In Boiling Springs, a ka-boom! goes bust

“If you read local histories of Boiling Springs and then-Gardner-Webb College, you will find no mention of the ill-advised use of dynamite. Even today, seven decades later, older residents are reluctant to talk about what occurred. The exact details are sketchy, but the essence is that during the 1940s, the town fathers wanted to promote the “boiling spring” (there was actually only one) as a major tourist attraction, a Southern version of Yellowstone’s Old Faithful. The only problem, a rather significant one, was that while Yellowstone’s geyser boiled up 50 feet, the town’s spring topped out at 24 inches — on a good day.

“Enter Boiling Springs High School’s chemistry teacher. The novelist in me loves to imagine this scene: The town elders gather in a classroom as the eccentric teacher begins to clutter a chalkboard with formulas and symbols. His listeners are skeptical at first, but slowly they are won over by the periodic table’s arcane vocabulary. After finishing at the board, the teacher corroborates the future spring’s height and velocity with his slide rule. Then he lets the town fathers pass the slide rule around so they can see for themselves that what is being proposed is not a theory but a mathematical fact.

“Whatever was said or shown that day, the plan passed. A time was set, the required materials gathered. Most of the town fathers were storeowners or landowners, so surely visions of crowded stores and land booms filled their heads when, days later, the chemistry teacher planted dynamite sticks in and around the spring. I’d like to think that shortly before pushing the detonator, the mayor made a speech about the necessity of progress. After the smoke cleared, the boiling spring, now not even a gurgle, lay flat and calm as water in a sauce pan. It has remained that way ever since.”

— From “Lost Moments in Basketball History,” a reminiscence about David Thompson by Ron Rash in Grantland


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