Cool water gushes down pipes from the Putnam-Linwood Mine’s water tower and flows through a rough wood and stone trough. Hands dip sluice boxes into muddy waters and heads bend over, eyes rounding with astonishment as the rushing water releases glints of colorful gemstones and fossils.
The exhibit opened during the weekend with a swoosh of black curtain as Mary Ellen Chamberlin of the Riverboat Development Authority “blasted” away the shield revealing the mine trough and beautifully painted backdrop of hills and vegetation. The mine is a new permanent exhibit at the Putnam Museum and IMAX Theatre in Davenport, and miners, young and old, can purchase bags of mining rough in the gift shop and discover treasure.
“I like how it’s a hands-on experience. You get to do it yourself, and you get to take things home,” said Graham Atkinson, 12, of Davenport, as he searched for keepsakes in the muddy water.
He pulled out a black stone with sharp edges and identified it as obsidian, a shiny material useful for making arrowheads. Fluorite, a colorful mineral, caught his interest. He teasingly encouraged his parents, Bruce Atkinson and Wendy Park, and older brother, Gordon Atkinson, 14, to “brush your teeth with it.”
Seriously, though, “I wouldn’t recommend brushing your teeth with it,” he added. Fluorite is Illinois’ state gemstone. The stone is used for a variety of purposes, including manufacturing cooking utensils and opalescent glass and making hydrofluoric acid.
Gordon discovered amethyst and rose quartz gems while sluicing. Asked what he liked best about the exhibit, he said, “Everything. I love rocks. I love science.”
The new exhibit is stationed in the Grand Lobby, and proceeds from the sale of the fossil and gemstone mining “rough” will help support the museum. The Putnam isn’t supported by any government funding, so staff and volunteers continually look for fresh ways to support the museum, Kim Findlay, president/CEO of the Putnam Museum, said.
Craig Moore of the Black Hawk Gem and Mineral Club helped participants decipher the various stones appearing in the sluice trays. As a youngster, he used to “mine for gold” at Mother Goose Land in Davenport’s Fejervary Park and search for treasures in river gravel. “I’m a rock head, and the (gemstones) are all familiar to me,” he said.
The gems in the mining rough come from all over the world with Labradorite from Madagascar and his favorite moonstones that originate in India, he said.
Unfortunately, the flashes of gold belong to the pyrite family aren’t gold, according to Putnam Pete, aka Jim Loula, the museum’s theatrical performing director. “They’re both shiny and yellow, but gold is much softer,” he said.
Phoebe Joy, 7, of Illinois City, Ill. carefully counted 27 new treasures. Her hand was too small to clutch the sparkling lot, so her father, Dustin Joy, held the gemstones.
“Some of them are pretty and cool,” she said, holding at her favorite of a flower fossil impressed into a shiny white stone.
“She’s always been interested in rocks,” Dustin Joy said. “She has a couple of fossils at home.”