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Sumpter's golden ghosts
By Jayson Jacoby
Baker County’s best-known ghost town has been livelier than usual this summer.
Sumpter’s history, which mixes a rich legacy of gold mining with anecdotal tales of various hauntings, has proved irresistible to the ever-growing arena of reality TV.
A crew is producing a multi-episode series in and around Sumpter this summer that combines the area’s historical and supernatural attributes, said LeAnne Woolf, a Sumpter city councilor.
The working title of the series is “Ghost Mine,” she said.
A member of the film crew told city councilors this month that the series is tentatively scheduled to air this November, on Syfy (formerly the Sci-Fi Channel), Woolf said.
“It’s been quite a summer,” she said.
Besides the pending television exposure — Syfy is available in about 98 million homes — and Sumpter’s usual trio of summer flea markets, this year also marks the 150th birthday of the town, which is about 28 miles southwest of Baker City.
And earlier in July, a crew from another cable network, the Travel Channel, arrived to document a visit from the couple who served as judges for the Rand McNally/USA Today Best of the Road contest.
(Baker City was a finalist in the Most Beautiful Small Town category; part of the Travel Channel’s episode showed the judges riding on the Sumpter Valley Railroad.)
Sumpter’s population, which reached about 3,000 during the heyday of hard-rock mining in the decade or so before the First World War, is about 200 today.
The town never recovered from a fire in August 1917 that destroyed most of its buildings.
Woolf, who grew up in Sumpter and is the daughter of longtime city residents Leland and Nancy Myers, is chair of Sumpter’s Sesquicentennial Committee.
Woolf said the series is being filmed mainly at the Buckeye Mine group near Bourne, about six miles north of Sumpter.
The crew also shot scenes recently at the Sumpter Valley Dredge State Park, on the southern outskirts of town.
The massive, 1,250-ton gold-mining dredge, which scoured the Sumpter Valley from 1913-54, is the home of one specific ghost, Old Joe Bush.
Tales of that spectral apparition spawned Patrick Carman’s 2009 novel, “Skeleton Creek,” which also includes video taken at the dredge.
Larry Overman, who owns the Buckeye Mine group, referred questions about the Syfy program to his agent, who could not be reached for comment in time for this story.
According to the minutes from the Sumpter City Council’s May 22 meeting, Overman told city officials that the series would have “a family oriented mining theme along with ... paranormal ghost hunters.”
Woolf said Jay Bluemke is creative director for the series.
Bluemke has served as editor, producer and supervising producer for “Ghost Hunters,” one of Syfy’s more popular reality series, according to imdb.com.
Woolf said Bluemke told her that, based on the influx of tourists reported by towns that were featured in just a single episode of “Ghost Hunters,” the “Ghost Mine” series could have an even bigger effect on Sumpter.
That effect has already started, actually.
Members of the production crew are staying in local homes and lodging establishments, Woolf said.
“There’s definitely a lot of people walking around town on the weekends,” she said.
And patronizing local businesses.
“We really appreciate what (members of the production crew) have done for us,” said Anita Lewis, who owns The Gold Post store in Sumpter. “They’ve definitely helped us.”