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Diamonds in the White Mountains

By Arthur Anderson

Mention of the White Mountains brings to mind the relaxing elegance of the Mount Washington Hotel, a challenging hike up to Arethusa Falls (New Hampshire's highest waterfall), and the majestic rise of the cliffs at Frankonia Notch.   But the lore of New Hampshire's mountains also includes dreams and legends of precious gemstones and diamonds.

In the early 1600s, European mariners first spied the White Mountains while exploring the coastline of Maine.   With their craggy shapes and luminescent blanket of white snow, the mountains became known as the Crystal Hills.   No doubt in anticipation of the diamonds and gemstones waiting to be discovered.

Over the next several centuries rumours flourished of the natural wealth hidden within the hills.   Although no significant deposits were ever found, the stories persisted.

In 1855, John Spaulding wrote of an ancient manuscript found among papers related to the early exploration of the region.   One passage of the manuscript referred to a stream in which "we could as easily count the sands as the spotted fish."   And "by this water...we found [a] good store of curious stones, that we esteemed to be diamonds.   At the foot of a high rock, near the water, we picked up certain leaves of fine silver and gold as thick as a man's nail."   No wonder rumours and dreams of untold wealth flourished!

Another early tradition recounts the discovery of large, strikingly brilliant carbuncles (what we call garnets) hanging from the crags and cliffs of the mountains.   These reports triggered a stampede of "carbuncle hunters", some of whom enlisted "spirit advisors".   The spirit advisors were to help in locating the gemstones and then in appeasing the guardian spirits said to protect them.   Unfortunately, no gigantic garnets were ever found.

One of my favorite stories involves an elderly hunter/fisherman named Sanborn.   In the early 1850s, he began telling a tale about a discovery he made during his youth.   It seems that when the young Sanborn wasn't out bagging bears or the occasional catamount, he enjoyed fishing.   One day, while wetting his line near Mt. Pleasant, he came across two tall white rocks that straddled the stream.   To his amazement each of the stones was encrusted with glittering diamonds.   Being resourceful, our hero dislodged several of the crystals using his fishing pole.   Later he sold them for $5 a piece.   (The diamond market must have been depressed at the time.)

In 1853, a much older Sanborn interested several treasure-seekers in his story.   He returned with them to his old fishing grounds to search for the diamond encrusted rocks.   Armed with surveying equipment and power drills they made a thorough search of the area, but after several days they departed tired, discouraged and empty handed.

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