The Deep Dark
The Deep Dark
Disaster and Redemption in America's Richest Silver Mine
By Gregg Olsen
Three Rivers Press (CA), Paperback, 9780307238771, 401pp.
Publication Date: March 28, 2006
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.
From the Hardcover edition.
"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
“Compellingly told, honestly written, The Deep Dark is a story that resonates and lingers, long after the final page is read. In addition to being a gripping account of an American tragedy, it is a brutal, enlightening, bone-chilling glimpse into the underground of the nation’s mining industry. Gregg Olsen skillfully captures the details of Sunshine Mine, its ill-fated miners, the friends and family left behind, and the disaster itself with the intimacy of an insider, making you feel the smoke, the heat, the confinement, and, ultimately, the terror of that May day in 1972. It is a story at once horrific and poignant, wholly absorbing and extraordinarily moving.” —Jennifer Niven, author of The Ice Master
“In the tradition of Young Men and Fire, The Deep Dark is an exceptional, haunting documentary. Like an epic folk song, it crackles with the language of rough men working—and dying—in unspeakable ways and pays tribute to a community that might otherwise be bleached from our memories. This book does what all superior journalism should do: it unearths an important story and tells it with great feeling.” —McKay Jenkins, author of The White Death
“Gregg Olsen’s narrative is so riveting I had to keep reminding myself that this is a nonfiction page-turner, not a suspense novel. The grit, the darkness, the stifling air and choking smoke, the fear of being trapped deep underground, the tender camaraderie between the toughest of men—I experienced all of them reading this book.” —Stephen Puleo, author of Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919
“Olsen presents the extraordinary story of the Sunshine Mine disaster in gripping, heartrending prose. In Olsen’s telling, we come to see that the story is not merely a deadly disaster but rather a tale of the uncommon courage, perseverance, and heroism of everyday people.” —Edward T. O’Donnell, author of Ship Ablaze: The Tragedy of the Steamboat General Slocum
“Gregg Olsen has presented a well-researched, graphic account of the worst underground fire in a hardrock mine in American history. When the ’Shine resumed underground operations in December 1972, I hired out as a replacement for one of the guys who died in the fire. . . . I can tell you The Deep Dark is as real as it gets. I actually found myself short of breath as I read.” —Jerry Dolph, author of Fire in the Hole: The Untold Story of Hardrock Miners
"Spellbinding." —Daily Olympian
"Harrowing." —Bellingham Herald
"A spectacluar piece of journalism." —Missoulian
"An exciting, vital, memorable book." —Salem Statesman Journal
"Insightful and a powerful narrative." —Vancouver Columbian