In Search Of…S02E01 The Lost Dutchman Mine

I'm going to do this week and next week a little differently. This is because the first two episodes of Season 2 look at subjects that I know little to nothing about. I'm going to resist the urge to Google, at least until I've written my reviews. For the most part I won't be looking at factual inaccuracies or wondering about the credentials of the people being interviewed. I'm just going to watch and enjoy and talk about what I see.

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We start with footage of the desert. Leonard Nimoy tells us these are the Superstition Mountains of Arizona, and that people go there seeking treasure. There's a lone man wandering in the desert, and a buzzard wheeling in the sky. The man—an old guy with a big white beard—turns out to me re-enacting a scene. Nimoy tells us that in 1860, a miner known as 'the Dutchman' staggered out of the desert. He'd been tortured and his partner had been killed, but he somehow struggled back to town.

Another re-enactor listens for the dying man's heartbeat. The old man drops his bag, and gold nuggets fall out.

All in all, pretty strong opening.

Apparently, the Dutchman didn't die, but never had the strength to go back. Nimoy tells us that the secret of his mine went with him to the grave.

Now there's a helicopter shot of the Superstition Mountains, which honestly aren't a particularly pretty mountain range. Former volcano Weaver's Needle is the most interesting feature, coming up again and again, and honestly even it's not that hot. The electronic music takes on a slightly Western feel. Nice. Nimoy gives a travelogue which quickly segues into blather about lost civilisations.

Old timey map, Spanish conquistadors came to the area looking for the mythical kingdom of Cibola, home of the Seven Cities of Gold, like in that old cartoon. Nimoy tells us that the Spanish 'resorted' to torture to find the gold, which is an odd way of putting it. It's like saying I 'resorted' to cereal, when really it's my go-to breakfast.

Now an Apache tribal dance. Nimoy tells us that the Apache believe that the Superstition Mountains contain a magic cave, guarded by rattlesnakes. "Some say that the Dutchman tore his gold from the walls of the Apache cave," Nimoy says, citing In Search Of's favourite source, "some".

Close up on a gold bar, dissolving into molten gold being poured from a crucible, all to harp music. Nimoy is talking about gold. Interestingly, he's talking about the magical energy of the sun and alchemy rather than the better known aspect of gold -- namely, that you can buy stuff with it. Then he goes all Spock and he's talking about the chemical nature of gold, and how it's the "universal symbol of wealth".

Nimoy is standing in front of a mountain, explaining how there has been no significant gold strike in the Superstition Mountains since the Dutchman. He gives this very beautiful oration about people searching for the Mother Lode in spite of a lack of evidence that such a thing exists.

All at once, this episode is making sense to me. Searching for treasure in the Superstition Mountain with no strong reason to believe that it exists there… It's this show! The search for the Dutchman's Mine is a metaphor for In Search Of…

We see an old guy with a metal detector and a geology hammer. He's a retired science professor turned semi-pro prospector. He found a valuable sample and made a lot of money out of it, and good for him. Nimoy talks about gold fever and gold rushes, and there's some awesome old timey pictures of a boom town, followed by more recent footage of the same town, empty and decaying.

Next up is Robert Blair, who wrote a book on the Dutchman legend. He suggests that the people searching for the Dutchman mind are acting out a fantasy, rather than genuinely expecting to become wealthy. He connects it to the legend of the American West, and how that connects to concepts of masculinity.

It's interesting stuff. The search for gold seems, on the surface, the most simplistic and unimaginative aspect of the search for wealth. Blair's suggestion that, in this case at least, the search is more important than the gold gives an added dimension to the quest.

Blair goes on to introduce an event in 1931 that Nimoy narrates, in which a civil servant went into the mountains with a treasure map. In the re-enactment, he's an old man accompanied by a couple of dodgy looking cowboys. Six months after setting out, an archaeological expedition discovered his skull. This incident put the Dutchman's Mine back in the public eye and launched a new wave of treasure hunters.

More helicopter shots of the Superstitions. I wish they'd stop. The shots from ground level make the place look uninviting, but the helicopter shots make it look awful. Nimoy tells us that many people go into the mountains, never to return.

People go prospecting in Superstition and don't come out. Run! The show's becoming self-aware!

