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January 29, 2015

Unexpected side trips make vacations fun

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Posted: Wednesday, July 23, 2014 2:10 pm

Recently I fulfilled a long-time dream to see Phantom of the Opera on Broadway in New York. It was as wonderful as I had always hoped it would be. A few days before, though, my family and I decided to visit a little-known attraction that held our attention for half a day. Anyone who has ever traveled with a four-year-old knows that this is an accomplishment.

The attraction was the Franklin Mineral Museum in Franklin, N.J., only a few minutes away from where my daughter lives in Andover. It is a non-profit, educational center. Because of a newly found interest in geology, I searched the Internet after arriving in town and only then learned about the museum. It is a wonderful place.

Franklin’s history centers on a lode of minerals beneath the earth’s surface that has, at one time or another, been the site of about 10 percent of the world’s known minerals. (More than 3,000 minerals exist, and 361 have been found in Franklin.) From the early 1800s, the mineral zinc was in high demand throughout the world for use in the manufacturing of paint. The rocks in the Franklin mine held 70 percent zinc, while most rocks found in other mines held only about 10-12 percent.

This lode gave Franklin an economic base. As the miners and mineralogists worked and studied at the mine, the additional minerals were discovered. The examples on display in one room are all from Franklin. Another room holds valuable minerals from throughout the world. One source of income for the mine is the sale of minerals to collectors. A man at the cash register in front of me purchased $478 worth of rocks. He seemed more excited at his find than we were to visit the museum. Two endowment funds and a membership program provide additional financial support.

We paid about seven dollars each to join a tour telling of the museum’s history. We paid another five dollars for each of the children to pan for minerals. The four-year-old enjoyed working a water pump while I held his sieve. The 10-year-old handled both jobs with only a little help from his mother.

Another feature of the museum is a recreated mine that has steps to climb, a display of antique mine equipment, and two mannequin miners. The children explored like real adventurers.

The largest room in the museum holds cases of arrowheads, petrified wood, fossils, agates, and gift items. However, the most exciting and beautiful room of all holds another major find in the Franklin mine – phosphoric rocks. Black lights in this room reveal rocks that looked ordinary when the lights are off. However, when turned on, the rocks, most of them larger than basketballs, glow in brilliant blues, greens, reds, yellows, and oranges; and the patterns are similar to the stripes, circles, and odd shapes painted by modernistic artists. Officials call the mine the “Fluorescent Mineral Capital of the World.”

For an additional seven dollars each, we were handed a bag and led outside to the rock pit below the picnic area. For 30 minutes, we found many pieces of rock lying on the ground, and I had brought hammers which we used to break some rocks. However, I should have brought safety goggles, because one of us got a small fleck of rock in his eye. Maw-maw to the rescue, though, and we decided to simply pick up rocks after that. We then entered the black-light room and separated the rocks that “fluoresced” from the ordinary rocks. Most of our rocks glowed in the colors of green and orange, so we chose the brightest ones to place in our bags. Two pounds per person is the limit before a nominal fee is charged for additional rocks.

We stayed for about three hours and would have stayed longer, but there was the four-year-old who was getting tired and whiny. Even the bravest adventurers will dare tangle with that.

Visit www.franklinmineralmuseum.com.

Email Sherry at sherrykug@hotmail.com

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