When the Miner was taken off the front page of The Union Democrat in March 2015, then-columnist Chris Bateman wrote an obituary for him. Here’s the never-published column that offers insight into why it was important to us to bring him back. Long live the Miner.
The Union Democrat Miner, a fixture on the front page of Sonora’s daily newspaper for more than 77 years, died on March 6, 2015 of unknown causes.
He is survived by three unadorned words of print – The Union Democrat – in a classic typeface dating back to the paper’s origins in 1854.
The Miner became the face of The Democrat on July 8, 1938, a week after publishers Donald Segerstrom and Raymond Minners, both 19, took over the paper’s reins from the Van Harlingen family, which had owned it for more than 50 years.
If The Miner’s days or hours were numbered, it was not reflected in his appearance in recent days. His beard was neither whiter nor longer than it had been the day before. His wide-brimmed hat seemed no more tattered and his bandana no more threadbare.
For that matter, neither The Miner nor his gear seemed even a day older than they were when he joined the paper.
The Miner had no parting words, but this was no surprise. Although he was the face of The Democrat for the better part of a century, he was a man of no words. In his 77 years, not one quote, saying, mantra, motto or mission statement was ever attributed to him.
But, especially when a particularly preposterous story appeared below his lofty masthead perch, some readers swore there was a brighter twinkle in his eye or just the hint of a grin in his already knowing expression. No tear was visible in his final UD appearance, but as befits Tuolumne County’s rough-and-tumble prospectors of days gone by, The Miner was not one to display his emotions.
If he did have a creative side, it was expressed through his headwear. Beginning with Harvey McGee’s nearly 40-year (1959-1998) tenure as publisher, The Miner would frequently don a hat reflecting the holiday or season at hand.
Starting with a Santa cap, the old prospector over the years branched out: He had been known to wear a witch’s cap (Halloween), a pilgrim’s hat (Thanksgiving), an Uncle Sam top hat (Fourth of July) and even a belled joker’s cap (April Fool’s Day).
The Miner was nothing if not durable: He appeared on the paper’s front page many more times than any local politician, criminal, adventurer, athlete or war hero. He survived the Great Depression, Pearl Harbor, World War II, integration, Vietnam, Watergate, rock ‘n’ roll, drugs, the sexual revolution, the computer revolution, the designated hitter, the three-point shot and the two-point conversion.
His tenure covered the administrations of 13 U.S. presidents (Franklin Roosevelt through Barack Obama) and six Union Democrat publishers. He oversaw, at least figuratively, the work of editors, reporters, photographers, typographers and graphic artists by the score.
All that said, The Miner’s origins are shrouded in mystery.
Then-reporter Chris Bateman, in a story on for The Democrat’s 150 th anniversary special edition in 2004, conceded that his own journalistic mining had yielded few biographical details. Neither publisher Segerstrom’s widow, Mary Etta, nor his grandson, Donald, knew what or who might have inspired The Miner, who had first sketched him, or if he looked anything like the paper’s founder, A.N. Francisco.
It is doubtful, however, that The Miner hit any glory holes or big strikes. Otherwise, why would he end up in journalism, a profession not known for its extravagant wages? But at least it offered this particular gold digger job security.
“Yes, our mysterious prospector is hardly an open book,” Bateman’s story concluded.
Now his job is secure.