The Most Mysterious Mine of All
Many years ago, for reasons long forgotten, I found myself spending a rainy night in Long Beach after missing the last boat to the Island. Since there was a convention in town, the lack of any sort of affordable accommodations in the downtown area drove me to one of those seedy bungalow motels that color the harbor’s hectic stretches of the renowned Pacific Coast Highway.
In an effort to escape my vintage surroundings and to temporarily cure the “overtown lonelies,” I paid a visit that evening to that most wonderful (but unfortunately now defunct) of used bookstores, Acres of Books, the one that proudly advertised “acres and acres of books.”
For perhaps an hour and a half I perused many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore, from History to Foreign Languages and Travel and, finally, to Geology.
Here, among dusty bound volumes of plate tectonics, mineral exploration and college-level texts, was a book that looked quite out of place. The topic of the book itself wasn’t “out of place.” It was simply labeled “Mines.” What made it out of place was that it was nothing more than a worn journal of sorts, not a commercially bound book. Imagine my surprise when I opened it up and found it was about mines on Catalina Island!
Now, this was a book that I had to have for my collection. So I paid my three dollars and tax or whatever and, with bagged book under arm, disappeared into the rainy neon streets of Long Beach.
Upon first reading the journal, whose entries dated almost exclusively to the 1920s, I found most of its contents to be nothing more than dry tabulations of mining statistics, ore values, calculations of daily drilling distances, etcetera, for the various mines around the Island, including Blackjack, Johnson’s Landing, Fourth of July Cove and several others.
But then one particular entry caught my eye. Unlike the entries for the other mines, this entry for the “Santa Catalina Copper Prospect” was written text or prose, not tables and tabulations. Whoever wrote this entry evidently had something different to say about this mine.
The entry detailed the efforts of two miners who are following what they hope to be a worthwhile vein of copper. “Accordingly,” reads the journal, “two miners starting drifting this cut along a dyke, or vein, April 18, 1925.”
After prospecting this vein for awhile, the miners come to the conclusion that the real meat of this lode must be down deeper. So they gather their gear and head downhill 50 feet vertically below, where they begin opening a new tunnel. It is here, that they make a remarkable and mysterious discovery.
“Advancing 16 feet on second tunnel,” reads the journal, “the miners broke thru’ into ‘something’.”
This “something,” according to the journal, was described as an “apparently ‘prehistoric’ tunnel. Driven great many years ago.”
Upon further exploration into this mysterious tunnel, the miners found that it went back more than 100 feet into the mountain where they found a “very ancient” solid iron shovel.
What exactly did these miners find? While there were many mines driven into the hills of Silver Canyon and the West End of the Island back in the 1800s, there is no record whatsoever of any hard rock mining in this particular location until the 1920s.
Adding to the mystery is the fact that the miners in the journal were no doubt professionals who had likely descended from a long line of miners possibly dating back to the Old Country, and yet even they were stumped. The simple fact that they describe the tunnel as “prehistoric” and “driven great many years ago” is revealing and even startling.
Why was the ancient mine dug in the first place? It evidently wasn’t driven to prospect copper, since the 1920s miners still had to cut and drift the copper ore within this mine. In other words, the “miners of mystery” who drove the original tunnel were apparently uninterested in the copper ore and simply passed it by. What were they looking for?
My next step was to try to determine the location of the mine based on the coordinates given in the journal—coordinates that basically amounted to elevation and distance from a well-known location on the Island, whose name I’m afraid I can’t divulge. (It is NOT the Casino).
I then sat at my computer and loaded Google Earth. On the satellite image of Catalina, I anchored the “ruler” tool on this undivulge-able Catalina location and “swept” it back and forth until I hit the 300-foot elevation mark a distance of 1,500 feet away as prescribed in the journal.
There, before my eyes in a modern-day Google Earth image, were the tailings and cast-off rocks and dirt from the mine scattered down the hillside.
I have yet to visit the “Santa Catalina Copper Prospect” and despite the fact that the tailings are still there, in all likelihood the entrance was sealed up long ago as evidenced by the final entry in the journal. After several days of prospecting, it seems, the miners decided the payoff wouldn’t be worth beginning full scale mining operations and the project was given up.
“As the magnitude of this source is very questionable,” reads the journal, “it was decided to abandon the prospect for all time.”
I was originally going to devote only three columns to this series on Catalina’s “Underworld,” but I just can’t resist regaling you next week with a really bizarre theory about what this mine, and perhaps many of the mines and caves on Catalina, are really all about.