Friday, October 30, 2015

A Wind Cave Mystery, Part Two

In Part One of this miniature mystery, I introduced you to Wind Cave National Park and a room within the cave named "Baker Street." This second installment describes my continued hunt for answers about how "Baker Street" was christened, starting with individual explorer's names
Mike Scholl, Dan Swenson, and NeNe Wolfethat surfaced during my initial research. TJ

*   *   *   *   *   *   * 

“May I introduce you to Mr. Sherlock Holmes?” he said to the cabman. “This is Mr. Leverton, of Pinkerton’s American Agency.” “The hero of the Long Island Cave mystery?” said Holmes. “Sir, I am pleased to meet you.” (Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventure of the Red Circle)

Wind Cave Tour Routes
I got nowhere finding Mike Scholl or Dan Swenson, but had a lead on NeNe Wolfe. With Google’s help, I found out that Elizabeth 'NeNe' Wolfe was (and is) a veterinarian in Juneau, Alaska. Better yet, I had an e-mail address. I sent her a message explaining my quest.[i] A few days later, she replied.
Hi Tim - I am Nene Wolfe...I'm travelling in mexico (sic) at the moment...will respond to your email when I get home! Plus I have to do some remembering as to why that room got called that. One of the key fellas that named alot (sic) of stuff “Jim Ratxz” died earlier this year...he would have remembered...The other fellas were students of mine and I do not know where they are. More later - take care and why do you want to know this?
That same day, I wrote thanking her for responding and told her about seeing the map, her name on the web site, that I was curator of the world's largest collection of material related to Holmes, and that professional and personal curiosity drove me to find out how the room was named.[iii] I waited, sent additional e-mails, but no new response came from Alaska.[iv] I decided to try another tack.

Working through a Wind Cave staff directory, I came across Rod Horrocks, a physical science specialist. I sent him an inquiry about how place names were chosen in Wind Cave, with a specific reference to “Baker Street.” His response was full and informative.

We use a combination of USGS [United States Geological Survey] place naming rules along with “caver etiquette” rules. One of the projects I've been working on here at Wind Cave National Park is a Place Name Lexicon for Wind Cave…. In that database we keep track of the following parameters: place name, section in cave where found, nearest survey station, date named, who named it, & why the name was chosen. We now have over 1,785 place names in that database and those names are the only official list of names for the cave. We are constantly updating that database with both new names from the continuing survey project as well as corrections or additional information about existing names. The information you saw on the web was from that database.

Our current policy is to give the cave surveyors the opportunity to name
places as they survey. The official trip leader on each trip, who is trained by my staff, recommends names to us after a trip is over. We train those leaders with the following naming guidelines/rules:

1) You cannot name anything after a living person.
2) You cannot name anything with vulgar or offensive names.
3) You must survey the passage in question in order to name it.

As far as Baker Street is concerned: You are right, it is a southern continuation of the Wall Street passage. It was historically part of what was called the Fairy Palace Loop before the 1960s. “Baker Street” was named by a group of National Outdoor Leadership School (N.O.L.S.) students in 1982, who included: Mike Scholl, Dan Swenson, & NeNe Wolfe and on a second trip: NeNe Wolfe, Vince __?, Becky ___?, & Bob ___?. I don't know any of their last names on the second trip. I wonder if this “Baker Street” refers to the famous street in the Marylebone district of the City of Westminster in London, which is most famous for its connection to the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, who lived at 221B Baker Street, an address that does not actually exist? However, I'm actually not sure why they named it Baker Street?

I hope this helps. Feel free to contact me if you have any further questions or information that can shed some more light on the subject.[v]

This additional information agreed and expanded on a reference from the park’s web site. “Individuals and groups that have been involved in the survey of the Historic zone of Wind Cave include Alan Howard (1962), Windy City Grotto (1970-1973), National Park Service (NPS) staff (1971-present), Gartzke-Kopp [Black Hills Spelunkers] (1974), Bruce Zerr (1976), the National Outdoor Leadership School [NOLS] (1978-1989), and the Colorado Grotto (1990-present).”[vi]

Detailed Map of Wind Cave Showing Baker Street
Knowing that Scholl and Swenson were students (according to Wolfe’s earlier e-mail), and that Park Service records indicated they were part of the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), I fired off an e-mail to NOLS staff asking if they had any record of “my” explorers or their activities at Wind Cave. NOLS initial response was negative; they had no record of Scholl or Swenson in their database.[vii] A second note to NOLS included Wolfe’s name, along with a reference received from Rod Horrocks. In the meantime, I sent new notes to Wolfe and Horrocks inquiring about any new information that might have surfaced, along with a request to Horrocks for a more detailed location or map of Baker Street within the cave.[viii] NeNe quickly responded with the names of other NOLS “cavers” who led classes during the 1980s and Rod provided a more detailed cave map near the Baker Street area.[ix] Names of additional NOLS instructors were forwarded to Cha Caruthers at NOLS headquarters along with a drafted note she promised to send to everyone on the list for whom she had current contact information. As of today, no new word has been received.

To be continued....

