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Of Mince and Madness

The history of the J.W. Mince Mining Company and the land it was built upon

By Bronson FleetPublished 9 months ago 31 min read
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Of Mince and Madness
Photo by Matt Howard on Unsplash

The most Northern, and one of the first, fire watch towers in Canada was built in 1882 in the Northwest Territories. At latitude 67.50857, longitude -128.32031, it was the second most Northerly regularly manned fire tower in the world, losing out on the first-place position only to the Orneojet tower in Northern Greenland.

The need to build a tower in such a remote stretch of wilderness arose, like most infrastructure projects in those days, due to the mining boom of the mid-1800s. As so often happened, a man, unsatisfied watching others get rich while he endlessly toiled, decided to trek out into more remote climes, as of then still unsettled, to seek a claim of his own. And, as so very rarely happens, he succeeded.

The man, James Weston Mince, J.W. Mince, founded the J.W. Mince Mining Company in 1872 and grew it steadily until he owned 10,000 acres of land in Canada’s far North and employed over 4,500 men to work his tracts. They say in those early years that the mines in that swollen country produced gold and silver in such large quantities that there were not enough oxen, mules, donkeys, or any other combination of beasts of burden in all of Canada to carry the product from Mince’s remote empire into the civilized world. Rumors swirled that Mince, secretly and in the dark of night, took crews of his miners out into the woods to dig deep pits, where his excess riches could be buried for later exhumation. In the more salacious versions of this story, Mince also shot and killed the diggers themselves and buried them along with the gold so as to protect the locations of his excess fortune. (It should be noted that no such burial site, containing gold or gore, has ever been found, despite the best efforts of historians and adventurer seekers alike.)

To support his budding kingdom, Mince hired an army of laborers, city planners, engineers, and contractors to build up the necessary infrastructure. Roads were dug and graded. Trees were felled and saw-mills erected. Houses were built up around the mining sites and the families of the mining staff soon followed. And with the arrival of women and children, other necessary amenities, those essential for child rearing and family life, made their first appearance. General stores, post offices, schools, and churches. Quickly that savage land, one that only a short few years ago had nary felt the slightest touch of a human hand save for the sporadic visitation by the First Men and Indigenous population, now was firmly in the chokehold of western industry.

By the year 1879, Mince had under his control three thriving cities with a population of about 3,500 (including women and children) souls apiece, and each one was built around its own high-producing mine. He had also become one of the world’s richest men, and by extension one of the most famous entrepreneurs in North America. His name became so synonymous with wealth, and especially gold, that many Canadians and even Americans began to refer to the economic policy commonly known as the “Gold Standard” as the “Mince Standard”, instead. Despite his enormous success, Mince would not be completely satisfied with his earthly sentence until a young woman named Mary Heathrow took up residence in one of his early mining camps, working as a nurse. Two months after their first meeting, they were married.

Mary herself was a prodigious writer and devoted spouse. It is through her surviving diaries that the little we now know of Mince himself has been brought to light. It is known through these writings that those early years with Mince were as idyllic as any marriage had the right to be. She wrote often that James had a way of looking at her that made all memory disappear, and in a life as troubled as poor Mary’s, that was all she could have ever hoped for.

She was an immigrant to Canada, much like Mince himself, having been raised in a borough of New York City. At 16, she was taken on as a Union nurse, a role in which she served faithfully until the war ended with a Northern victory in 1865. She wrote of her time in the army as, quote, “The most devastating yet meaningful period of my life. I feel my soul has been shattered beyond repair, but I thank God nonetheless for my chance at service.”

Years later, Mary, much like Mince, took up the Canadian call to find a reprieve from a world in which they both were deeply unsatisfied. Whatever it was that drove them together, it seems their marriage brought them both a great deal of peace, for a time.

In the spring of 1871, Mary writes, “I feel a great change has come over me! The foods I once enjoyed now taste bitter and smell foul. Where once I woke with James, eager to meet the day, I now find myself wanting for more and more sleep no matter the hour. I know from what my malady arises, and, though I have not told him, James seems to know as well. His smile, already the complete summation of his love for me, has grown even truer. His touch, already loving and gentle, has grown downright cautious. We hope it is a boy. We will name him James.”

