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Program 1317

1. fluorspar at the Clement Mineral Museum
2. Murphy’s Pond
3. Celtic harpist Deanna Tomlinson
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Crittenden County

For more information:
Clement Mineral Museum, 205 N. Walker St., Marion, KY 42064, (270) 965-4263 or (877) 965-4263

Producer, videographer, audio: Dave Shuffett

Mineral Wealth

Fluorspar mining and the Clement Mineral Museum

Underneath Western Kentucky and southern Illinois, a region criss-crossed by faults and fractured and re-fractured by earthquakes over the course of eons, fluorine gas and calcium came into contact and combined to form rich deposits of fluorspar (or fluorite), a soft mineral that comes in various colors depending on the exact mix of elements. Native Americans extracted it for carving into body ornaments and decorative objects. Then in the late 19th century, industrial engineers discovered that fluorspar helped remove impurities from iron ore. So as steel manufacturing became one of America’s biggest industries, the mining of fluorspar became big business in Crittenden, Livingston, and surrounding counties.

To explore this mining history, Kentucky Life host Dave Shuffett visits the Clement Mineral Museum in Marion. This showplace of treasures from the Earth’s crust is the legacy of Benjamin Edwin Clement Sr., a science teacher and aviator who recognized the importance of “spar” to America’s burgeoning steel industry early on and built a personal fortune from mining it. Clement was also a dedicated rockhound, and he spent 60 years amassing one of the world’s great mineral collections. Dave talks with Clement’s son, Ben Jr., about the museum’s history and with retired miner Bill Frazier about working fluorspar.

Several million tons of fluorspar have been extracted from Western Kentucky. One of the first people to find it was President Andrew Jackson—but he threw it away, because the mine shaft he sank in Crittenden County in 1835 was a quest for lead ore. The first recorded attempt to mine spar itself on an industrial scale was in 1873, and the real boom began in the 1890s. It lasted through the 1940s as additional uses for fluorspar and its refined products were found in the manufacture of everything from hydrochloric acid to atomic weapons to toothpaste. Though the Kentucky deposits are not tapped out and the mineral still has many important uses, the business of mining it in the state nearly disappeared during the 1950s as foreign sources flooded the American market with inexpensive fluorspar.

In addition to examples of fluorspar itself, the Clement Mineral Museum documents the history of mining it in Western Kentucky with a collection of equipment ranging from miners’ personal lamps and lunch buckets to a 12,000-pound steam engine. The museum archives also contain thousands of documents, hundreds of photographs, and audio and video tapes of miners talking about their work.

The museum is open Wednesday through Saturday year-round and holds an annual gem and mineral show the first weekend of June. Kentucky Life previously visited it in Program 507.

Hickman County

For more information:

Obion Creek State Nature Preserve, c/o Western Kentucky University, Ogden Dean’s Office, 1906 College Heights Blvd. #11075, Bowling Green, KY 42101, (270) 745-7005

Producer, videographer: Brandon Wickey
Audio: Charlie Bissell
Editors: Brandon Wickey, Dan Taulbee

A Ssssssspecial Place

Murphy’s Pond

While in Western Kentucky, Dave visits another legacy of the region’s active geological past: Murphy’s Pond, a former oxbow of Obion Creek that was isolated by some earth-shaking event (possibly the great New Madrid earthquakes of the early 1800s) and is now a haven for rare plants and animals.

Murphy’s “pond” is actually 175 acres of bald cypress swamp, with scenery reminiscent of the much deeper South. And many of the species found here are at the northern limits of their ranges. The residents include 45 different mammals, 30 kinds of amphibians, and around 200 species of birds. All told, the pond provides homes for 19 species that are listed as either threatened or endangered.

One species does stand out, though. Ask any local resident about Murphy’s Pond, and chances are he or she will soon mention cottonmouths. Murphy’s is reputed to be the home of the world’s largest concentration of these venomous water snakes (also known as water mocassins). While negotiating the wetland’s narrow channels and open pools in a canoe, Dave and his companions spot more than 40, including a nest of just-born baby snakes in a fallen log.

The snakes and the difficulty of the terrain are probably what has kept Murphy’s Pond so remarkably wild for so long. Deemed useless by settlers looking for farmland, it has been practically untouched by humans for hundreds of years. But that pristine state, plus the concentration of rare species, has made it one of Kentucky’s most valuable properties in terms of biological richness. When a Kentucky chapter of the Nature Conservancy was formed, the very first property it acquired was Murphy’s Pond. In 1975, the conservancy sold it to Murray State University, which uses it as a site for field trips on everything from ichthyology to ecology. Though the university still owns the pond, an additional level of legal protection was added when Murphy’s Pond was made part of the adjoining Obion Creek State Nature Preserve in 2005.

Dave’s canoemates for this tour are Marc Evans, senior biologist with the Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission, and MSU professor Ed Zimmerer. Visiting the pond requires written permission from the university.

Mercer County

For more information:
• CDs, a book of harp arrangements, and information on appearances are available at

Producer, editor: Dave Dampier
Videographer: Dave Dampier, John Schroering
Audio: Brent Abshear

Heavenly Music

Harpist Deanna Tomlinson

We end this edition on a contemplative note with the music of Deanna Marie Tomlinson, a piano player and Celtic harpist who dedicates her music to Christian ministry.

Born in Maryland, Deanna moved to Harrodsburg with her family as a young girl. She was picking out tunes on the piano by ear by the time she was 4, and she studied that instrument for several years. She became interested in the harp around 5th grade, saved for two years to buy one, and was soon incorporating it into her musical appearances (with a brother) at churches and private events.

When we met Deanna in 2006, she was a 15-year-old with two CDs and a book of harp arrangements already under her belt.

Oldham County

For more information:
Yew Dell Gardens, P.O. Box 1334, Crestwood, KY 40014, (502) 241-4788

On Location

Dave hosts this edition from Yew Dell Gardens, a former private garden and arboretum that features more than 1,000 species of plants collected by nurseryman Theodore Klein and his wife, Martha Lee. The grounds also include several remarkable stone buildings hand-built by Klein. The estate is open for self-guided tours year-round and hosts a variety of plant workshops, kids’ camps, and other events.

A longer visit to Yew Dell Gardens is included in Kentucky Life Program 1407.

SEASON 13 PROGRAMS: 1301130213031304130513061307/1326: The Lincoln Wedding130813091310

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