16 Jan 2013
'Ghost Mine': Digging for ghosts
on January 14, 2013 at 8:00 AM, updated January 14, 2013 at 8:05 AM
Patrick Doyle and Kristen Luman of Ghost Mine Syfy's "Ghost Mine" takes two popular cable TV reality genres -- dirty jobs and paranormal investigations -- and mashes them together.
Instead of sending Oregonians into Alaska, as Discovery Channel does for "Gold Rush," "Ghost Mine" brings the action to eastern Oregon as miners and ghostbusters work side by side at the Crescent Mine near Sumpter, about 30 miles outside of Baker City.
The six-episode first season was filmed in the Elkhorn Mountains this past summer. Cottage Grove's Dick Secord Jr. (also known as "Greybeard") was among the miners recruited. His specialty is working old mines and finding gold previous miners have left behind. He calls it "detective mining," the kind of work he's done with his 82-year-old father for decades. Secord said it was his first time being filmed for a TV show.
"After a day or so you don't notice (the cameras)," he said. "You've got to keep an eye on the (crew) because you don't know what's going to fall where."
Stranger still was the presence of paranormal investigators.
"My first thought was, I couldn't quit laughing," Secord said of the "Ghost Mine" premise. "We've got hundreds of hours underground and I guess we're pretty closed in. I've got my nose forward looking for one thing and there's a lot of stuff we overlook, stuff you block out. It was very interesting. I learned a lot."
Secord, 59, won't say if he saw ghosts. He's already learned the importance of not spoiling TV show plots ("You'll have to wait and see") and mastering the tease: "I can tell you I've got a whole new outlook on it."
Dave Caplan, vice president of development at 51 Minds, the production company that brought "Ghost Mine" to Syfy, said Oregon was chosen for production after producers learned of a supposedly haunted mine.
"I called the mine owner, Larry Overman, and found out he was this Texas oilman, with no experience in mining, and he was determined to reopen the mine," Caplan said. "But he'd already had one crew of miners that was scared off and he was running out of time and money."
Producers took the show concept to Syfy. Tim Krubsack, senior vice president of alternative programming, recalled a pitch meeting interrupted by a fire drill.
"They had a couple ideas they wanted to discuss and there was a fire alarm exercise and we all had to evacuate this 32-story building and as we go they start telling me about this haunted mine in Oregon," Krubsack said. "It was a known haunted location, which obviously fits in our wheelhouse rather nicely."
Syfy's other paranormal shows include the popular "Ghost Hunters" and "Ghost Hunters International." But "Ghost Mine" marks Syfy's first entry into the gold mining craze that's been popular across cable networks with shows like "Gold Rush" and "Bering Sea Gold."
"What makes gold mining really popular now is in this economic climate where people are struggling and looking for ways to make money," Krubsack said. "These guys are out there, very relatable, blue collar, hardworking, doing everything they can to support their families. A lot of people can relate to that work ethic and those struggles."
As for the paranormal aspect of the show, that's an area where Syfy has more experience.
Producers cast two paranormal investigators with Oregon ties. Kristen Luman attended Portland State University and now lives in Los Angeles; Patrick Doyle moved to Portland about five years ago. He works as executive creative director at Portland ad agency SQ1 by day and investigates the paranormal as a hobby in his time off. His company allowed him to take a leave of absence last summer to film "Ghost Mine."
Doyle says he had his first paranormal experience at age 7 when he came face-to-face with a shadow figure.
"Instead of running away, I actually stepped toward it," he said.
Doyle, who previously had on-camera experience with some KOIN Halloween specials, said he met the mine's owner through friends and received an invitation to visit the mine. Producers gave Doyle a screen test and he was cast on "Ghost Mine."
Doyle said the miners saw investigators as a possible hindrance to their primary effort.
"Mainly we wanted to see why the last crew before these guys got scared out," Doyle said. "They were like, 'We don't care about the last crew, we're here for gold and nothing will scare us away.'"
Doyle said the miners were particularly unhappy with the presence of Luman, a redhead. A mining superstition says women near a mine are bad luck and redheaded women are particularly unlucky. Doyle has reddish hair, too, but the miners never remarked on it.
"She's the more prominent redhead, I guess, and I'm a blonder red," Doyle said. "She was upset after the first meeting with the miners. But it comes down to the old superstition, which is not about redheaded males. Redheaded males worked in the mines because of Irish labor."
When: 10 p.m. Wednesday
Was a redheaded female investigator cast to add drama to "Ghost Mine"? Krubsack said he knew of no one familiar with the superstition, but Doyle said he thought producers were aware of the legend.
"I think, in part, yes," she was cast for that, Doyle said. "But there are other things. She rounds out the team. She and I were a perfect team, I think. I come into the investigation with the deep investigation experience, knowledge of the gear we use and she brings how people think and perceive and the other side of what people are hearing and seeing, that it could be related to oxygen levels that are so low they're hallucinating or they were out partying too late last night and they're just tired and fatigued."
Although the relationship with the miners started rocky, Doyle said that changed.
"As the show progressed and the mining season progressed, they started experiencing things they couldn't explain," Doyle said. "They'd hear noises and see stuff and by the end of the show I think they trusted us a little bit more. They're more open with us. In the beginning, they were totally closed off -- "just get these guys off my mountain" -- but basically we became a part of the crew after a while."
-- Freelance writer Rob Owen: RobOwenTV@gmail.com or on Facebook and Twitter as RobOwenTV.