I had intended to write about the controversial stone sent by the Vatican in the 1850s to be installed on the inner shaft of the Washington Monument with the collection of stones from other foreign potentates, American states and interest groups. The Pope’s stone was stolen under mysterious circumstances and later dredged out of the Potomac, but >grumble< it’s not my story to tell: someone who did a much better job than I could have beat me to it.
So, in a similarly mysterious geologic vein, let me give you a couple of examples of North American treasure caves. These are just two of a popular genre that invariably included a) the discovery of a cave; b) giant bones, and c) either treasure or strange artifacts.
The first story comes from Findlay, Ohio. It is difficult to tell from this account whether the men found genuine Adena-Culture artifacts and made up the skeleton story or if the whole thing is a hoax. Findlay was the center of an oil and gas boom in Ohio in the mid-19th century and for some reason, I’ve found a lot of Fortean tales labeled as having their origins in the Hancock County town. This story is found in The Headless Horror: Strange and Ghostly Ohio Tales.
SKELETON FOUND OF GIANT OF PREHISTORIC DAYS
ORNAMENTS OF GOLD AND OTHER RELICS
ONCE AN UNDERGROUND RAILROAD STATION
Findlay, O., March 24. A most startling story of discovery in an underground cavern is told by Elmer Bright, a young farmer living east of this city, and his two companions who came to the office of the Waterworks Trustees and made their report of work done for that body. The men have been employed by the board in opening up a cave that has been known to exist in the limestone ridge on the line between this and Seneca County, the entrance to which was closed 32 years ago, by the owner of the land. Legend told of an underground river, and in their search for pure water for Findlay the board ordered the cave opened, with the result that a fortnight ago a stream of the clearest water was discovered running through a large cavern, 70 feet from the top of the ridge. Bright and others have since continued explorations on their own hook.
For several days the three men have been making daily journeys into the cave. Following the stream through a low-ceilinged passageway they came upon a wide drawing room with numerous passages leading from it. One of these led to a wall built by hand. They broke through and the sight that met their eyes froze their blood. The room was 15 or 20 feet square, and in the center on a flat table rock, lay the skeleton of a man of giant stature, to the bones which clung mummified bits of muscle, and over the middle was a covering of animal skins. About the head were placed copper and stone utensils, while at the feet were rude weapons carved of stone.
In substantiation of their statements the men exhibited a small vessel made of copper, the ornament of bizarre shape made of pure gold, as well as a stone hatchet similar to those found in the mounds of Southern Ohio. They say that the other mementos which they have at their homes are stone pottery, stone weapons, a rude stone pipe, pieces of flint and various bits of gold and copper, evidently ornaments. The animal skins that lay over the skeleton crumbled when they endeavored to pick them up, giving evidence of the ages that have passed since this supposed prehistoric chieftain was laid away in the depths of the earth and his tomb sealed with an aboriginal cement.
On their way out of the cavern the men made another discovery which is arousing interest. On the damp and mouldy floor they found a bit of paper evidently torn from a memorandum book. The discoloration of age was upon it, but in pale ink may still be deciphered the words, “James Bare, Oberlin.” This is the name of a noted abolitionist and conductor of the underground railway, and his descendants still live in the Ohio college town. The stories of the old settlers tell of many a fugitive slave that slept in the house or barn of Bare in his Oberlin home in the antebellum days. The cave was, it is believed, used as a hiding place for negro slaves. Newark [OH] Advocate 24 March, 1902: p. 1
The other story comes from Kentucky. As the website where I found this story says: [Here’s] a story about a giant cave being discovered in Bracken County. Is it true or is somebody from 1876 pulling our leg? It’s true. Bill and July Cooper tell me the opening is very small, but the interior is as described.
A Remarkable Discovery
Augusta, Ky., March 17, 1876
To the Editor of the Cincinnati Commercial:
While out hunting on last Thursday night, on the land of S. K. Veach, near this place, my dogs suddenly ceased barking, and when our party got to the place where we expected to find them, no dogs were visible, but a low rumbling noise attracted our attention to a small elm tree, and going to it, we discovered a hole somewhat larger than a flour barrel and, by getting down from our horses, we could hear the dogs seemingly hundreds of yards under the hill adjacent. It being dark, we returned to town, and on Friday morning bright and early we went back to examine.
It seems that a large flat rock had lain over the mouth of a cave or cavern, and the ground gradually giving away, it had fallen to the floors beneath, some four feet perpendicularly, and then sloping down gradually at an angle of about 45°. We went to the house of Paddy Bradford, near by, and obtained some candles, and headed by the intrepid Captain Steven Waits, commenced our explorations. There were in the party John Harbeson, J. Wilson, L. Knodler, C. Coburn, B. Rankins, John Cablish, Jr., C. W. Taylor, Tom Allen, Henry Sisson, Tucker Drake, and myself.
After some hesitancy and trouble we made our descent for some two hundred yards through a passage or way varying from five to twelve feet in height, and from three to seven feet in width, when we entered a large chamber, perfectly square, and as near as we could guess, about eighty feet each way, and in the neighborhood of twenty feet high. It was the grandest room we had at that time ever seen, and our lights reflecting from the walls and ceilings gave the appearance of a magician’s palace. Our minds were lost in wonder and amazement. In the center of this room was a large square, built up of rock, which we lifted off, and there found an immense skeleton, eleven feet two inches in height. Some kind of metal cap, resembling copper, was lying near the head, and various trinkets scattered about. Also, a large sword five feet three inches in length. The sword is now in the possession of Hon. W. T. Marshall, at the Joe Doniphan House, and can be inspected by any one so desiring.
On to-morrow or next day we shall continue our explorations. The county is all excitement, hundred flocking to the place, but afraid to venture in. From the number of passages opening from the large room, we expect to find possibly a rival in our cave to the Mammoth. Mr. Veach is jubilant since he had gotten into the cave business, and has refused large offers for his land.
We will write again.
As reprinted in New York Times [That’s the comment on the Bracken County web-page. I cannot find this story in the Times archives.]
Marshall and Doniphan were real enough; I wouldn’t bet on the sword or the 11-foot skeleton having ever made their way into the collections of the Smithsonian. If you know differently, put on your metal cap resembling copper and send to Chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com. And here’s a recent article on the whole Smithsonian “hidden-evidence-of-giants” conspiracy question.
Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog, The Victorian Book of the Dead.