47 DOWN: The 1922 Argonaut Gold Mine Disaster

O. Henry Mace, Author . Wiley $24.95 (273p) ISBN 978-0-471-44692-7

This volume details the fire in the main shaft of a Jackson, Calif., Argonaut gold mine, which trapped 47 miners 4,650 feet below ground in the summer of 1922. It took rescuers three weeks to get to where the miners were trapped by the fire as family members and friends, co-workers, the press and countless Americans awaited word of the foregone conclusion. Mace researched the mine fire for seven years; his dedication pays off in a well-rounded examination of the fire and the mining industry. Even without coming to a conclusion about which rescue plan would have given the miners the best chance of survival, he thoroughly explores the scientific and structural implications of each course of action complete with diagrams, technical data and testimony from those involved. Though Mace never really steps outside the facts long enough to capture the experience of the trapped miners, his intimate portraits of the miners' families, mine employees and, especially, journalist Ruth Finney, explore the countless ways the mining disaster changed those who were close to it. Mace also smoothly connects the fire and the mining town of Jackson with bigger American and world affairs like the war in Europe, immigration, Prohibition, advances in communication and the growth of women's rights. Mace may not have hit the "Mother Lode," but his tireless digging has certainly uncovered a forgotten nugget of Californian and American history. Photos. (May)

Reviewed on: 04/26/2004
Release date: 04/01/2004
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