The Deep Dark
by David Bond, Silver Seek Wallace, Idaho – Hard to believe it’s been 10 years ago since Random House released “The Deep Dark – Disaster & Redemption in America’s Richest Silver Mine,” authored by best-selling writer Gregg Olsen. “The Deep Dark” is the definitive (and dramatic without being melodramatic) account of the May 2, 1972 Sunshine Mine Disaster here in the silver fields of northern Idaho. Ninety-one men died on the day shift after fire broke out deep underground, overcome by deadly gases. Eighty-six miners escaped that day, and another two were found alive beneath a fresh-air shaft a week later. The fire’s cause was never determined to anyone’s satisfaction. Theories have ranged from arson to a welder’s sparks to spontaneous combustion. Several miners who initially escaped the Sunshine died returning underground in efforts to rescue their co-workers that fateful morning. Carbon-monoxide levels reached 50,000 parts per million in some parts of the mine. Doses of 3,200 ppm cause death within 30 minutes and at 12,800 PPM, unconsciousness is instantaneous followed by death in fewer than 3 minutes. An even bigger killer than the CO may have been toxic fumes from burning “flame-proof” polyurethane foam used throughout the mine as a sealant. While this foam was banned in British, it was actively promoted by the U.S. Bureau of Mines as safe. Were “The Deep Dark” merely a compelling and deeply researched forensic analysis of the Sunshine Mine Disaster, standing alone, it would be worthy of reading far beyond the tiny community of mining in the industrial sector. But what Olsen does, as well, is paint one of the finest portraits of the brawny, brawling, playful, and ferociously independent American working man as ever put to paper in the latter half of the 20th Century – managing to combine, somehow, a work of art that’s a cross between Terkel and Twain. Ironically, Olsen – who has 18 non-fiction works and seven thriller novels in print, many of them New York Times best-sellers – tells us his Sunshine saga is “my most important and least-read book.” Let us up it has not been indifference to American labor or to the task of wrenching silver from veins a mile beneath the surface that it has taken so long for “The Deep Dark” to gain traction amongst the reading public. It may be that Random House’s initial vig of $24.95 for the book in the U.S. and $34.95 in Canada was a bit rich for the library circuit. Thankfully, after 10 years in print, “The Deep Dark” caught a break this week. Random House has dropped the e-reader edition to just $1.99 on Amazon for this single week. The special pricing ends Saturday. This is a must-read for anyone with an interest in how things are created with American labor. It’s also a good primer for those who haunt the resource investment conferences in their Gucci shoes and Armani tweeds, should they lose sight of where the rocks come from, and who digs them out.