Independence Mine: A Story Set in Carbide
A project dedicated to the photographic preservation of historic artifacts in the Independence gold mine.
Follow me into the mine!
About the Project!
The Independence Mine State Historical Park, sitting at the head of Fishhook Valley in Hatcher Pass, Alaska, is one of the Matanuska Valley's many treasures. In 1906, Robert Lee Hatcher (for whom the pass is named) walked up into the Talkeetna mountains, making his way to the top of Skyscraper Peak where a gold-bearing quartz outcrop stuck out like a sore thumb. In 1908, the first underground mining began.
As powerfully bright as the sun can be, it can't reach inside a mountain very far. So as much as there had to be a source to gold in the stream, there had to be a source of light in the tunnels. Without it, one would be lost, and so would the gold. In the early days, this source came in the form of a candle. Soon after, technological advancements led to the creation of the carbide lamp. Set on the front of a miners hat, it was a small cylindrical capsule with a dish on the front, from which protruded a bright white acetylene flame, providing guidance in the perpetual darkness.
While brighter than a candle, acetylene flame produces a considerable amount of soot, which can be seen rising off the tip of the flame. Lighting the way was not the only use these lamps were privileged with. Aside from lighting many a smoke, the lamps became valuable tools for writing messages, marking survey points, and doing math on the damp tunnel walls. The soot from the flame was a convenient and efficient tunnel pencil. On many occasions, miners who were bored and artistically inclined (and those who weren't) took advantage of the blank granite canvas all around them.
These carbide "graffities" are strewn among the approximately 12 miles of tunnels at the Independence Mine, and others in the district. I have become enamored with the history of the Pass but especially with these drawings, and (with proper permissions) am on a mission to document all those that are accessible in the workings. Flood water and cave-ins have likely washed away and buried many of these small treasures from Alaska's past, but there are still many that exist and must be documented before they are entirely forgotten.
For 43 years following Hatcher's discovery of lode gold in the Talkeetna mountains, many a daring folk have taken turns searching the peaks of the Pass for golden dreams. In searching, some found the gold they sought, but all found the adventure that called them there. I intend to follow in their footsteps, document what they left behind and recapture the magic of the past.
12005 E. Fence Line Dr.
Palmer, AK 99645