Sadly, tragically, the peace was not to last. In December of that year, Mary wrote of her son’s birth, and of her despair, as the child was stillborn.

“Our son was born cold and stiff. I could hardly stand to look at him, but James took the body and went alone into the woods to bury him. He was gone for two days, and when he returned he looked half-dead himself. When I asked him what had kept him for so long all he would say was that he was, ‘...Speaking with the Earth.’ I know not what that means, but I did not press him, for I do not care. After the war, I did not think pain would exist for me ever again, for in terms of comparison, what could be worse than the suffering I have witnessed? I was a fool, and have been properly chastised for my arrogance.”

After the death of his son, a great change came over Mince. By all accounts, he had been known in his early days, and even in the mid stages of his career, as a boisterous, hard-drinking man. One who was just as commonly seen brawling at the local tavern as he was heading the construction and excavation of a new mine.

But by 1872, he was more and more rarely seen about in the land for the purpose of prospecting, leading construction crews, or meeting with his inner circle to manage the affairs of his business. And so too did his visits to domestic and foreign dignitaries seem to cease. Rumors abounded. Some theorized that the man had cracked beneath the weight of his wealth and fame. Others said it was the pressures of the business itself that had dragged him into a deep psychosis.

Suddenly, in the spring of 1873, Mince emerged from his relative solitude to commission, against the counsel of those closest to him, the excavation of a new mine, located directly in the center of the largest mining village, Angel’s Camp. His managers and close business associates for months petitioned him to reconsider, as the operation would force them to tear down a large portion of the village, but their pleas went unheeded. Multiple excerpts from Mary’s diary at this time talk of her husband’s obsession with the new project, but what information Mince had that caused him to be so intent on building the mine in this exact spot that he would go against every advisor, it seems we will never know, as even Mary seemed confused, but was supportive all the same.

He is my husband,” she wrote that year. “And my place is by his side.”

It was a disaster from the start.

A week into the project, a box of dynamite spontaneously exploded, killing two and injuring three more. Two weeks later, one of the project engineers fell into the hole when a sudden strong wind knocked him from his feet. The mine at the time was only fifteen or so feet deep, but he broke his leg and died of infection soon after.

The nail in the coffin for Mince’s ambitious project came after a few months of work. The mine was nearly two hundred feet deep by this time and thirty or so feet wide. Two engineers were lowered into the pit in the early morning so that they could begin infrastructure surveys. By mid-afternoon, when they still had not returned, another man was lowered to check on them. By late evening when none of the three had come back, a large party of ten or so were lowered into the mine. After twenty or so minutes of searching the men tugged their ropes to be returned to the surface and give their report. A chilling one indeed.

Neither the engineers nor the man sent to search for them were seen at all, alive or otherwise. It was as if they had simply disappeared. It is possible that the men fell into a crack in the earth that the searchers failed to notice, but the damage had been done. No miner, even by threat of termination, would dig any further in that spot. Even faithful Mary seemed to be in agreement with the men, as in the single journal entry she ever made concerning the mine itself she referred to it as a, “Wicked little piece of Earth.” Mince would not be deterred though, as even after the dig was officially abandoned, the sight itself would remain a place of frenzied construction.

Soon after his prospective mine failed Mince began a new project, one that would turn out to be the final great engineering project of his life. Plans were drawn, and an army of carpenters, timbermen, and general laborers were contracted to begin work on a manse so large it might’ve made Hearst himself blush in embarrassment. It was set to be built directly on top of the budding mine that had been, at least for the time being, given up on.

The construction took nearly ten years so intricate was Mince’s design. According to Mary’s observations in her journal, who seemed at the time to be going through a heavy bout of depression and so was little involved, her husband was consumed completely by the project to the point that he not only neglected her but also the management of his company. Due to his preoccupation, it is said that a few men, Mince’s close friends and long-time partners, silently took over day-to-day operations. Under their guidance, the camps flourished. New roads were laid and existing ones were improved. The first steam engine power plant in Canada was built, allowing for limited electricity and, more importantly, the installation of telegram lines which improved the efficiency of communication immensely. It was also around this time that the fire watch tower was built.

