Argonaut and Kennedy Mines
The Argonaut and Kennedy Mines were two neighboring gold mines that opened in the mid-1800s in Jackson, the county seat of Amador County, California, in the Mother Lode region of the United States.
A disaster occurred at the Argonaut Mine in the 1920s after a fire outbreak trapped 47 miners underground. Rescuers launched an effort from the Kennedy Mine to reach the trapped miners. The effort failed because all 47 died before the rescuers reached them.
Historians say the incident was the worst mining accident in U.S. history. Folklore developed around the incident in the years after it happened. Locals alleged that the ghosts of the dead miners haunted the mines.
The Argonaut Mine opened in the 1850s in Jackson, Amador County, in the Mother Lode region.
[Note: The California Mother Lode is a narrow strip of gold deposits in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California, Western United States. The so-called gold rush belt stretches between Georgetown to the north and Mormon Bar to the south, covering El Dorado, Amador, Calaveras, Tuolumne, and Mariposa Counties.]
Two freed slaves–James Hager and William Tudor–discovered extensive deposits at the site in 1850 (Los Angeles Times, January 15, 2006). They operated the mine during the 1860s.
Argonaut Mining Company purchased the site in 1893 and started developing it. The mine eventually closed in 1942 after its shaft, reaching a vertical depth of 5,570 feet, had produced gold valued at about $25 million.
The Kennedy Mine, near California State Route 49, opened in the 1860s after an Irish immigrant miner, Andrew Kennedy, discovered deposits at the site in 1856. Kennedy and three partners formed the Kennedy Mining Company and operated the mine until 1878.
A new group of investors reopened the mine in 1886 as the Kennedy Mining and Milling Company.
The operation proved successful, producing gold worth millions of dollars. The East Shaft at Kennedy Mines reached a vertical depth of 5,912 feet (1,792 meters), making it one of the deepest mines on the continent.
A fire outbreak in 1928 caused extensive damage to surface structures and assets, but the company quickly recovered operations and continued until the U.S. government closed all gold mines in 1942 amid the war effort.
Some sources estimated that Kennedy Mine had produced $34.3 million in gold when it closed in 1942.
The Argonaut Mine disaster
The Argonaut Mine disaster occurred on August 27, 1922.
Trouble started shortly before midnight when an underground explosion sparked a fire outbreak. The fire raged through the shaft releasing toxic gases and trapping 47 immigrant miners at a depth of 3,500 feet.
Miners working in the shaft closer to the surface clambered out and alerted other workers. They immediately organized to rescue their trapped colleagues.
First, they attempted to extinguish the fire by pouring water down the shaft, but it didn’t seem to help.
By dawn, firefighters and residents of Jackson had arrived at the site to help. Rescue efforts continued all day. Firefighters poured more water down the shaft to extinguish the flames, but the fire raged unabated.
It took them more than two days to extinguish the blaze.
Connecting the Kennedy and Argonaut tunnels
Meanwhile, two rescue teams began working to reopen tunnels from the neighboring Kennedy Mine to the Argonaut Mine tunnels. The Kennedy Mine tunnels had been closed since 1919 after a fire outbreak.
The teams worked frantically around the clock in shifts to connect the old abandoned tunnels at Kennedy to the Argonaut Mine tunnels. It proved to be difficult work, and the progress was slow.
The men worked in dimly lit underground tunnels under conditions that exposed them to the same risks as the men they were attempting to rescue. They had to do the back-breaking work while carrying heavy oxygen tanks. They also had to be on the lookout for cave-ins while manually clearing debris, rock, and timber from the long-abandoned tunnels.
A caged canary carried down into the tunnels died, indicating a toxic gas hazard.
To encourage the men, mining companies offered a $5,000 reward to the rescue team to first reach the trapped men.
The government waived Prohibition laws to boost morale
Laws prohibiting the importation, production, and sale of alcoholic beverages were in effect in 1922. But the federal authorities reportedly waived the Prohibition laws and supplied the rescue workers with whiskey to boost morale (Los Angeles Times, January 15, 2006).
The rescuers eventually reached the trapped miners after about three weeks. But help came too late as all trapped men had died.
The men likely died within hours after the fire started in the shaft due to inhaling dangerous gases such as carbon monoxide. Investigators concluded that the mine owners committed significant violations of safety regulations.
However, they escaped sanctions due to poor regulatory laws at the time.
Kennedy Mine accidents
Although the Argonaut Mine was the site of the disaster considered one of the worst in North American history, the Kennedy Mine also had its share of tragedies, like most mines during the gold rush era.
Conditions were harsh for most laborers, and pay was poor. Safety regulations were also grossly inadequate, and accidents occurred regularly.
