During the autumn of 1929, when Faulkner was writing As I Lay Dying to the hum of the dynamo in the powerhouse where he was working the night shift, my father, some twenty miles away in Panola County, Mississippi, had another kind of dynamo in his head.
Entire islands dissolved. Old trees stuck in the river bottom shot up like gigantic spring-loaded spears. A twenty- to thirty-foot pulse of water pushed backwards up the river; ghost ships, their crews mysteriously missing, came floating back down.
Outside, it is humid even by Florida standards, made all the worse by machines pumping fog into the heavy air. Red emergency lights revolve in silence; floodlights splatter ruddy light on walls and puddle it on the ground. Speakers snarl or hum with elegiac music that is vaguely Gregorian. Sconces belch fire; the flames go up like a mimicry of startled park goers, in sudden gaps.
It was nighttime and we had been quietly sitting around a table in the large boardroom of the Saint Cloud Chamber of Commerce for ten minutes, acclimating to ambient sounds. I bounced twice in my leather captain’s chair, testing it. Phil cut the lights and said, “You’ll hear a thump-thump. That will be the AC turning off.” In darkness, it becomes apparent how the slightest bodily adjustment can make a wooden floor whimper. The four ceiling fans petered out. A laser grid latticed on a projector screen at the front of the room. I heard the sound of zippers as people around me pulled out their own electromagnetic field meters and ghost boxes. Some people had brought their own ghost-hunting toys.
The Arkansas Diamond Company ringed their claim with armed guards, but part of the crater lay under the land of a neighbor named Millard Mauney, who set up his own operation. For fifty cents a day prospectors could mine Mauney’s land and keep what they found. At the time, Murfreesboro’s only hotel was a ten-room structure made of logs with no electricity or indoor plumbing. But a ten-thousand-person tent city sprouted between town and the mine. One prospector discovered a 13-carat diamond. Mauney himself recovered hundreds of diamonds. His son Walter had a local dentist embed a diamond in one of his teeth.