This last construction had been of great importance, as the location of Mince’s operations, all three of the largest towns built equidistant from one another along the base of a large, crescent-shaped mountain, made fire a great risk to the population due to the mountain itself blocking most escape routes. It was with this fact in mind that the Khufu Tower, so named in honor of Mince’s love for Egyptian mythology, was commissioned to be built atop a hill some thirty miles from the main mining operations. Completed in 1882, in the same month that Mince’s mansion was completed, it stood a proud one hundred feet high and was built from pine and quarried granite. It remains to this day the tallest fire watch tower ever built in Canada, and also the first fire watch tower to be equipped with a telegram machine. Sadly, the completion of these projects would mark the height of accomplishment for both the J.W. Mince Mining Company and for Mince himself.

By the year 1881, the newspapers, once fearful of publishing any detail regarding his affairs without his express consent and emboldened by his self-imposed exile, began printing articles containing wild speculation and hearsay regarding Mince’s fragile mental condition and failing health. This went on for some time but finally culminated when the Nova Scotia Examiner printed a front-page headline claiming, “MINCE: MENTAL DERANGEMENT AND DEVIL WORSHIP!” The following week the Nova Scotia Examiner had been purchased and unceremoniously shut down by some unknown buyer. The other newspapers of the day took the hint and produced no further articles involving Mince or his goings on.

No doubt, many of the articles published about Mince at that time were nothing but sensationalism and slander, but they do serve as an interesting indication of how far the once great man had truly fallen. And despite their often fantastic nature, it is hard to say whether or not there was some kernel of truth in those articles. A kernel that provides historians confirmation to the rumors of the day that Mince was partaking in occult activities.

James and Mary moved into their newly built home in February of 1883. One might expect that this fresh reality would’ve been to the pair a small consolation for their great loss, or at the very least, could be for them a reprieve from the outside world. Whether or not this was the case for James is lost to history, but for Mary, who, based on her writings, had begun to suffer from acute paranoia and mental deterioration, it was clearly no great boon.

The following is an excerpt of Mary’s writings regarding the house and its design:

“February 5th, 1883,

I find myself lost in this place more often than not. I am like a forgotten soul, trapped here between heaven and hell, eternally wandering. Alone in an empty world. In my weaker moments, I do not leave my bed for what feels like days so terrified am I of becoming lost in the endless hallways that perpetually lead only to more and darker passages. Sometimes though, when my muscles ache for exertion, I am thrust into the depraved maze.

There are halls here that lead to nothing. Stairways that lead up and up only to terminate against the face of a wall hung with pictures of odd rituals in otherworldly realms. Yesterday, I found myself walking down a corridor with no doors on either side. When I first entered its mouth it stood wide and palatially tall, but as I neared its end it had grown so narrow and short that to continue would mean I would need to crawl on my hands and knees. I turned around before it came to that, but I could see to its end. And there was inlaid a door so minuscule it seemed fit only for the smallest of children.

The day before I found myself in a yet unexplored wing that opened into an impossibly large circular antechamber, its walls made not from the timber that was milled from the surrounding woods, but of a dark, black teak. The room itself had no windows, but was lit by candles. Who lit them, I do not know.

At first glance, the candles seemed to border thirteen separate passages placed in the circular wall all an equal distance from one another, and leading off into darkness. Upon further examination, they were not passages at all, but doors made of a black stone so dark even the candle light seemed to scorn it. A chill came over me then, and I turned and fled.

I am astounded at this place. Stupefied by my husband’s designs. I can think of only two explanations. The first being he has gone mad, and this places’ impossible angles and lunatic craftsmanship was brought forth based on the fever dreams of his sickened mind. The second is that none of this place, not an inch, was created on whim. That each and every door, every room, and every staircase serves a specific purpose in some infernal pattern of which I cannot divine, nor will James divulge. In either case, I am afraid.”

Historians familiar with Mary’s writings have debated for years over the veracity of her claims in the preceding passage. Most attribute her fantastical descriptions to a mental state shattered by severe trauma. Others, more charitable, have made expeditions to the site the house once sat upon in the hopes of confirming its layout and posthumously vindicating Mary from a century of slander, but the fire of 1883 and the creep of nature back into the area have rendered the task impossible.

