On Aug. 11, 1904, water from a swollen Long Creek, estimated at 100 million gallons in just five minutes, flooded the Barringer gold mine in Stanly County, killing eight workers.
That disaster effectively led to the cessation of commercial gold mining in North Carolina. Now a short movie about that event is being filmed at the site where gold was first discovered in North Carolina, the Reed Gold Mine Historic Site in Midland.
“Like Rats in a Trap” will tell the story of the Barringer flood and offer a glimpse into everyday mining life at the beginning of the 20th century.
Co-director and editor Scott Lazes said the Reed mine is the perfect site for this project, which is funded with a Kickstarter campaign and possible because cast and crew are working at reduced rates.
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“Everything is custom and beautiful, and the property and grounds are well-preserved,” Lazes said. In fact, he said, the site was actually “a little too pristine” for the time depicted in the film, and needed to be “dressed down” a bit.
That job fell to art director Jessica Segal, who had to hide such potential anachronisms as light switches, make tools dirty so that they looked freshly used, and change all the light bulbs in the mine for the sake of authenticity.
Aaron Kepley, historic interpreter at the mine, said this isn’t the first time the Reed mine site has been used for filming. But this time is special for him, since he was offered a small speaking part.
Apparently screenwriter and co-director Seth Koch “liked the way I look,” Kepley said, and offered him the part of the stamp mill operator.
On the day of the filming, the Reed mine site, typically busy with tourists and school children, bustled with a different sort of energy.
The auditorium in the visitors’ center was transformed into a central location for hair, makeup and costumes. Actors in period costume and crew members, bundled up in the clear January cold, hurried between the stamp mill, the mine and the visitors’ center, waiting for the moment they would be needed.
All the filming at the Reed mine was scheduled to be completed on one Monday, when the site is closed to the public. But one special guest did make an appearance to watch the production: a direct descendant of one of the people portrayed in the film.
Jeff Williams’ great-grandfather, Charlie Williams, played by Patrick Keenan in the movie, worked at the Barringer mine and helped to pump out the water after the disaster.
The older Williams shared a lot of stories about the Barringer mine with his great-grandson, so Jeff drove from his home in Richfield to observe this movie that included his ancestor.
The disaster was terrible, Jeff Williams told me. His great-grandfather and others worked for 60 consecutive hours to pump all the water from the mine, and it took 11 days to find all the bodies.
One worker, who had been near the top, managed to survive, but they found the others clinging to ladders, trying to escape.
After the disaster, Charlie Williams, who started working at the mine in 1895 hauling water to the miners for 25 cents a day, was asked by owner George Whitney to stay on as caretaker, which Williams did until 1912. He died in 1966 at age 83.
Lazes and Koch are excited about sharing this piece of North Carolina history.
Screenings of “Like Rats in a Trap” will take place in Charlotte and at the Reed Gold Mine Historic Site, Koch said. Lazes said they are also exploring the idea of showing their movie at film festivals, and it will be available online at Vimeo-on-Demand for $1.
Check out the “Like Rats in a Trap” Facebook page for updates on the project.