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 Arizona Mineral & Mining Museum

The Arizona Mineral and Mining Museum [closed since 2011] commemorated the Arizona mining industry. It traced its origins to a Territorial Fair exhibit of mineral and ore specimens in 1884. That temporary exhibition was so popular that in 1917 the Arizona State Legislature authorized funding to construct a dedicated mineral building on the State Fairgrounds. The building was completed in 1919, and housed the collection but was open to the public only during the annual Territorial and then State Fairs until 1953. In that year six of the State's major mining companies agreed to underwrite the cost of establishing a formal public museum in the Mineral Building and keeping it open year-round.

The museum's mineral collection grew substantially in 1961 (Howell, 2006): The Mineralogical Society of Arizona (MSA) responded to the death of Arizona's most prominent rockhound and mineral collector, Arthur L. Flagg, by "desiring to set up some kind of memorial situation." Flagg's widow put in the newspaper a request that donations be made to MSA in lieu of flowers. She thought the society would receive a couple of dollars; they'd put in a couple more for a one-time scholarship over at the University of Arizona in Tempe, and that would be the end of it. But donations totaling $3000 were received from donors worldwide! Ed Flagg, Art's son, then set up a foundation to acquire minerals and show them in the Museum {of which Art Flagg had been the first curator}.

Enter Carl Stentz, former mayor of Alhambra, California, an advanced mineral collector with a specialty in Arizona minerals. Stentz read in the newspaper in 1963 that parties from Eastern Europe had an option to buy the Loris and Colleen Woolery Collection of minerals in Bisbee. According to Ed Flagg, "Carl Stentz thought this was equivalent of moving the Statue of Liberty to Tokyo Bay." Mr. Stentz got in touch with the Woolerys, who offered to sell their collection to the Foundation instead for about half-price.

Loris and Colleen Woolery were avid mineral collectors. Mr. Woolery, born in Tombstone, was President of Pioneer Title and Trust Company in Bisbee, a firm started by his father. They began collecting minerals in 1952 when they bought an Indian collection with a few mineral specimens. News travels fast in a canyon town, so soon rockhounds and local miners were selling their wares to the Woolerys. Three hundred visitors a year signed the Woolery guest book, some as late as 3 a.m. Eventually, their nine-room house and very large lot weren't big enough. Overwhelmed, they decided to sell their 1600-specimen collection, of which 70% were Arizona minerals. As Ed Flagg put it, the situation "got to a point that either the Woolerys lived in the house or the minerals lived in the house."

The initial donations had provided $3,000, but $7,000 more were needed to purchase the Woollery collection. In April of 1963, Floyd Getsinger, Chairman of the fledgling A.L. Flagg Foundation for the Advancement of Earth Science, spoke to the Arizona Small Mine Operators Association. As Getsinger spoke, Charles Goetz of Tolleson, sitting in the first row, listened patiently. Goetz, an Arizonan since Territorial days, was the owner of Arizona Wax Paper Company and also mining concerns including the 79 Mine. When Getsinger concluded, Goetz asked a couple questions and then said, "I'll give you $12,000. Does anybody have a pen?" The excess paid for insurance and the display cases for the collection.

Floyd Getsinger and several volunteers went to Bisbee and picked up the Woollery collection with trailers and cars and brought it to Phoenix. Alice Getsinger fondly remembered holding the white Okenite "rabbit" in her lap for the long trip back to Phoenix.

In 1972, the Arizona Mining Association formally transferred the Museum with all of its materials and minerals to the Arizona Department of Mineral Resources, who established their offices there. In October 1991 the Museum was moved to its current location, a historic building, formerly known as the El Zaribah Shrine Temple (since renamed the Polly Rosenbaum Building) at 1502 West Washington in Phoenix.

The 16 wall cabinets that had been used to house the Woolery Collection were designed and made by Ed Flagg and a friend in his cabinet shop. Ed personally selected the mahogany wood and designed them intentionally "not straight up and down so lights would not reflect." Ed's original cabinets were refinished by members of the Maricopa Lapidary Society before the museum was moved from the Fairgrounds to the Zaribah building in 1991.

Over 3,000 minerals, rocks, fossils and mining artifacts were on exhibit in the Museum. Highlighting the collection were the colorful minerals from Arizona's copper mines, including an eight-foot specimen of native copper. Also on display were the two halves of a large quartz geode (each half weighing 240 pounds), Lunar rock specimens from the Apollo missions, and a fragment of the Meteor Crater meteorite weighing 206 pounds. Exhibits of special interest included cases devoted to well-known Arizona specimen localities, mineral crystal systems, crystal habits, causes of color in minerals, fulgarites, and fluorescent minerals. The museum also displayed the mineral collection of the Arizona Mineral and Mining Museum Foundation and about 1,000 specimens from the personal collection of former Secretary of State and Governor Rose Mofford.

Historic mining equipment was prominently displayed outside, including the 43-foot tall Boras mine headframe that had been moved to Phoenix from Bisbee, Arizona. It stood alongside an 1882 baby-gauge steam train locomotive from Phelps Dodge's Morenci mine. A mucker car and ore car were set on rails in the front yard of the Museum, and a 19-foot-tall 5-stamp mill was added. Contemporary open pit mining was represented by a 13-foot-diameter tire from a 320-ton-capacity mine haul truck and a 27-cubic-yard bucket from an electric shovel.

The mineral displays at the Arizona Mineral and Mining Museum were for many years a highlight of any collector's visit to Phoenix, but unfortunately the State Legislature decided to close the museum in 2011. The collection was put into storage, except for a selection of the best specimens which is now on loan at the University of Arizona Mineral Museum in Tucson. With the museum's closure, the foundation's name was changed to the Flagg Mineral Foundation. The Foundation is still very active, sponsoring a mineral show each year and an annual symposium. Six hundred and sixty-nine of the specimens that were on exhibit in the museum are the property of the Flagg Mineral Foundation; over 250 of these are now on exhibit in the Mineral Museum of the University of Arizona in Tucson.

In February 2017 the State Legislature voted to permanently turn over the collections of the Arizona Mineral and Mining Museum to the University of Arizona. Plans are now proceeding to open a new mineral museum in downtown Tucson, in the historic building called the Old Courthouse, combining the collections of the University of Arizona Mineral Museum, the Arizona Mineral and Mining Museum, and additional collections being donated.

HOWELL, G. (2006) The Woolery collection, core of the Foundation's collections, or, how a Californian kept the Woolery collection in Arizona. Arizona Mineral and Mining Museum Foundation News, 16 (5), Winter, p.3.
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[Citation format for this entry:
WILSON, Wendell E. (2019)
Mineralogical Record
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