Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Rhein Vein: The Amazing Florescing Minerals of Amity, New York

 Amity is a hamlet of the Town of Warwick, New York
 This past summer [2012] I had the good fortune to meet Glenn Rhein of Amity, New York and to hear about his amazing mineral finds, particularly crystals that fluoresce under a short wave ultraviolet light emitter, on his property a stone's throw, excuse the pun, from where my own great grandparents, the Kiels, once owned a dairy, long known as the Feagles Farm, and where my grandmother and great aunts once traipsed fields that no doubt contained many samples of those same crystals some seventy to eighty years ago. "Who knew that such treasures lay in the ground," was the response from my great aunt Louise (nee Kiel) when I shared some of the photos I had taken of Glenn's finds.

The fluorescence of these minerals was not known to most; in fact, seeing the fluorescence requires a special short-wave ultraviolet light emitter. Fluorite, which is prevalent in this particular dig done in Amity, actually has exceptional fluorescing ability. The term "fluorescence" originates from a discovery by George Gabriel Stokes in 1852. He observed that fluorite emitted a blue glow when illuminated with visible light "beyond the violet end of the spectrum." Fluorite can fluoresce if held in sunlight then moved into the shade where noticeable color change can be seen . Fluorite emits a blue-violet color under short wave and long wave light.

Only about 15% of all minerals noticeably fluoresce. Fluorescence occurs when impurities known as activators exist. The crystalline structure of some minerals cause them to glow. Crystals temporarily absorb a small amount of light and an instant later release a small amount of it in a different wavelength. The ultraviolet light cast by short wave emitters, 100-280 nm, accentuates light released by these crystals. Novelty black lights are actually long wave emitters, 315-400 nm, and, therefore, are ineffective for revealing mineral fluorescence.

Normal light, crystals under a short wave ultraviolet light, and under long wave ultraviolet light. The short wave light reveals the brilliant colored light emitted by these crystals.
The crystals discovered by Rhein have a long history associated with Amity's history. There were finds in the 1820s and 1830s known to Europeans. An historical marker next to the nearby Crystal Inn marks the almost forgotten phenomena which had farmers, geologists, and fortune hunters scurrying into the woods with picks and shovels in hopes of hauling out giant crystals that were reputedly fetching thousands of dollars even a 150 years ago! The fact that such a high value was placed on some of these specimens made it necessary to keep much of the discoveries a secret, and there really is no documentation of what all was found and how much was carted away. Certainly, this new discovery is evidence of the breadth of discoveries that may have proceeded it.
Amity Minerals: Spinel bearing marble finds bearing rare Warwickite, Edenite and Clintonite dating to Grenville Age discovered here 1828-32.  

A specimen label for some Clintonite collected from Amity in the Town of Warwick, NY.
A sample of the many specimens collected during the 19th century  from Amity, Monroe and the surrounding area for the Ecole des Mines in France.
In this May/June issue of Rocks & Minerals magazine there is a feature story on New York State crystals in the Ecole de Mines collection in France.
 Less than 30 feet from Glenn's own home there is a huge pit that I visited with my son Gabe, who slid to the bottom and got his share of mud and water now filling its bottom. The handful of spinels Glenn fished out of a nearby puddle and dropped into my son's open palms paled to the importance he placed on the amount of mud he could take away from the site---a memorable day for all of us. It looked like a meteor crater, but it was here that Glenn extracted with a house-size back hoe on catepillar tracks what he has called the "mother lode", a rich vein of all types of crystals, some measuring four inches in diameter. Here and in the vicinity he has identified 19 different types of minerals which makes this something of a natural anomaly and a magnet for anyone who lives and breathes rocks and minerals, like George Gordianos of the Orange County Gem and Mineral Society, who accompanied me. Here we also saw samples of Edenite and Warwickite, which are two crystalline minerals named after our own neighboring Town of Warwick, where it was found, and the hamlet of Edenville.
A pit dug by Glenn Rhein with an excavator brought many important crystal finds to light.

An example of a giant diopside crystal in situ after excavation on the Amity property.
 The "Rhein vein" is actually part of a large marble belt that runs from Franklin, New Jersey, home of the famous "Franklinite", which we have a number of samples of on display at our Natural History Building, on to destinations north in Canada. In fact, if you come on over to Museum Village, there is a rather large display of many of these crystals, albeit more modest specimens, that were collected right in the vicinity of Glenn's recent finds by the late amateur mineralogist and archeologist Jack Webster, who actually spurred many on in the area, including a group of Boy Scouts from Troop 45 back in 1976 that he wowed with some of his collection, including myself, and spurred on to spend a whole lot of time hunched over looking for projectile points after the desirable combination of a spring plowing and a light rain to more easily recognize them. And Mr. Webster had a comprehensive collection of rocks and minerals from Orange County too, and a sampling of his collection has recently been unwrapped and been put out on display at Museum Village.

The estimate on the age of this crystals is somewhere in the 800 million years ago range, according to Glenn, who has been a quick study of a collection that most mineralogist would take a lifetime to acquire. The crystals may have been formed when our local Mount Adam and Eve, composed of granite, pushed through an existing marble belt forming the kind of stuff you find in plentitude in Franklin. As Glenn went through a litany of identifications of these samples including "Augite, Phlogopite..." and the like, I realized all the homework I had if some of this find were to come to be on display at Museum Village.
 At Glenn's home, constructed of the hand-hewn beams from the original barn for the property that used to sit out next to Little York Road when I was a kid, every nook and cranny is seemingly filled with mineral treasures on display. Here he took Gabe, George and I into the back room and brought out the black light.

In addition to being a visual sensation of perfect tetrahedrons and octahedrons in natural light, many of these crystals fluoresce under a black light. There were some that glowed shades of blue and green, but the real show stopper was the hand size rock that lit up hot pink! There's a real wow factor with these minerals that Museum Village would be remiss in not presenting for its school visitors. The fact that has often been shared with me is that Orange County is a geologists' treasure trove yet the largest collection of rocks and minerals from this area is actually at the Ecole des Mines in Paris, France. Recently, Glenn and his wife Karen travelled to Paris to present some samples from their recent finds in Amity to the School of Mines, and they have been extremely generous with donations to a number of universities and museums across the country.

In the coming months, the museum plans to receive some specimens from the "Rhein vein" thanks to the generosity of Glenn and Karen, including some crystals that fluoresce, and both Glenn and George Gordianos have discussed with us the possibility of realizing a dark room within the Natural History Building at the museum that will provide an unforgettable experience for visitors of these natural wonders. We hope to have that in place by the Spring 2012 season.
Meionite & Diopside
Dig site


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