Though Samuel D. Hunter’s Greater Clements is not a play about miners it does take place in a northern Idaho town whose mine, vital to local welfare, was closed by corporate overlords in 2005. When we think about mines and miners in any context most of us, I imagine, think about coal. Coal miners have been a major issue for President Trump and movies and plays that deal with miners – Billy Elliott, for example, or Coal Miner’s Daughter – do tend to deal with that sooty carbon rock used for heating.
But coal doesn’t figure in Greater Clements. The minerals extracted from the town’s mine were silver, lead, zinc, copper, and a little bit of gold. Silver didn’t surprise me. On a family vacation during my childhood I visited Coeur d’Alene in northern Idaho and one of its local ski resorts, and I knew that the Silver Valley was adjacent to the city. I learned only recently, however, that the Coeur d’Alene region has produced more silver than any mining district in the United States and is one of the top three silver areas in the world. (The other two are in Bolivia and Mexico.)
Zinc in northern Idaho didn’t surprise me, either. Zinc can be a byproduct of silver mining and if northern Idaho were rich in silver then it would be likely to produce ample amounts of zinc. Lead also made sense in the context of the western United States: most of the country’s gold mines are in that region and lead is often found where gold is found.
As for copper, I associate it more closely with Montana than with Idaho. I associate it more closely with Montana because I recently read a biography of Huguette Clark, the eccentric heiress who died in 2011 at the age of 104 after spending the last two decades of her life at Doctors Hospital, in Manhattan. Her father was William A. Clark, the fabulously wealthy copper magnate and U.S. Senator from Montana. The family resided in a 121-room mansion at 962 Fifth Avenue, which upon completion in 1911 was the largest private house in New York City.
Fifth Avenue? I know I’ve veered a long way from the economically struggling mining-town characters of Greater Clements. All the same, the disconnect between small-town lives and the greed of plutocrats is one of the many themes touched on – I will resist saying “mined” -- by Hunter in his marvelous play.
Brendan Lemon is the editor of lemonwade.com