Ghost in the Machine - Part Two
…and some underground history, version 2.0
Editor's Note: Read Part 1 here.
When writer/director Richard Kelly released “Donnie Darko,” about a time-traveling high schooler (among other things), Internet rumors spread that he drew inspiration from his alma mater, Midlothian High, outside of Richmond, Virginia. The Mid-Lothian Mines Park was not publicly open for that 2001 low-budget film, but after watching 'Donnie Darko,” it is easy to imagine Kelly finding his way to the Grove Shaft ruins just down the street. Hung up on the zeitgeist of an imminent Election Day in1988—“I’m voting for Dukakis,” is the first line—the sleepwalking Darko himself might have benefitted from the park’s quietude (instead he snoozed on golf courses, plenty of which are also nearby).
Now the park is doing some time-traveling of its own, developing a website that preserves the history of America’s first coal mines with features such as Google Maps, Twitter, a comments section and archival pictures.
The site could also serve as a place to preserve those artifacts and documents that continue to pour in, while the center is waiting to be built.
“After I give a speech somewhere, people come up to me and say, ‘I have this letter from such-and-such a person,’” Jones remarks.
There are a few glitches, such as redundant links. But the pictures of the Grove Shaft give an accurate sense of its present-day somberness, and, in a state with so many historic attractions, the site feels more storybook than strictly educational.
What does all this mean for the park’s ghosts, those caught by the numerous fires and floods? Their part in the story could weave with the maps and drawings already posted, and the online archive which would supplement the visitor’s center. Or, perhaps, they could have their own page. All sorts of individuals seem to be involved in potential tales: Jones recounted the Poe-esque relentlessness of a young woman trudging a snowy half-marathon—about the distance from Richmond city limits—hoping to find her lover, after an explosion in February 1832.
Records of similar accounts could easily exist. Jones mentioned his plans to investigate an intriguing cache of seven boxes somewhere on the grounds of East Tennessee State University, donated by a Mid-Lothian mining company.
As with the park itself, the site is a work in progress. Visitors to either, or both, can gradually receive impressions of a unique and sometimes chilling story. That goes a long way toward supporting “RVA” and “Keep Richmond Weird,” slogans that see the River City as an equal with Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia. Whether visitors view the digital or real ruins, held together by wilted honeysuckle vines, they can start to agree with Kelly and Darko: History is a ghost in a machine.