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Hutchinson, Kansas

Strataca, The Kansas Underground Salt Museum

Home to Hollywood history and a very special salt crystal. 

The Kansas Underground Salt Museum, now known as Strataca, would be a curious site all on its own. Sixty-five stories below the ground of Hutchinson, Kansas, sits a massive salt mine with salt veins stretching from Kansas all the way to New Mexico. There is an underground salt museum and tram tour. There is, however, an even more unusual aspect to this site. The museum contains a 250-million-year-old salt crystal in which a living bacterium was discovered in 1998.

Two biologists and a geologist discovered the 2-9-3 virgibacillus bacterium in a drop of seawater trapped in the salt crystal, 1,850 feet underground near Carlsbad, New Mexico. Bacteria have the ability to go into a kind of semi-permanent hibernation, but to survive for this long was unheard of. Scientists re-animated the bacterium, which had lain dormant in the salt crystal for 250 million years, by adding fresh nutrients and a new salt solution.

Dr. Russell Vreeland, one of the biologists who found the bacterium, pointed out that bacteria can survive the forces of acceleration via rubble thrown off by a meteor impact. In a sort of reverse “exogenesis” Vreeland pointed out it is possible that earth’s own microbes are already on Mars.

“When man goes to the stars, our microbes will be waiting for us,” Vreeland said.

Today at the Underground Salt Museum you can see the piece of salt crystal where the bacteria was found, as well as take the “Dark Ride,” a tram tour of the mine. Though off-limits to visitors, the mine also stores government records and thousands of Hollywood films such as the master prints of Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz and has a small exhibit about what other secrets are stored in the museum. The mine also occasionally hosts a “Murder in the Mine” dinner theater.

We explored Salt Mines on Obscura Day - March 20th, 2010. Photos, stories and more here