On Friday, I took some flowers to my guys at Scofield Cemetery. Lest you think me particularly morbid, I assure you I am not. But in the process of writing My Loving Vigil Keeping, I ended up doing some real delving into some of the miners' lives in the Winter Quarters Mine. I went to the cemetery several times, walked around, and located quite a few of the men I have come to know better than I would have thought possible.

Good thing I was the only one - well, the only one walking around - in the cemetery that day. It was cold and blustery, which is typical life-at-8,000-feet weather. I was looking for a few others, so I walked the whole cemetery this time. It's not a large one, but the ground is rocky and uneven. I didn't realize it, but Bishop/Mine Superintendent Thomas Parmley's wife Mary Ann is buried there. I left her a rose, and told her thanks for joining my novel. Their little son, Willie, is buried by her. He died in the fall of 1900 at a young age. Bishop Parmley is buried in Salt Lake City. I couldn't help wishing he was by Mary Ann Carrick Parmley, a British immigrant like he was. They married in the Logan Temple. (Yeah, yeah, there was Carla Kelly, talking to her miners and some of their wives and children. Wanna make something of it?)

I left a rose for Victor Aho, too, a Finnish miner to whom I "gave" a brother, sister-in-law and a niece and a nephew. I didn't think Victor would mind, since his "sister-in-law" (my invention) turned into a lovely little person who benefited from the help give her by Della Anders, my fictional schoolteacher/heroine.

I left another rose for Robert, 45, and Llewelyn Williams, 15, father and son, who died together in the mine. I left another rose for Heikki Luoma, 29, who figures in my novel in an important way.  The only man I was looking for that I could not find was Richard Thomas Evans, 34, choirmaster of the Pleasant Valley Ward. I know he's there somewhere. I left a rose on his brother David's grave for both of them.

Is it possible to get too close to a subject? I suppose it is, but a writer has to get to know the folks she writes about, or her book wouldn't be worth reading. I'm moving on to another novel really soon, but I know I will carry a chunk of Winter Quarters Mine with me forever. And I should. If writing about brave people didn't teach me something, then I'm past learning. I did learn a lot, though.

Sad after leaving the cemetery, I pointed the car south toward Clear Creek. I knew that the road went past a working mine, and eventually to the summit of Huntington Canyon. This time, though, I took the road not taken before (by me, anyway). The road to Clear Creek goes under a tipple, and follows the winding contours of a canyon. I drove for six miles, wondering when I would come across Clear Creek.

I did know Clear Creek was first developed in 1899 as a logging camp to provide timber for the Winter Quarters mines. In 1900, a substantial coal seam was found there, and it was developed. At 8,200 feet, I believe it's the highest coal mine in Utah. The coal mined there was clean and hard. At its height in 1908, Clear Creek enployed 450 miners, many of whom were Finnish.  In 1900, the Clear Creek miners were the first on hand to help in the recovery of bodies at Winter Quarters.

So I drove, hoping to find Clear Creek. What I found there put a huge smile on my face. I came around a corner, and there was the neatest, sweetest little village in the mountains. I had no idea. There are no stores or shops - just four short streets of tidy homes, some of which have been lovingly restored from the old coal camp houses.

The Finns? Clear Creek homes were distinguished by a distinctive Finnish-style roof, quite steep to shed snow. They looked a bit like New England saltboxes, from the old photos. And there they are today, many of them restored. Delighted, I drove through the short blocks, admiring the homes, and noting how many of the houses had saunas behind them.  What a kick. From the looks of them, some of the saunas are probably used as storage sheds now. Others are obviously still in active use.

It just made me smile. In my book, I have a fun sequence where my modest little schoolteacher is introduced to the pleasure of a sauna, via her Finnish lady friends. And there are all these saunas in Clear Creek. From the looks of things, some of the homes are currently lived in, and others are probably summer homes. It is a tidy and proud little village, smack out of Finland. What a treat. I almost hated to leave.

Which is the cool thing about writing: I get introduced to some of the neatest people - some real, some fictional. And isn't this why we read? Here's my secret: it's also why we write.[image error]
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Published on May 13, 2012 18:31 • 65 views

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