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Bendix Falls: The Story So Far . . .

Journal of James Bonner

Friday May 20, 1921

Penns Mansion

Cold and windy today after a warm week. Weather is unpredictable at this time of year. The school term is coming to a close and I have been wondering what I will do with myself over the summer break. Most of the fellows have no trouble getting by, but the loss of income every year is a serious issue for me. But something's come up that may see me through.

Professor Dyer -- "Dusty" Dyer he's often called -- has asked a handful of the teachers to take part in a scientific expedition. I'm included because the investigation is to take place in a coal mine, of all places. The mine is located here in Pennsylvania, not far from Scranton in the anthracite seams so prevalent there. I'm quite excited to be out in the field again.

It all started just after lunch. I arrived at my office to find a note slipped under my door: "Meet me at my office at 2 pm." Signed Prof. Dyer. As my luck would have it I was already late and I had to run as best I could with my gammy leg almost all the way across campus. The Science Annex is a long way away from the grandeur of Potts Mansion!

I arrived huffing and puffing. Got a cold look from Vamberg, I can tell you. That fellow never has liked me. Next thing you know we're all sitting in Dyer's office and he introduces a Captain of Industry to us: Mr. William H. Bendix III -- the current owner of the Bendix Coal Company in Bendix Falls, Penna, and a finer example of capitalistic swine hood it would be hard to find. Fat. Self-important. Totally uninterested in anyone but himself. Seems Mr. Bendix has a problem. Something decidedly odd has happened down in his mine and he wants us to find out what's going on.

The way he told the story, the miners in the Number 3 pit, currently very productive and the main seam in development, broke through into an unusual cave complex about 900 feet down. He obviously doesn't know it, but caves are not that uncommon in the area. There's thick sand stone and limestone seams that over and under lay the coal, and over the ages, water has carved out some pretty elaborate cave complexes. I expect this is what they've discovered.

But he seems to think this cave is very different than others they've come across. For one thing, he claims that the cave wall is lined with some kind of crystalline material. He brought a chunk with him. We all looked at it, and despite his warnings, most of us handled it too. I've never come across anything like it. The crystal looked like smoked glass, shot through with some kind of organic occlusions I'd say to give it the greenish brown tinge it had. But when I touched it, it felt slimey and distinctly . . . unpleasant. Vamberg used a handkerchief to wipe the sample, and it was clearly not wet in any way. It just feels that way.

Moving on from the sample, Bendix described that the cave the men had broken into went in two directions: Left and right. To the right, after only a hundred yards or so, the cave ends in large cavern which he described as almost spherical in shape. The bottom of the cavern is filled with debris, creating a floor of some kind on which the miners noticed bones and what looks like human artifacts. Which is the reason Dunstan was invited along, I would imagine. He knows all about the aboriginals of this area, I hear.

In the other direction, the cave is cut off by a rock fall.

Apparently Bendix's foreman, a fellow by the name of Joe Tate, sent a crew along to the fall to clear it out, and then set the other miners back to work. An hour or so later, the miners in the coal mine section say they heard loud echoing voices, and screaming. Some claim they saw flashing lights in the darkness coming from the crystalline cave. When they investigated, they found no signs of the men who had been working on the rock fall, though there was no other way out of the sealed cave than through the mine, where the men were working.

Now the miners claim the mine is haunted. They refuse to work down there saying it is too dangerous.

Bendix is furious. Claims it's all a Communist plot. Idiot!

His man Joe Tate must have a better head on his shoulders. Apparently it was he who suggested that a scientific inquiry into the cave and its contents would put the men's minds to rest. They are a simple lot, I know from experience, and he's probably right that if we can offer some reasonable explanation for the cave, they will accept it and get back to work.

Dyer has offered us two weeks at full pay to visit this site and develop a report. I'm thrilled. Vamberg is being pompous as usual and has demanded that he lead the expedition. I don't care. He's taken charge of the crystal sample as well and submitted it to his laboratory assistants for analysis. He may be a pompous ass, but the fellows who work with him know their stuff. They'll find out what this glass stuff is and telegraph their results to us at Hooper's Inn in Bendix Falls. That's where we'll be staying for the next two weeks.

We leave on Monday, and I will be spending the weekend doing some research on the area. I expect some of the other fellows have the same idea.

Library Research by Prof. Dunstan

Friday May 20 to Sunday May 22, 1921

Walum Olum pictographs

Dunstan is a ridiculously talented Library User. Unfortunately he is somewhat limited by the quality of material available to him. The library is woefully short of scholarly works on the local Leni Lenape indians who lived in this area prior to the arrival of the white settlers. The Lenape are of Algonquin origin, and were called the Delaware Indians. He does learn that the residents of the area they will be visiting spoke the Unami language. In their tongue Leni Lenape means "Real People". The Leni Lenape lived in the area for thousands of years and had achieved a simple slash and burn cultivation technology by the time the Dutch and the Swedes arrived. Their clans were matrilinear, and most of the people who met them completely misunderstood everything about their society, insisting that they be defined as if they were European peasants.

The Indians engaged in fur trading with the whites, and were pushed farther and father westward by the new arrivals who siezed their land by force. By the early 1800's almost all of the Leni Lenape had moved to Ohio and beyond. They left little in the way of lasting artifacts. They were known for making fine clothing and having complicated ceremonial artifacts and procedures.

