Hold it in your hand – it doesn’t look like much. A rough-edged, roundish rock that isn’t very pretty to look at. But inside – oh, inside – all the world sparkles in the colored facets – blue, pink, purple, white, gray.
Crystal Cave near Put-in-Bay, Ohio, is a life-size geode, not a hand-held. The fun thing about it is that its discovery was accidental. Gustav Heineman from Baden, Germany, had founded a winery on the ground above in 1888. The Lake Erie Islands are a fine area for growing grapes, with good soil conditions and a long growing season. In 1897, workers were digging a new well for the winery and discovered the underground geode forty feet down. The crystals it contains measure from eight to eighteen inches long and are a lovely pale blue.
At first, the cave was mined for mineral celestine. Celestine (or SrSO4 – Strontium Sulfate), is the main source of the element strontium; one of strontium’s uses is an additive in fireworks – it creates an intense red explosion. So the cave is a bit larger than it was when originally discovered. Heineman decided to stop the mining, though, and turn the cave into a tourist attraction.
And a good thing, too; the Volstead Act, meant to support the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, was passed in 1919. As most of us know, the 18th Amendment prohibited the production, sale and transport of intoxicating liquors. (This led, just by-the-by, to the development of stock-car racing as bootleggers fled the police in souped-up vehicles, ‘speakeasies’ – underground bars where people drank cocktails in which the alcohol was ‘hidden’ in fruit juice, and the rise of organized crime.) The Heineman Winery survived, while competing wineries around them fell, by selling unfermented grape juice and providing tours of the underground cave. Today, the Winery is flourishing with the third, fourth and fifth generation of Heinemans still in charge. They grow several different kinds of grapes, pressing and creating their own blends of wine. And they still offer tours of Crystal Cave, the World’s Largest Geode!