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The Deep Dark: Disaster and Redemption in America's Richest Silver Mineby Gregg Olsen
Idaho Library Association Book of the Year
Synopses & Reviews
For nearly a century, Kellogg, Idaho, was home to America's richest silver mine, Sunshine Mine. Mining there, as everywhere, was not an easy life, but regardless of the risk, there was something about being underground, the lure of hitting a deep vein of silver. The promise of good money and the intense bonds of friendship brought men back year after year. Mining is about being a man and a fighter in a job where tomorrow always brings the hope of a big score.
On May 2, 1972, 174 miners entered Sunshine Mine on their daily quest for silver. Aboveground, safety engineer Bob Launhardt sat in his office, filing his usual mountain of federal and state paperwork. From his office window he could see the air shafts that fed fresh air into the mine, more than a mile below the surface. The air shafts usually emitted only tiny coughs of exhaust; unlike dangerously combustible coal mines, Sunshine was a fireproof hardrock mine, nothing but cold, dripping wet stone. There were many safety concerns at Sunshine, but fire wasn't one of them. The men and the company swore the mine was unburnable, so when thick black smoke began pouring from one of the air shafts, Launhardt was as amazed as he was alarmed.
When the alarm sounded, less than half of the dayshift was able to return to the surface. The others were trapped underground, too deep in the mine to escape. Scores of miners died almost immediately, frozen in place as they drilled, ate lunch, napped, or chatted. No one knew what was burning or where the smoke had come from. But in one of the deepest corners of the mine, Ron Flory and Tom Wilkinson were left alone and in total darkness, surviving off a trickle of fresh air from a borehole.
The miners' families waited and prayed, while Launhardt, reeling from the shock of losing so many men on his watch, refused to close up the mine or give up the search until he could be sure that no one was left underground.
In The Deep Dark, Gregg Olsen looks beyond the intensely suspenseful story of the fire and rescue to the wounded heart of Kellogg, a quintessential company town that has never recovered from its loss. A vivid and haunting chapter in the history of working-class America, this is one of the great rescue stories of the twentieth century.
"The 1972 fire at Idaho's Sunshine silver mine was one of America's worst mine disasters, with 91 miners killed — some in mid-stride — by a 'stealthy tornado' of smoke and carbon monoxide. True crime journalist Olsen (Abandoned Prayers) has the narrative chops for this story. His suspenseful account conveys the already hellish everyday atmosphere of the mine, the panic and chaos of the sudden catastrophe, the heroic efforts to evacuate, the ghastly deaths of victims, the (sometimes overdrawn) horror of their decomposing bodies and the ordeal of two miners trapped in an air pocket. But he goes further, embedding his chronicle within a social panorama of the macho subculture of the miners — whose disdain for safety precautions may have raised the body count even as their hard-bitten sense of fraternity held them together in the emergency — and of the larger working-class community that frayed and bonded in the face of the tragedy. Like Sebastian Unger's The Perfect Storm, Olsen's is a story of male workers engaged in a primordial resource-extraction occupation, battling natural elements — earth, fire and (poisoned) air — that overwhelm the ties of masculine solidarity. In his gripping treatment, stocked with vividly drawn characters, one finds a metaphorical elegy for America's doomed industrial proletariat." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Olsen tells a vividly detailed, heartbreaking tale about a dark, alien place, the people who loved working there and a town that has never been the same. He brings to life the hot, dirty, treasure-hunt environment where "danger was a miner's heroin." Seattle Times
"Powerful and haunting..." Seattle Post-Intelligencer
"Gregg Olsen is the perfect guide as he leads the reader down into a whole new world underground, with its own lore, language, and laws. The Deep Dark is as gripping and necessary as true-life drama gets." Stewart O'Nan, author of The Circus Fire
In telling the suspenseful, gripping story of the 1972 Sunshine Mine disaster in which 91 silver miners were killed, Olsen looks beyond the story of the fire and rescue to the wounded heart of Kellogg, Idaho, a quintessential company town that has never recovered from its loss.
About the Author
Gregg Olsen is the author of seven nonfiction books, including the New York Times bestseller Abandoned Prayers. A journalist and investigative author for more than two decades, Olsen has received numerous awards and much critical acclaim for his writing. The Seattle native now lives in rural Washington state with his wife, twin daughters, cat, and six chickens.
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