The Lenape did not have a written language, but they did create pictographic records on rare occassions. One of these is called the Walum Olum or Red Record, which is reported to be a record of the tribe's history. Dunstan will find a book back in the stacks called "The American Nations" published by CS Rafinesque in 1885 that has pictures and a translation of the record. He says the record was drawn on birch wood scrolls, but he lost the originals after getting a translation from a native.

OOC: You can see some of this here

Dunstan finds one more book that takes with him, by William Penn himself: "Life of the Leni Lenape or De la Warr Indians". It consists mainly of a lengthy account of Penn's own observations of the Leni Lenape including details of crafts, housing, customs, religion, governance, etc. Also included are various treaties and letters that reflect on the Lenape. Dunstan has seen this before, but the Rafinesque book is new to him.

Journal of James Bonner

Sunday May 22 , 1921

I spent some time in the library yesterday and looked up the details of the mining operations at the Bendix Coal Company. They've been in business over sixty years in the Falls River valley, headquartered at Bendix Falls, about twenty five miles south west of Scranton, in the heart of the anthracite coal fields. The seams in the Falls River valley are thick and high yielding. The Bendix family started out as trappers, but they have become wealthy on coal. Mr. Bendix currently has a contract with the United States Navy to supply half a million tons of coal a year. That's a lot of coal. Even from a high yield mining operation like his. This work stoppage is costing him money. Big money. No wonder he wants us to solve his mystery.

The pits are deep, over five hundred feet down to the good seams and up to eight hundred feet in many locations. In that valley the coal seam is sandwiched between shale and limestone, both above and below. I always fascinates me to realize that the mountains we see today were once the sea beds five hundred million years ago.

I also took the time to read some back issues of the Scranton Gazette newspaper. There has been a lot of labor unrest throughout the coal mining areas of upstate Pennsylvania. Bendix Falls has seen its share, but so far there have been no strikes called. The men are afraid of the mine owners and their strike breaking tactics: baseball bats and hob nail boots, heavily applied.

There was one story a week or two ago that mentioned an old gang called the Molly Maguires -- but they were criminals from the 1880's. I don't know why their name came up. The reporter wondered if the Molly's might be behind a series of daring bank robberies.

This morning I took Solly with me and we supervised the equipment getting loaded into our truck. Good job we did, too, or we'd have ended up with deep sea diving gear instead of mining helmets. I swear those idiots are drinking all the time.

I took an inventory list just to be sure we have the equipment we need. Solly will check it again before we leave to make sure none of it has walked off the truck over the weekend. He's a bit rough and ready, but the working men like him. He talks their langiage. And he gets the job done. I think many of the teamsters are afraid of him, and I'm almost certain he has a pistol of some kind in his pocket.

Here's the list:

  • Box of 24 sticks of dynamite
  • Box of 12 detonators
  • 200 feet of 1 inch per second fuse
  • Two gold leaf electroscopes for measuring radiation levels
  • 500 feet of good rope
  • 4 double pulleys
  • 2 wheel barrows
  • 4 shovels
  • 4 pick axes
  • Hand operated winch
  • 6 miners helmets with electric lamps and belt battery packs
  • 2 charger units for batteries: 1 hour to charge, 6 hours of light
  • 6 sets of coveralls
  • Assorted sample bags: canvas and rubber
  • Small metal trunk containing portable chemical analysis lab
  • Assorted sample bottles with glass and rubber stoppers
  • Sensitive barameter to detect depth
  • 2 compasses
  • 2 min/max thermometers
  • 4 electric arc lamps: very bright with 6 spare rods
  • Portable generator: gasoline powered 1 hr per gallon -- 5 gallon tank
  • 5 five gallon cans of gasoline
  • Sump pump and hose: 10 gallons per minute
  • 2 plumb bobs with 500 feet of twine
  • 2 chalk lines 100 feet each
  • Rope ladder: 100 feet long
  • Camera and tripod with close up lens: flash powder and plates for 100 photographs
  • Portable dark room equipment
  • Step ladder 10 feet high
  • 6 canvas cots and sleeping bags

I wonder if we'll all be sleeping in the same room. Professor Vamberg will have a word or two to say about that, I shouldn't wonder!

Letter from Solly Hutchins

Sunday May 22 , 1921

M. Malone,
193 Hester Street
New York City NY

Dear Mickey:

Don't worry you don't hear from me. I am out of town on business.

I know that palooka Gerry "The Thumb" DiPippo is looking for me, but he ain't gonna find me down a coal mine. Ha Ha! Which is where I'll be.

Tell Tall George I appreciate the warning, and he can count on me when he needs me. I am carrying my Luger at all times on account of his kind words.

Respects to the family.



Sunday May 22 , 1921

The coal seams in the Falls River valley are valuable, but of little geological interest. More interesting to me is the limestone seam just below the coal. It contains a high concentration of iridium 192, a rare enough metal in itself, but the particular isotope found in this part of the world is quite unique. There is a strong possibility that the sea bed was at one time the site of an asteroid impact perhaps as much as four or five hundred million years ago. I have some samples in my display cases, but I shall be pleased to extract more.

The unpleasant tactile sensation associated with the crystal fragment provided by Mr. Bendix is perplexing. It looks under the 'scope for all the world like a huge diamond with organic occlusions. I have sent it for detailed chemical anlysis with instructions to wire the results to me in Bendix Falls.