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The Mystery of the Broken Glasses

One morning in early March of 1971 I was one of the workmen gathered in the Laytonville State Highway Maintenance Yard awaiting instructions on the day's work. During this usual pre-work bull session I overheard the boss, L.B. Peterson, say that he had heard a strange tale that weekend in Boomer's Bar, the local tavern. As he retold it I was so intrigued that I decided to do some investigating.

It seems that that Claude Rose, a bartender at Boomer’s, had worked on a ranch near Middletown a year or so back in the heart of Lake County’s “diamond” country. Rose and his wife are rockhounds and naturally collected some of the diamonds (which are really quartz crystals). Mrs. Rose later showed me a widemouth quart jar which she said had been full of the rough diamonds but they had given about half of them to friends and fellow rock hounds.

Claude's stories are one of the attractions at Boomer’s and one day in September of 1970 a stranger and his wife who had come in for a drink heard his story about finding the diamonds. They asked if they might see them and possibly buy one or two. Claude replied that he would give them some, but the rocks were at his home and he couldn't leave the bar to get them. The stranger said they would be passing through Laytonville again in about two weeks and he would stop at the bar to pick up the diamonds.

The next day Claude brought a few of the diamonds to the bar and put them in a two-ounce heavy-base shot glass on a shelf over the cash register. Four days later he and a couple of customers heard a sharp plinking sound from near the register. The best way he could describe the sound was to say it reminded him of the report of a 22 caliber rifle.

Looking in the direction of the sound, Claude saw that the shot glass containing the diamonds was lying in two pieces. The glass had broken from the lip at the top, down one side, across the bottom and up the other side. The glass had not shattered; the break was so smooth it looked as if it had been cut. Claude found no evidence that anything had struck the glass and he was certain it had not been cracked when he put the diamonds in it.

A couple of weeks later, early in October, the couple who had asked for the diamonds returned. By this time three shot glasses had broken in the same mysterious way and of course Claude told the couple about this. They found it hard to believe even when they saw the broken glasses.

Nevertheless the couple asked permission to buy a couple of the shot glasses to take along with the diamonds.

Later they wrote to Claude to say that in a casino in Reno, Nevada, they had made a bet with a bartender that their diamonds would break a shot glass within seven days. This was something of a gamble on their part, for all they had to go on was Claude’s story.

The bartender took the wager and set the shot glass (one the couple had bought from Boomer’s) with the diamonds in it on the back bar. The glass fell apart in less than three hours! This was the shortest time yet, the longest having been nine days.

Vern Tweedy, the manager at Boomer’s, was astounded by the phenomenon. He tried putting the diamonds in different types of glasses such as those used for highballs, cocktails and old-fashioneds. Nothing happened. Tweedy went so far as to purchase another case of shot glasses from his supplier on the assumption that perhaps something was wrong with those he had on hand — but the diamonds broke the new shot glasses in the same manner.

On one occasion, two mining engineers working temporarily in Laytonville heard what was happening and came to see for themselves. After listening to the story they bought a few of the glasses from Tweedy and Claude gave them a few of the diamonds. That night the two engineers stayed in a Laytonville hotel. After what they had heard they didn't want to chance breaking a glass until they got to their own homes, but in handling the diamonds before they retired they must have placed one of the rocks near a shot glass because the next morning when they got up the glass was broken. When the bar opened the engineers were waiting to tell Claude their story.

Many of the townspeople theorized that music from the jukebox in the bar or loud noises from passing lumber and log trucks hit just the right vibration to break the glasses. I can rule out such causes, however, for the mining engineers glass broke in a quiet motel room. Also, three glasses have been known to break outside the bar itself. Any sort of chemical reaction involving alcohol can be ruled out too, for only two of the glasses which were broken had been used. The rest were new glasses right out of the case and some were from an entirely different shipment.

As near as I have been able to find out, the diamonds have broken approximately a dozen glasses.

While all this was going on Robert Drummond, a Penn State University student majoring in biochemistry, was working in Laytonville as a geologist's assistant. He acquired some of the diamonds and also bought a half-dozen shot glasses and returned to Penn State in November of 1970, determined to do some research. Through correspondence with Mr. Drummond I learned the results of his work.

He wrote me that he had arrived at a theory, if not a solution. He first determined the specific gravity of the Laytonville diamonds and found it agreed with the figure for the “Herkimer diamonds” of upstate New York which are quartz. Drummond placed some of the Herkimer crystals in vials at the University and the vials broke. He told me that the vials break only when they are in direct contact with the quartz. In the mining engineers’ room at the motel, however, a shot glass not in contact with the diamonds broke. Perhaps the difference in weight and thickness of the glass in the vials and in the shot glasses explains it.

Drummond’s theory is that the stones act like the old crystal set radios and magnify radio frequencies sufficiently to shatter glass just as high frequency sound can do. I am inclined to agree with this theory, especially since Drummond has found that the crystals seem to lose potency over a period of time. He discovered it takes longer each time for a given crystal to break the glass. I know from my study of radio that the early sets tended to fade as the crystals aged.

Whatever the explanation, the townspeople of Laytonville have a subject for conversation and controversy that will last for years. For me, this has been one of the most interesting mysteries I've run across in a lifetime of searching for gems, minerals and treasure.

Now some 50 years later, this mystery still remains unsolved. Over the years I have acquired a few of the larger rough stones and have had a couple of them faceted for a ring setting. But I was careful not to keep them in close proximity of the one and only shot glass that I got from Mr. Rose. If anyone can come up with a reasonable theory of how these glasses broke I would like to hear from you. You can write to me in care of this newspaper or call 895-3888.

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