Mary, in the few months left to her, would make only a few more entries in her diary. Her previous habit of cataloging her day in excruciating detail was forgone and replaced by short, seemingly random snippets of scattered information. Then, suddenly, on June 12th, 1883, the day before the Mince Mine Fires and a loss of life not seen before or since in any Canadian natural disaster, Mary gave one final entry.

“James has become a different man. Where once I only needed to look in his eye to find the truth of his love for me, I now find myself unable to believe him even when he speaks the words aloud. Whatever has taken hold of him, it has changed him completely, and I fear the man I once knew will never return.

He came to me tonight. It was the first time in weeks I have seen his visage haunt our bedchamber. I awoke with a start, and lit a candle, for even in my dreams I knew eyes were upon me, and there he was, framed by our open door, his figure mostly dark, and in his arms a package of some kind. It was soundless, this swaddled thing, but moving.

I set my candle down on the bedside table and prepared myself to scream at him. To beat his chest and scratch his eyes. He should not have built this place. Where whispers from the mine it was built upon run constantly through its long corridors; where strange tongues sound from behind doors I dare not open. I wanted to kick and cut and bite him for his dark dealings. For the certainty I have in my heart that he has walked down the path of damnation, and in my ignorance, dragged me with him.

I meant to do these things. To kill him even, and end this madness, but I did not. Though I could feel a silent hand urging me to action, to run and save what little of my soul there was left to me, I could not look away from the bundle cradled in his arms.

“Show me”, was all I had the strength to utter, and like my husband of old, he obeyed without a word.

When he reached my bedside, I hardly recognized him. His face was sunken and hollow and pale. His smile, once my perpetual companion, was gone, and seemingly lost forever. It was only his eyes that I still knew. All love was vanished, but in them still was that bedrock of determination that ran so deep, to take it away would mean his death.

“Have you done it?” I insisted. I realize now it was the question I had been meaning to ask since he had returned after burying our son those years ago. After two days of “Speaking with the Earth.”

“For now,” he whispered in a voice so cracked it almost shattered, then extended his arms to offer me his prize. A small hand reached out from the swaddling and towards my face. There was an urgency in the movement that spoke to a deep hunger.

By instinct, I flinched away. It was my last chance, and I knew it. My last chance to be free of this place. To choose the light over the darkness.

I looked at the wall, and at the shadow my good husband cast against it. Of the shadow of the blanket resting in his outstretched arms, and of the child’s greedy hand as it reached for my face. It screamed shrilly in its hunger for my suddenly swollen breast.

I turned my head, and took my child in hand.”

It is almost a consolation that Mary, obviously in such a deep state of mental turmoil, should have died the next day. The fire was started, they say, by a surveyor team’s oil lantern on the morning of June 13th, 1883. Kicked by a startled horse as the men slept, the blaze soon raged out of control, burning straight toward the mountain as most of the miners and their families slept.

The surviving newspaper articles (confirmed by official documentation from the Mince Mining Company tax records) claimed that Thomas Redmond was the man on shift at the Khufu Firewatch tower that evening. Transcripts from the criminal trial that followed the tragedy show that Mr. Redmond claimed he had spotted the beginnings of the blaze very early on, and had over the course of an hour sent no less than two hundred separate messages of, “FIRE. FROM SOUTH. EAST AND WEST EVACUATION.”

In Mr. Redford’s testimony he claimed that at 11 PM, three hours before the fire, he had been giving his evening report to the operator in Angels Camp when he spotted a figure moving in and out of the tree line beneath the fire tower. He could not say what the man had looked like as even under a full moon he had been shadowed by the heavy forest at his back. He had called down to him to offer assistance, but the stranger had only looked up at him and stared for two or three minutes, then turned and disappeared into the trees. Mr. Redmond claimed that though it had been quite odd, as the fire tower itself had no road leading to it and to get there was to hike thirty miles through thick forest, that by the time of the fire he had mostly forgotten the incident. That is until he first saw the fire and began sending his messages of warning and received no response. At the end of his testimony, Mr. Redmond swore to his belief in the theory that the figure he had seen had not only started the fire but also cut the telegram line.

At the time, the testimony of Mr. Redmond was quite scandalous, but over the years a more realistic theory has been accepted as canon. Simply put, Thomas Redmond fell asleep and created a narrative clearing him of any guilt in the tragedy.

