Thursday, August 23, 2012


Know thyself? If I knew myself, I'd run away.

I have always been fascinated by the specimens of goethite collected from rocks of the Pikes Peak Batholith.  I knew the mineral was an iron oxide --Fe+3O(OH) --and usually some sort of a secondary mineral (in the sedimentary rocks I was used to seeing) but that was about the extent of my knowledge.  Before arriving in Colorado Springs I had always assumed goethite was what I studied in mineralogy class- an ugly sort of “rust”, an iron mineral without much going for it, or some botryoidal lumps.   As students, we used to assume that much of the iron/rust found in the Dakota Formation in central Kansas was goethite and called it bog iron.  Therefore, I was greatly surprised when long time CSMS member Ray showed me his collection of goethite crystals—WOW.  His specimens had delicate sprays of black and shiny acicular crystals and were beautiful.  Ray told me that the mineral is associated with the quartz and amazonite crystals in the vugs of the batholith.  In these type of deposits I believe goethite is a primary hydrothermal mineral.  Which got me wondering—where did the iron come from? Was it leached from some of the iron minerals in the granite such as hornblende?  I don’t know the answer so perhaps some mineralogist could give me some help? 
In the sedimentary environment (bogs) goethite is secondary and the result of oxidation of iron carried in circulating solutions.  So the iron comes from where?  Is it a weathering product, oxidation and hydration, of iron-rich detridal grains? Bog iron was one of the first ores mined in colonial North America and was eagerly sought out by settlers moving west across the continent.  Hematite was commonly mixed in and is also considered to be a “bog iron”.
That got me to thinking about limonite and perhaps it was this mineral, rather than goethite, that was in the Dakota.  What I have found out is that limonite, Fe+3O(OH)-nH2O, is a combination of several “real” minerals---goethite, lepidocrocite, akaganeite, maghemite, hematite, pitticite, and “jarosite group” minerals and the term is used “for unidentified massive hydroxides and oxides of iron, with no visible crystals, and a yellow-brown streak” (  So, I suppose limonite would be a good generic choice for the Dakota iron oxide.

Goethite/limonite also commonly forms pseudomorphs.  One of the more famous localities in the U.S. is at Pelican Point on Utah Lake near Provo.  At this locality pyrite cubes are replaced by goethite.  In doing so, pyrite the iron sulfide (FeS2), has the sulfur ions replaced by oxygen and hydrogen and the result is a new mineral goethite (FeO(OH)), an iron oxyhydroxide.  The mineral pyrite crystallizes in the cubic crystal system with the actual crystals commonly manifested in cubes, octahedrons, and pyritohedrons.  Goethite is orthorhombic (three mutually perpendicular axes, all of different lengths—far from the cubes of pyrite) and if crystallized, forms acicular needles or flattened plates.  What one observes at Pelican Point are beautiful cubes, originally pyrite, but now goethite.  I collected crystals many decades ago but am now uncertain as to the land status and collecting possibilities. 

What I was really interested in when starting this offering was to find out more about the namesake of the mineral-- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.  I had read parts of Faust in a college lit class and did not find it interesting at all, and sort of forgot about the man.  A few years ago I had the opportunity to spend several weeks in Germany working with some institutions on starting cooperative undergraduate research programs.  I also was enrolled in a “beginning” German language class, and it was a tough one.  I especially was pleased that the class did not involve “tests”!  But, I learned enough to order dunkles Bier (dark beer), Brot and Brotchen  (bread and rolls), Brat or Wurst (sausauge), and Spitzbein (cured pig knuckles).  What more could I ask for?  And, I could understand the train schedules.  In addition, my spouse could understand the language much better than I could---so we traveled all over Germany on the trains and gained weight eating the aforementioned foods and partaking of adult beverages.  The only problem we really had, and it was not much, was early-on in Belgium where I could not quite understand the entire menu, especially Kaninchen.   I tried to question the staff but they were clueless as to an English translation.  Finally one bright young man held up two fingers beside his ears and said “Bugs Bunny”.  The translation of the dinner---rabbit.
While traveling I had always wanted to visit the city of Weimar---for a couple of reasons:  1) it was located in the former East Germany (I was living in Frankfort, formally West Germany); and 2) the constitution for the post-World War I German Reich was drafted here (1919) and the resulting government was informally known as the Weimar Republic.  This stuck out in my mind from a high school history class since the government was a parliamentary representative democracy (although very shaky at times) and was displaced by Adolph Hitler and his Nazis in 1933.