At the Kennedy Mine, more than 36 workers died in accidents between 1887 and 1942. Many workers also suffered lifelong health complications and early death due to toxic substances they inhaled at the sites.
Mining operations produce lots of waste contaminated with toxic heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, and mercury. The gold mining environment exposed laborers to quartz dust (crystalline silica dust) that caused a chronic lung disease known as silicosis or miners’ phthisis.
Argonaut and Kennedy Mines are tourist attactions
According to the California Office of Historic Preservation, both the Argonaut Mine and the Kennedy Mine played significant roles in the economy of California.
They produced gold worth millions of dollars. Some sources estimated the combined value of gold produced by both mines at about $60 million. Other sources stated estimates as high as $105 million (Office of Historic Preservation).
California authorities registered the mines as historical landmarks in 1963 and later as tourist attractions. Today, both mines are tourist attractions and are officially open for tours.
However, visitors are not allowed to enter the underground sections of the old facilities.
Locals have shared stories of ghost hauntings at the sites since the last century.
Some locals reported hearing screams and loud voices from down the mine shafts. Others alleged seeing shadowy figures lurking around the sites. A few visitors even claimed to have experienced physical assault by the alleged ghosts at the sites.
Although the alleged hauntings remain undocumented, the mining sites continue to attract paranormal enthusiasts and ghost hunters. The attraction is due to the belief that sites at which people experienced tragic or harrowing death tended to have hauntings.
Paranormal believers say hauntings happen because the tormented spirits of the dead linger at the place where they died. Due to the harrowing circumstances of their death, they can’t accept the fact of their demise and move on to a peaceful afterlife.
Got something to say about this case? Leave a comment or get in touch if you have new information or media you think we should add.
|Other Name/s||Argonaut Gold Mine, Kennedy Gold Mine|
|Address||Argonaut Lane, Jackson, CA 95642; 12594 Kennedy Mine Rd, Jackson, CA 95642|
|Activity reported||Haunting, Shadow Figures|
Where to find
In the media
In Season 16, Episode 3 of Ghost Adventures, titled Kennedy Mines, which aired on Travel Channel in April 2018, Zak and his team of paranormal experts visited the Argonaut and Kennedy Mines. They investigated reports of hauntings allegedly stemming from the tragic accident in 1922 and other fatal accidents during the years in which the mines operated.
In Season 15, Episode 13 of Ghost Hunters, set to air on Travel Channel on April 13, 2023, the TAPS team visits California’s Argonaut and Kennedy Mines in the Mother Lode region to investigate alleged paranormal activity at the site related to the tragic accidents of the gold rush era.
The TAPS members team up with the Destination Fear crew, led by the paranormal investigator Dakota Laden, to explore the old mines.
https://www.newspapers.com/clip/119738915/argonaut-mine-disaster-rasmussen/, “Argonaut mine disaster rasmussen,” accessed on April 7, 2023.
https://geotripper.blogspot.com/2012/10/ghosts-of-gold-miners-kennedy-mine.html, “Ghosts of the Gold Miners – The Kennedy Mine,” accessed on April 7, 2023.
https://ohp.parks.ca.gov/ListedResources/Detail/786, “Argonaut and Kennedy Mines: Historical Landmines,” accessed on April 7, 2023.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2047740/, “Silicosis and Miners’ Phthisis,” Gye and Kettle, 1922, accessed on April 7, 2023.
https://www.mining-technology.com/uncategorized/newsepa-to-add-argonaut-mine-in-california-to-national-priorities-list-5000136/, “EPA to add Argonaut Mine in California to national priorities list,” accessed on April 7, 2023.
https://web.archive.org/web/20051110112056/http://ci.jackson.ca.us/Information/mining_history.htm, “Mining History,” accessed on April 7, 2023.
http://goldminersilicosis.co.za/about-silicosis/#:~:text=Silicosis%2C%20or%20miner’s%20phthisis%2C%20is,upper%20lobes%20of%20the%20lungs., “About Silicosis,” accessed on April 7, 2023.
https://www.hmdb.org/m.asp?m=100586, “Argonaut and Kennedy Mines,” accessed on April 7, 2023.
https://www.travelchannel.com/shows/ghost-adventures/photos/ghost-adventures-kennedy-mine, “Ghost Adventures: Kennedy Mine,” accessed on April 7, 2023.
https://www.nbc.com/access/video/ghost-hunters-zuri-hall-investigate-paranormal-activity-at-kennedy-argonaut-mines-exclusive/ACCN845445797, “Ghost Hunters’ & Zuri Hall Investigate Paranormal Activity At Kennedy & Argonaut Mines,” accessed on April 7, 2023.
Last modified on April 13th, 2023 at 12:07 am