Peering back through the lens of history, it matters little the veracity of Mr. Redmond’s claims, for either way the result was the same. Near every man, woman, and child in the camps died that evening. With no warning, most had been burned in their beds. Even those who did survive could not claim to have escaped the ordeal unscathed. Most of the documented survivors, damaged horribly by the loss of their friends and families, simply disappeared and were never heard from again. Others, many children, ended up in mental institutions as they attempted to deal with the trauma.

A famous such case was Lawrence Campbell, who had been ten years old when that fire burned away everything he had ever known in the blink of an eye. He was admitted to the “New Brunswick Lunatic Asylum” soon after he was found hiding deep in the Angels Camp mine. He would remain there until his death in 1962.

By all accounts, Lawrence had been an ideal patient. Quiet, respectful, a man built for solitude. He was lucky in that respect, that his nature matched his circumstance, for all the years he lived there he received only one visitor. A journalist came to meet him in 1951 when the land the Mince Mines had sat upon was purchased by the Rare-Earth Canada (REC) Mining Company, thrusting the nearly forgotten tragedy back into the public consciousness.

It was meant to be a small human-interest piece funded by the REC Company in an effort to placate a group of concerned citizens who felt that resuming mining operations on the land would be disrespectful to the dead. But due to the strange nature of Lawrence’s answers and his stunted mental capacity, the interview was not released until the Brunswick Asylum was decommissioned in the late 1970s.

The following is a transcript of the audio recording of the last half of Lawrence’s interview.

(Note: Some bracketed text was added to give the reader a window into the pacing of the interview and insight into any nonverbal communication.)

Interviewer: How did you survive that night, Lawrence?

Lawrence: In the mine.

Interviewer: Which mine?

Lawrence: The big mine. I told sissy to come with me, but she was scared.

Interviewer: You told your sister to follow you to hide in the Whitney mine?

[Silence]

Interviewer: Lawrence, you said before that you hid in the Whitney mine…the big mine…for three days. But it said in the newspaper that a search party found you there two days after the fire. Can you explain that to me?

[Long silence]

Lawrence: Three days.

Interviewer: Yes, I know that’s what you’ve said but can you see how that doesn’t match up?

[Silence]

Interviewer: The night of the fire, did you wake up and see it? Is that why you ran to the Whitney mine?

Lawrence: No. No fires. Not yet. Not ‘til tomorrow. I tried to bring sissy but she was too scared. She cried.

[Papers shuffle]

Interviewer: Are you saying you hid in the mine the night before the fire?

[Lawrence does not answer, but based on the way the interview proceeded it seems he made a gesture to the affirmative]

Interviewer: Why would you do that, Lawrence? How would you know to go to the mine the night before the fire?

[A low moan can be heard in the audio recording. Perhaps a soft sob]

Lawrence: They told me.

Interviewer: Who told you?

Lawrence: From the other mine. The hiding one. Under the Dead House.

Interviewer: Uh…[papers shuffle]...the Dead House?

[Lawrence lowers his voice into a whisper]

Lawrence: Sissy could hear ‘em too. Whisperin’. I knew somethin’ bad was gonna happen.

Interviewer: You’re talking about the Mince Mansion? Is that what you’re talking about?

[Long silence]

Interviewer: Did you tell your parents where you were going?

[Lawrence can be heard crying in earnest now]

Lawrence: They was already dead. The whispers told me. Said everyone was dead. I didn’t want to leave sissy, though. Even if she wasn’t alive.

Interviewer: I don’t understand, Lawrence.

[A long pause followed before Lawrence spoke again. When he did, his usual childlike affectation was gone, replaced by a manner of speaking more befitting his age]

Lawrence: I watched the world burn from the mine. Watched the shadows between the flames grow and cast shadows again. I saw them two, standing atop the tower of their Dead House. Watching, same as me. And then between the two appeared a third. And it had a shadow too.

Interviewer: Lawrence…Lawrence I’m not…

[Before the interviewer could finish his sentence a commotion sounded in the room. The sound of a chair screeching along concrete and a table being flipped. The sound of the interviewer screaming is quickly followed by a door banging open and footsteps of what seem to be asylum staff running in]

Interviewer: Help! Help me! Get off of me!

Asylum staff member: Grab his arms!