Next up we're talking to guide Jerry Crater. He looks like an extra in a Western, but he bucks the cliché by being both talkative and quite articulate. He takes sightseers into the mountains and back -- but treasure hunters, Nimoy assures us, only want to be taken to some particular place on their map. The guide makes the distinction between prospectors and treasure seekers. Prospectors are looking for a vein of rich ore, while the treasure seekers tend to have a map. Instead of looking for promising minerals, treasure hunters are looking for clues. He actively compares the treasure hunters' quest to a religious journey.

But Nimoy points out that there are some people who fall in both camps. We're talking now to a prospector and miner Jay Heston, who's had some success, but never hit it big. He describes looking for the Dutchman Mine as being different from prospecting in that it's more about adventure than the likelihood of success. He straight-up doesn't think that the Dutchman's Mine exists. Then there's a longish sequence showing him setting dynamite charges to check for interesting samples under the surface.

Let's be real, this segment is only here so we can see an explosion.

Heston says that astrologers associate gold with the sun, and wonders whether miners are looking for that. Hint: if you're looking for the sun, it's up. Heston finds some gold flakes in the sample he just blew up, and says that it's fascinating. Guess it must be.

More helicopter shots. Now we're talking to Philip Cassadore, an Apache shaman and (the footage suggests) radio personality. He compares the Superstition Mountains to Cape Canaveral – a place you go to transcend the world. He talks about the sacred cave in the Superstitions, which has somehow become identified with the Dutchman's Mine.

There's some nice footage of an Apache dance, silhouetted against the setting sun. Cassador explains that the cave is difficult to get into, being guarded by rattlesnakes. To get in, you need to say a special prayer and to have a special stone. Going in without these things can change your body and soul.

Next up, Glen McGill, a private detective in Oklahoma City. To prove that he's a PI, we see him sitting in a car, staring at a building, and smoking a cigarette. Love this show! Anyway, he was hired in 1963 to find the mine. Nimoy tells us that McGill believes that he found the mine, in 1966 but not the gold. There's some footage of McGill's forty ninth expedition in 1976.

McGill lost money and harmed his relationships with his family, friends and business contacts. But he believes that he's close to finding the gold now. He believes that the seam of gold is eighteen miles long, and that the mine carries a curse.

We cut to McGill at his desk. He does look like a PI – a beefy, sad-eyed guy with a short sleeved shirt and a big moustache. He tells how the search for the mine has harmed those close to him and damaged his health. Totally a curse.

Weaver's Needle again, the Dutchman re-enactor and back to Nimoy for summing up. He points out that neither the Apache nor environmentalists like treasure hunting in the Superstitions. Congress was making the area off limits for prospecting, which is a pretty good sign that there isn't anything valuable there.

Now we're talking to Milt Rose. Okay, not quite summing up time yet. Sorry for false alarm. Rose is a prospector. He tells how he got a map indirectly from the Dutchman. He claims that he followed the map and found some gold, but not the vast, unlimited supply that the Dutchman's legend proclaims. He says he didn't find it in the Superstition Mountains.

Jerry Crater opines that there's no gold in the mountains. Blair says that basically no amount of evidence will convince treasure seekers that there's no treasure. The Dutchman re-enactor just keeps searching.

Like I said, I knew nothing about this going in and I know nothing about the Lost Dutchman's Mine that Nimoy didn't just tell me. This episode is interesting for me as a sceptic because it's about the sort of stuff that bugs us. People risking their lives, their health, their relationships, their fortunes, all for a treasure which pretty clearly doesn't exist. And yet… and yet, even though this episode is the clearest yet about the fact that what we're 'in search of' isn't really there, there's something about the way it's presented. As if the search itself is in some way ennobling. I don’t agree with this, but I think it helps me to better understand the psychology of those who go chasing rainbows.

What do you know? I actually learned something from this show.

Best lines

"If (the treasure seekers) have a common denominator, it's the same one a religious fanatic has. They believe." – Jerry Crater.

"My personal opinion about the Lost Dutchman's Mine is that there's more gold in my back teeth than there is in this whole range of mountains." – Jerry Crater.

Summing up

Scenery shots: 5/10, Nimoyness: 7/10, Scenery: 6/10, Music: 6/10, Implicit Metaphor: 10/10. Overall: Distinction

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