‘Courting candles’ still burn at Empire Mine’s blacksmith shop
Special to The Union
The tale of the courting candle is a favorite with those who visit Empire Mine’s historic blacksmith shop.
That’s especially when the tale is told by one of their lady blacksmiths, Marilyn Sakowicz.
“In the same way that every romance is unique,” she explained as her forge blazed, “so is every handcrafted courting candle we make here.”
Made of mild steel, in round or square material, they can range in height from six to 10 inches.
“In the 1800s, when a young man expressed an interest in a young lady, her father could monitor the time they spent together with a courting candle,” she revealed.
“By raising or lowering the candle — depending on how well the parents liked the suitor — the girl’s father could limit or extend their courting time,” she said. “Meanwhile, he would watch from a nearby vantage point.
“Courting candles were used in many parts of the world — rather like an alarm clock for romance,” Sakowicz added.
While times have changed, the courting candle continues to spark people’s interest, especially near Valentine’s Day, which is coming up in two weeks on Feb. 14.
Sakowicz has been a blacksmith at Empire Mine for more than 10 years.
Of the 50 or so volunteer “smiths,” she is one of five women who devote their time and talent.
When asked what attracted her, she explained that when she took the State Parks docent training all those years ago, she was keen to get involved — but wasn’t sure exactly how.
“It was a fluke,” she recalled. “Another of the trainees, Lianne Werner, asked me how I wanted to volunteer — and, at that point, I didn’t know.
“She encouraged me to work in the blacksmith shop with her — and learn the skills together,” she added. “I’m really glad I said yes.
“We all have so much fun working together,” she said. “There’s both camaraderie and humorous rivalry between the guys and the gals.
“The men may be able to strike metal harder than we women — but that doesn’t mean we’re not just as sharp when it comes to quick-witted banter.”
Besides her blacksmith talents, she is also a school tour guide who makes Empire’s golden past live again for some of the over 3,000 students who visit the park each year.
While the courting candles may be seen in the blacksmith shop, they are sold in limited quantities in the park’s gift shop.
They make unusual Valentine’s gifts — especially for those with a passion for history.
For more details, phone the Visitor Center on (530) 273-8522 or visit http://www.empiremine.org. Empire Mine State Historic Park is located in Grass Valley.
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