Lawrence: DO THE DEAD CAST A SHADOW? DO THE DEAD CAST A SHADOW? DO THE DEAD CAST A…

End recording.

It is at this point that this tale must take a hard turn from the path it has thus far traveled. Must turn off of the well-maintained county highway that is recorded history, and venture down a dusty back road full of speculation, if not downright superstition. And it is that question that forces us to do so.

Do the dead cast a shadow? It was that question that inspired the writing of this history. A question dismissed, or better yet forgotten to the dusty corners of history simply because it was asked by the wrong man.

But do they? The answer is obviously yes, metaphorically speaking. The dead cast long shadows. We feel their presence in all ways and at all times, but we ignore it so as to not end up like poor Lawrence, living out a life sentence trapped within the confines of a broken mind. But is that what he meant? Was he asking if the dead cast shadows over our memories, or our hearts? I do not think so. I think he meant something more.

Do the dead cast a shadow? It was indeed the question that inspired me to compile this winding recollection of loss and suffering, but it was not from Lawrence that I first stumbled upon it.

In 1998, the same year I graduated from the University of Toronto, I took a job with the Canadian Forest Service. I was able to go out into the woods now and then to help with clearing brush, or on Canada day when there were more campers out than there were staff to keep an eye on. Mostly though I was hired as part of the Canadian government’s push to digitize the one hundred years worth of condensation reports, logging ledgers, internal memos, supply invoices, and the millions of other communicatory odds and ends that had stacked up over such a vast period of time.

Needless to say, I lasted for only a short time in that position. The tedium of the work bordered on cruel and unusual punishment, and I still think to this day that if we were to replace prison with data entry we’d see crime dry up overnight in this country.

Three months is not a long time to keep any job, but the truth is, I wouldn’t have made it there three days if I had not chanced upon a certain nondescript manilla folder, stacked amidst a sea of others that looked just like it. I don’t know why I grabbed it. Perhaps I was supposed to. Certainly not divine intervention, for divinity has nothing to do with what took place up there in those mines, but intervention all the same.

I remember considering, as I grabbed a stack of unorganized papers and loaded them into a box, whether or not I would be able to do this for another day when the folder caught my eye. It was the title in the lower right corner that did it, simply, “REC MINING COMPANY”.

The fate of the REC Mining company is, of course, well known by all Canadians, as it is the same fate that befell the Mince Mining Company. In 1953, two years after setting up their operation, and seventy years after the great fire of 1883, two thousand men were burned alive as they slept.

It was a sensation at the time. The media covered the new tragedy with as little sensationalism as possible, but the general population seemed to believe at the time that it was bound to happen. That the land was cursed, and the ghost of Mince would not allow any other to plunder his treasures. A year later, two, the incident faded from thought, and ever since the land has remained abandoned.

I knew of the second fire, despite it taking place long before I was born, and so was macabrely intrigued to see what statistics the Canadian government had compiled on the happening. To my surprise, the folder contained no statistics at all. No population reports of the rebuilt mining camps, no official death toll, nor even a surveyor map of the land itself. Instead, it contained only a communication log that, in my extensive research on this subject, has never before been released to the public, and a singular handwritten note taped to the back flap.

It is here that we finally return to the place where this history first began. The second most Northerly fire watch tower in the world. The Khufu Tower, so named for J.W. Mince’s love for Egyptology. When the REC Mining company first purchased the Mince land in 1951, the tower had been in dire need of repairs. In fact, the structure, abandoned for nearly seventy years by this point, was in such poor shape that the REC mining company decided it would be too costly for the fledgling operation to fix it at all and were content not to have it manned. When their plans were submitted to the Canadian planning department though it was decided, in light of the previous disaster, that to leave it unoccupied would not be possible.

In the end, the REC mining company made the necessary repairs but to cut costs installed new telegram lines rather than investing in more modern communication technologies. It is due to this cost-cutting decision that the true story of what went on at the Khufu tower in the days and weeks leading up to the second deadliest fire in Canadian history is little more than clipped dialogue and obscure telegraphic code. Perhaps, if more advanced communication had been possible, the mystery of that event in late September of 1953 would not have been a mystery at all. Alas, despite this limitation a story can still be pieced together, but I will leave it up to the reader to decipher its theme.

