all, enjoy the simple things in life, the things that remain even though they may take longer, function less efficiently, or deemed old-fashioned. Simple works fine for me.
*Quarts veins are how miners hunted gold. The veins contained gold or had gold surrounding them. Hence, the mine was crisscrossed with the substance, acting as a road map for the seekers of AU.
** Please note: I am not an expert on mining nor do I pretend to be one. The experiences I have had with mines boils down to visiting Reed's and watching mining shows on the History Channel. Hence, if anything I said in this section seems uninformed, it probably is and telling me about it will do nothing but make me feel badly. In addition, I realize that there are many safety measures put in place to save lives and make mining safer, I am not disputing their importance but simply attempting to rise miners from the grave and see their perspective on our modern techniques. Finally, I have the utmost respect for ALL miners and their families. It is no doubt a dangerous and terribly hard occupation that I would never have the guts to do and I respect those who do.