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Park City `Tunnel of Terror' strikes a nerve

In 1902, a cache of subterranean dynamite exploded in a local silver shaft, killing 34 workers in a pair of connected mines.

In 1997, the site is being promoted as a Halloween-month evening out.United Park City Mines Co. has dubbed its seasonal diversion at Park City Silver Mine Adventure the "Tunnel of Terror," with the promise that "various dead and decaying miners and their ravenous rat friends will greet our guests."

The production debuted Friday night but is not playing well in some quarters of a state where mining remains a sizable interest and where its history is sprinkled with a number of major disasters in which more than 500 people have died since the turn of the century.

"It's very offensive, very distasteful to families who have lost people," said Fred Lupo, president of the United Mine Workers of America's eight-state District 22, which is based in Price and represents about 10,000 members.

"I've never heard of anybody being gross enough to do that," said Lupo, explaining that mines in which major accidents occur are often treated sacredly and some are even closed as memorials to their victims.

Randy Sella, general manager of the Park City Silver Mine Adventure, said the attraction's operators meant no offense in creating the Halloween tour, which is open daily starting this weekend until Oct. 30.

"There's no way it is in any way demeaning or an attempt to disrespect miners or their families," Sella said, adding that much of the Halloween presentation relies on historical information offered visitors during the rest of the year.

Hank Rothwell, CEO of United Park City Mines, which owns the mine, said the production is a mere addition to a museum and year-round tour that pays homage to Utah's mining past and its workers.

"We've spent millions of dollars here at the silver mine to honor the history of mining in this state. Our whole thrust is to honor the miner," Rothwell said.

Indeed, Park City Silver Mine Adventure embodies probably the most thorough and hands-on re-visitation of mining history in Utah. featuring an above-ground museum and guided tour 1,500 feet below the ground's surface.

The 1902 accident was the worst in the history of local hard-rock mining and inspired passage of a state statute that outlawed the underground storage of explosives.

Mitch Vilos, a Salt Lake attorney who specializes in representing miners' interests, said the 1902 incident - distant though it may be - likely remains a painful memory for some.

"There are probably family descendants of these miners who live in or near the Park City area," said Vilos. Sella said that he was not immediately authorized to pull the plug on the mining-accident portion of the Halloween tour but that the request would be considered.