With that, here is the complete and unabridged transcript of John Hooker’s communications with the REC Mining company’s base of operations. The last man to ever stand guard in the Khufu Fire Watch Tower.

(Note: As in the previous interview with Lawrence Campbell some bracketed text has been added to provide the reader context and translate some common telegraph abbreviations.)

*September 6, 1953

Hooker: Report - 8 PM - Strong North Winds - Unseasonable Chill - 5 celsius - No camp report

Central: R

[R was a common response to telegraph messages that required no follow up except to confirm the message was received. Commonly it meant “Received as transmitted.”]

Hooker: Report - 12 AM - Winds ceased - 2 celsius - No camp report

Central: R

Hooker: Report - 4 AM - Wind North to South - 0 celsius - CL - No camp report

[CL was shorthand for “Closing Station”. When manned alone, a fire watch shift generally lasted from 8 in the evening when most of the staff were readying for bed to 4 in the morning by which time the mine workers would rise to begin their shifts.]

Central: R

*September 7, 1953

Hooker: Report 8 PM - No wind - 7 Celcius - CAMP REPORT: Fight broke out last night just outside camp. Two employees treated for minor abrasions. No evac necessary. Camp Engineer Will Trotter has been missing since the altercation. Search party has been dispatched. Please advise.

Central: Is the cause of the altercation known? Was Mr. Trotter involved?

Hooker: Cause of altercation not relayed. Trotter started the fight and then ran off into the woods according to witnesses.

Central: Ascertain cause of disturbance. Relay to camp that the search for Mr. Trotter should continue. Send word when he is located.

Hooker: WC

[WC meaning Wilco, or “Will Comply”]

Hooker: 10 PM - CAMP REPORT: Trotter still missing. Fight participants interviewed. According to their statement, Trotter was sitting alone at edge of camp, huddled and in great distress. Two men approached to assist. When Trotter noticed their presence he attacked.

Central: Explanation as to why?

Hooker: The men he attacked both claimed he was shouting the same thing over and over. That the two attempting to help him were dead. That they all were. That they had no shadow. Meaning is unknown.

Central: Relay to camp to double the search party. As soon as Trotter is found he should be evacuated for psychiatric evaluation.

Hooker: WC

Hooker: 4 AM - No wind - -1 Celcius - No camp report - CL

*September 8, 1953

Hooker: 3:37 PM - CAMP REPORT

Central: 4:00 PM - Please provide report

Central: 4:30 PM - Please provide report

Central: 4:40 PM - Hooker? Provide report

Hooker: 4:48 PM - CAMP REPORT - Chief Engineer Yuri Morozov is dead.

Central: 5:00 PM - ELABORATE - Cause?

Hooker: 5:06 PM - Informed just now that he was

Hooker: 5:10 PM - Body was torn to pieces. All major organs missing, bones broken

Central: 5:15 PM - Indication of wildlife attack?

Hooker: 5:20 PM - Negative. Body was found in bunk in engineering quarters. Four assistant engineers were in the same room. All claim to have heard nothing.

Central: 5:25 PM - Unacceptable. Contact camp and confirm the report.

Hooker: 5:29 PM - Camp report has been confirmed three times. The assistant engineers have been sequestered in fear of conspiracy. Camp morale is low. Trotter has not yet been located. Search parties have not returned.

Central: 5:34 PM - Search parties have not returned?

Hooker: 5:39 PM - R

Central: 6:01 PM - How many men are missing?

Hooker: 6:05 PM - From reports te

Central: 6:15 PM - ?

[Self-explanatory, but a single question mark meant the receiver was asking for the message to be repeated]

Hooker: 6:23 PM - There is a man outside the tower.

Central: 6:30 PM - Repeat.

Central: 6:46 PM - ?

Hooker: 7:00 PM - Unsure. Maybe animal. Figure is standing at the edge of the clearing.

Central: 7:05 - A man? Khufu is thirty miles away from camp. Can you confirm your report?

Hooker: 7:23 PM - Confirmed. He is moving toward the tower. Cannot see face. Too dark.

Central: 7:45 PM - Update?

Hooker: 8:10 PM - Not man. Just shadow.

Central: 8:15 PM - Clarify? What is going on?