Upon arriving in Weimar I was sort of stunned at the beauty since the city was largely spared from carpet bombing by the Allied Air Force during WWII—why, I don’t know.  The city was full of very old buildings and a tremendous amount of history.  I was able to visit the Town Church St. Peter and Paul (Herder Church) where Martin Luther visited/preached during his numerous visits from 1518-1540; it is an important part of the Protestant Reformation.  The Duchess Anna Amalia Library includes a 1534 Luther Bible.  Here in Colorado Springs we think that 1850 is old; however, this church is 300 years older!
Weimar was also the home of perhaps Germany’s most important classical playwright, historian, and philosopher-- Joseph Christoph Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805).  Now, somewhere in grade school our class read the story about William Tell (Wilhelm tell), a play penned by Schiller.  In thinking about it, the story was a pleasant little offering about a bad guy vs. the good guy (Tell) who shot an apple off his son’s head.  Moral of the story, good guy wins.  However, I have gone back and looked at a less sanitized version and the story is quite violent (probably unsuitable for our class).  The play does concern the legendary Swiss archer Wilhelm Tell, but the main thesis seems to be the Swiss struggle for independence from the Hapsburg Empire in the 1300’s.  In the end Tell puts an arrow in the heart of the bad guy, “It is William Tell’s work [he said].  Oh Lord have mercy on my soul”.

One of the things that was sort of interesting to me as I toured Schiller Haus was how short Schiller’s bed was.  He was a not a tall person!
During his final years in Wiemar, Schiller was a friend of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832).  Goethe was brilliant and evidently a genius (no IQ tests then); he was a politician, lawyer, diplomat, poet, writer, novelist, and scientist.  In childhood he would memorize long parts of the first five books of Moses (the Jewish Torah), Virgil’s Latin epic poem Aeneid, and Ovid’s poem Metamorphoses.  I have trouble memorizing my name sometimes!
As I said, I read part of Faust and it turned me off---no more Goethe for me.  But I understand his greatest literary piece may be Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship.  It is, according to some, one of the top ten novels of all time.  I have not had the energy to tackle this one.  As a botanist (self -taught) he wrote the Metamorphosis of Plants, and also maintained a magnificent garden at the Goethe Haus.  I was in awe in the Garden being able to see plants that Goethe may have touched, or at least planted their ancestors.

But, germane to this piece, is that Goethe inherited a love and curiosity about rocks and minerals from his father.  In addition, he inherited his father’s mineral collection, added to it, and studied them.  All-in-all, his collection included nearly 19,000 stones (as they liked to call them) and may have been the largest in Europe during his life.  And, he advised the local government on "mining".  Some, not many, of his minerals are on display in the Goethe Haus while the majority seem tucked away in museum(s).  I always wondered, where in the world did he display/keep these specimens? 

So, the mineral goethite was named for Goethe in 1806 with the type locality at Hollertszug Mine, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany (   What I don’t know:  1) is Goethe responsible for the mineral's discovery; 2) did he name it for himself (as at least one author stated); 3) if not, who named it?
As a final side note---in reading the German newspaper Der Spiegel I found out that Germany made the final payment on reparations demanded by the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I---- on October, 3, 2010.  Now, that little tidbit may win a trivia contest sometime!  I didn't know that any country ever paid off their war debts!

If that doesn’t win then what about the word von in both Schiller’s and Goethe’s name?   This term, von, may indicate where a person is from, his or her place of residence.  However, in the case of Schiller and Goethe von is a nobiliary particle (how is that for the word of the day?).  In the case of Schillar and Goethe a “rich” aristocrat "enobled" (second word of the day) them, made them part of the family, and certainly gave them some resources to continue their humanistic activities.  

As for Faust, he was ultimately saved despite his evil deeds because he continued to strive for perfection right up to the end (instead of not doing so and falling into mediocrity).  Perhaps we can learn from that point. (Thanks Heinz).
A man can stand anything except a succession of ordinary days.

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