National Geographic : 2002 Mar
opened the gates to visitors from far and wide, lured by diamond dreams. Signs of the actual crater are long gone, but anyone can come and search in the park's 37-acre diamond field (plowed regularly for easier digging) and take away all the diamonds he might find. All you need is a shovel, a bucket, a sieve (all available for rent), and five dollars-paid at the entrance. At 7:30 on a June morning, with the temperature in the high 70s and climbing, Shirley's friend James is waiting patiently at the park entrance for opening time. Tough as weathered whipcord, James, 76, the son of a sharecropper, has been coming here every day except Sunday for 30 years, working just as hard as he has since his father's heart attack turned him into the family provider at age ten. He says his diamond fever dates back to the moment when his wife, Gladys, came here for a day and found a diamond. "I said, 'I'm going to get me an itty-bitty diamond too, but it was two years before I found a single one." That was at least 5,000 diamonds ago. They have not made James rich, but they have earned him what he figures is gas money for the daily 30-mile round-trip from home. Most of the rough stones weigh only a fraction of a carat, and he ends up selling them to local people and rock shops for a modest price. James's diamonds have also earned him an unofficial role at the mine. He's promoted to 55,000 visitors a year as the "living legend" who knows the "secrets of the crater." As he and I talked that morning, he ges tured with amused cynicism to one regular, a daily digger like himself, loitering impatiently nearby. "He's just waiting to see where I'm going to dig today." Shirley herself came from a logging family: "They all worked in the woods. When it rained, everybody was broke." But she grew up more interested in diamonds than in lumber, and she was always drawn to the mine. Even after finding that special diamond, Shirley kept digging, fill ing up her sample boxes with "Itwas two years before Ifound a single one." Even the darkest Mur freesboro diamonds (above) glimmer with hope. Alabama oral sur geon James Russell hauls dirt hoping for a stone worthy of his fiancee. (No luck.) Local James Archer looks for glitter six days a week-and finds just enough gems to cover his digging expenses.