Hooker: 8:16 PM - All is burning

Central: 8:25 PM - What? Was the man Trotter? Did you speak with him? Update on number of men missing in the search parties.

Central: 9:04 PM - REPORT!

Hooker: 9:05 PM - They are all dead

Central: 9:15 PM - Repeat? Who is dead?

Hooker: 9:16 PM - Fire

Central: 9:20 PM - Fire? Alert the mining camp. Commence evacuation procedure.

Hooker: 9:21 PM - They are all dead the shadows grow long at their passing

Central: 9:28 PM - Hooker, send the evacuation alert. That is an order

Hooker: 9:29 PM - Not Hooker

Central: 9:37 PM - Send the evacuation order you son of a bitch!

Central: 9:45 PM - Send it now! Emergency services have been deployed.

Central: 9:50 PM - Don’t do this Hooker! Send the alert.

Hooker: 9:51 PM - Not Hooker

Central: 9:58 PM - You’ll hang for this

End of transmission

In my study of this event, I have substantiated the claim that the REC company did indeed dispatch emergency services on the night of September 8, 1953, at 9:45 PM, confirming the legitimacy of this telegram transmission log. Tragically, it was far too late, as by the time they arrived the fire had already completed its grisly work. No survivors were ever found. As for John Hooker, that is where the story takes its strangest turn of all.

As the Khufu tower had no road access, it took emergency personnel an extra day to hike to its location. Included in the party were not only Forest Service employees, but also law enforcement personnel as Hooker was to be charged for his part in the deaths of over two thousand people, and be taken into immediate custody. That was not to be, for when the hiking party finally reached the Khufu Tower, it was no longer a tower at all but rather the burnt remains of one.

Forensics teams would eventually confirm that the fire was started from inside the structure, but in truth that confirmation was not necessary, as every man who was there that day could see plainly that the trees surrounding the tower were untouched by any flame.

In the week it took to clear the wreckage, they found no evidence of what happened that evening of September 8, 1953. Nor did they find John Hooker’s charred corpse. The only thing of interest procured from their labor was a single hand written note. Plucked from the burnt wreckage completely unscathed despite being at the bottom of the pyre. The very same note taped to the back of the manilla folder marked “REC Mining Company”, one amongst a million others just like it, that sent me down the rabbit hole of the history of the Mince Mine and the cursed land it sat upon.

I hold the cursed parchment even now, and though I do not think it is necessary, as the horror of what is writ upon it must now be as plain to the reader as the scar of wildfire upon a forest, I will transcribe its simple query anyway.

"Do the dead cast a shadow?"

In the end, there comes a realization that the theme of this history hinges not upon the great mineral magnate, James Weston Mince, though he did set it in motion. Nor upon his wife, Mary, who suffered so greatly. Neither does it rest upon the shoulders of the ill-fated thousands who died their horrible fiery deaths, collateral damage in their employer's attempts at achieving worldly wealth. Instead, the last words in this recording of events belong to the Khufu tower and the man John Hooker, its last keeper. And of course, poor Lawrence Campbell, the madman. The broken soul. So easily dismissed. And it is easy to dismiss the lone psychotic. Easy to reassure ourselves that one man is not an empire, and never can be. It is why we are so eager to analyze and medicate. To institutionalize and lobotomize and even euthanize. We do these things not for their good but for our own. To protect our foundations and therefore our existence itself. The ideas of these types of people must be broken, or we risk their spreading. And if not for John Hooker’s hastily scribbled note, if it was indeed he who wrote it, the illusion that we had succeeded in that endeavor might’ve been maintained.

For it is easy to sleep when the monster under the bed is the figment of a lone man’s fevered fantasy, but harder when the demon has been seen by two. Because in our hearts we know that if two have encountered such a thing, then certainly another has as well. And if there have been three then one hundred more must have. A thousand. Ten thousand. And by following that long and winding trail to its logical conclusion a man is forced to confront the most ancient and secret fear of all. Is he the mad one for not believing?

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1

About the Creator

Bronson Fleet

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  • Luther8 months ago

    Nice I wish ❤️ I my horrors where this good

  • Mark Gagnon8 months ago

    What a great story! The way you mix fact with legend and speculation kept me reading until the end. Well done!

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