April 18, 2014

Photo Essay: Rand Mining District Cemetery

I go to lots of cemeteries, but the ones that tend to interest me the most are those of the forgotten people – the pioneers who didn't make it all the way, the washed away, the war heroes – rather than, say, the prominent figures and celebrities buried in places like Hollywood Forever, Forest Lawn, and Pierce Brothers Westwood.

I couldn't believe that I'd missed out on the cemetery of the historic (and now gone) Rand Mining District, the gold mining community that gave rise to the present ghost town of Randsburg.

The cemetery itself is technically located in Johannesburg, the neighboring town where you can fill your tank and your tummy.

It's feeling a little neglected.

Sometimes it's hard to even identify the graves.

Nature, as it often does, is taking over.

Most of the headstones indicate the year of death in the 1950s, and few more recently...

...indicating the end of the gold production era, which was substantial through the 1930s and 1940s, even though the actual mining of gold on a large scale had ceased in 1918.

Silver was discovered in 1919 and mined until the 1930s.

The Rand Mining District – which was actually comprised of several towns and several different mining operations including Randsburg and Johannesburg as well as Red Mountain and Garlock – was first organized in 1895...

...during the first mining frenzy, when the first stake was claimed.

The cemetery was established a year later, in 1896, with the burial of William Davis, who was shot and killed in a gambling dispute.

In terms of the Old West, Randsburg was a boomtown, even though it was mostly a tent city at the time.

The district touted a total of nearly 30 mines.

The volcanic mountains in the El Paso range proved to be mineral-rich.

Now, the Rand District is known for dangerously high levels of arsenic...

...over 400,000 times higher than a healthy level.

Although considered mine "waste" (commonly found around abandoned mines), prospectors often considered natural high levels of arsenic in a particular area as a good sign for the presence of gold or silver deposits.

The levels have been allowed to become so hazardous – particularly when the wind kicks up – because of the area's remote location...

...despite the fact that it has become popular with dirt-bikers, who are particularly at risk from dust inhalation.

It's also gotten into the groundwater.

It's a shame to witness the neglect in an area that was once booming, having produced $25MM of gold in its 50 year history, according to 1920s pricing.

Now, this is the most densely populated area in the entire District.

Jo-burg can boast less than 200 living residents.

Randsburg has about 70.

There are actually more people buried in the cemetery than the visible markers indicate...

...the loss of the additional locations and headstones of the other pioneer lost due to the "ravages of time."

For those that currently remain...

...they are relatively unmaintained... to the elements...

... and infrequently visited.

Perhaps they've got no one left to visit them.

Perhaps those they left behind are too far away to make the trip.

But, occasionally, you do find a flower...

...or a flag...

...(even a tattered one)...

...placed lovingly upon a grave.

Many of the district residents didn't make it very long...

...causing an entire section of the cemetery to be devoted to those lost too soon...

Yet the most haunting part of the Rand District Cemetery... that there's clearly still room for more.

Lay me down on the hillside at Joburg
Where the desert winds sweep by
Where in row upon row of little brown tents
My former companions lie
With only the sand for a blanket
Instead of a flower strewn bed
My body shall rest from its labors
When my spirit has gone out to God
I tramped those hills in the sunshine
On the desert I'd live and die
Let me rest on the hillside at Joburg
Where the desert winds sweep by

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