Abandoned Iron Mines Inspire Photo Exhibit

Photographer Christine Flavin's photos at the Michigan Iron Industry Museum illustrate the beauty of such sites. The 2002 Quecreek rescue illustrated their dangers; seven coal miners escaped unhurt from an inundation earlier this month in West Virginia.

Abandoned mines are a safety concern significant enough for MSHA to have awarded $3.9 million to mining states in December 2003, 16 months after the Quecreek incident in Pennsylvania, so they could create electronic, georeferenced maps of their mines and archive original mine maps. Quecreek was a successful rescue of nine miners from an inundation caused when they accidentally broke into an adjacent, abandoned mine and were trapped for three days. (Another Quecreek-like incident occurred this month, when seven miners were trapped by an inundation inside the Mountaineer Alma A mine in Mingo County, W.Va., at 5:50 a.m. May 9 and arrived back at the surface about 24 hours later following their rescue, MSHA reports on its Web site. The Mountaineer Alma A mine is owned by Alpha Natural Resources Inc. of Abingdon, Va., which announced May 12 that it is merging with Foundation Coal Holdings Inc. of Linthicum Heights, Md., in a $2 billion all-stock deal. The merged company will retain Alpha's name and Abingdon headquarters.)

Yet abandoned mine sites can be beautiful, representing both a threat to the unwary visitor and inspiration to artists. Beginning Sunday, May 31, the Michigan Iron Industry Museum in Negaunee Township, Mich., is presenting a temporary exhibit of pinhole photographs of abandoned mine sites. "Vanishing Horizons: An Interpretation of the Abandoned Mining Sites of the Upper Peninsula" runs through July 12. Photographer Christine Flavin took the photographs. She is an assistant professor in the School of Art and Design at Northern Michigan University, where she teaches studio photography and the history of photography, according to the state's Web sites promoting the exhibition.

The Michigan Iron Industry Museum chronicles the history of the Marquette Iron Range in the state's Upper Peninsula, where mining companies extracted ore from deep mines beginning around 1848. The museum site overlooks the Carp River Forge, which is a pioneer industrial site listed on the National Register of Historic Places. For information, call 906-475-7857 or visit www.michigan.gov/ironindustrymuseum.

A book about Michigan's worst mine disaster, "No Tears In Heaven: The 1926 Barnes-Hecker Mine Disaster," written by Thomas G. Friggens, is still available from this site and others. Minnesota eclipsed Michigan in iron production in 1900 because ore in Minnesota's Mesabi Range could be open-pit mined.

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