[i] E-mail to NeNe Wolfe, December 5, 2005. Dear Dr. Wolfe, Please excuse this note if I've contacted the wrong Dr. Wolfe. I'm trying to find the NeNe Wolfe who, along with Mike Scholl and Dan Swenson, was involved in naming a cave room at Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota. The specific cave room is “Baker Street.” I'm trying to find out how this name was chosen, if it has any connection with the Baker Street of Sherlock Holmes' London, and if you might have contact information for either Mike Scholl or Dan Swenson. Thank you for any insights you might have and, again, my apologies if this message has gone to you by mistake.
[ii] E-mail from NeNe Wolfe, December 8, 2005.
[iii] E-mail to NeNe Wolfe, December 8, 2005. Hi Nene, Thanks for responding. Basically I wanted to know more because a) I visited Wind Cave two summers ago, saw the cave room name while taking a tour, found your name on the Wind Cave web site, and was curious, b) I'm curator of the world's largest collection of material related to Sherlock Holmes, and c) I'd like to write up my findings on how this room was named…. Hope you have great travels in Mexico. No rush, but I'll look forward to anything you turn up after you get back home. Take care, Tim
[iv] E-mails to NeNe Wolfe February 17, 2006 and September 5, 2006. These and other messages bounced back to me; Dr. Wolfe’s e-mail box was full and not accepting additional messages.
[v] E-mail from Rod Horrocks, September 12, 2006. Horrocks has written extensively about Wind Cave. In an article co-authored with Bernard W. Szukalski, “Using Geographic Information Systems to Develop a Cave Potential Map for Wind Cave, South Dakota” (Journal of Cave and Karst Studies 64(1): 63-70) the authors state in the abstract that “Based on passage density, the length of the Wind Cave survey could range from 400-1760 km. Since the current 166 km of survey represents no more than 40% of the minimum predicted length of the cave or as little as 9% of the maximum predicted length of the cave, a tremendous amount of surveyable passage remains in the system.”
[vii] E-mail from Cha Caruthers, NOLS, June 11, 2008.
[viii] At this point the reader will realize that the hunt for information has lasted over a decade. I went back and covered earlier terrain to see if anything new had popped up since the quest began in late 2005.
[ix] E-mails from NeNe Wolfe June 20, 2008 and Rod Horrocks June 25, 2008. “Hi Tim, I haven't forgotten your request.....actually have been thinking of other people that may help you and who maybe remember....I can't remember if I suggested trying to find thru NOLS in Lander Wyoming, these people who caved then and may have named it. They are old NOLS instructors of that era: Kathy Bogan, Waco (I think this fella's real name is Ron Weissinger ?), Walter Fish, Heather Pullen, Merl (can't think of his real name), Steve Matson. I believe the person to talk to in Lander (NOLS) is a person named Willy Cunningham who remembers all these folks and also is the alumnie (sic) coordinator etc and can tract folks from the past. Hope this helps ! Ne2” Messages were sent to Bogan, Weissinger, Fish and Matson in August 2008. Three of the fourBogan, Weissinger, and Fishresponded, but unfortunately in the negative; they didn't have any answers that would help solve the mystery.  Both Wolfe and Caruthers suggested I contact Willy Cunningham, the NOLS alumni projects coordinator in Lander, Wyoming. He was contacted in August and November 2008, replied that he didn't have any information, but suggested asking Steve Matson and Haven Holsapple at NOLS. Holsapple's reply came back negative; no word has been received from Matson. In the meantime, another e-mail has gone to Wolfe, asking her to clarify her role on the original trip and if she remembers anything else about Scholl or Swenson that might help track them down.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

A Wind Cave Mystery, Part One

This is a story I've been working on for some time (as will be apparent by old dates in the notes). Lacking a traditional publisher, I've decided to post this online, in parts, with a hope that by posting it others might stumble across the story and help solve the mystery. TJ

* * * * * * * 

“There were, it is true, small grottoes and caves in the base of the cliffs, but the low sun shone directly into them, and there was no place for concealment.” (Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane)

While vacationing in the American West a few years ago, our travels led to the Black Hills of western South Dakota.  According to various sources “the name ‘Black Hills’ comes from the Lakota ‘Paha Sapa,’ meaning ‘hills that are black.’ Seen from a distance, these pine-covered slopes, rising several thousand feet above surrounding prairie, appear black.”[i] Such natural—and sacred—beauty resulted in six national parks, two national forests, two national grasslands areas and four state parks. Such park making did not sit well with indigenous populations, but that story is best told elsewhere, and by others. This little narrative focuses on a possible Sherlockian mystery.

One day, we explored two underground marvels—Jewel Cave National Monument and Wind Cave National Park. In the morning, we investigated Jewel Cave, currently mapped and surveyed at 175 miles in length, the third longest cave in the world.[ii] Abundant calcite crystals within led to its name. In the afternoon, we journeyed to Wind Cave, seventh longest cave in the world.[iii] President Theodore Roosevelt established Wind Cave as a national park in 1903, the seventh so designated in the park system and first cave given international protection. Little did I know that this cavern offered a puzzle, connected—possibly—with Holmes and his London abode.  

Wind Cave National Park
Known to the Lakota people—who spoke of a hole in the ground that blew air—Wind Cave was not documented by white settlers until 1881, when its entrance was noticed by two brothers, Jesse and Tom Bingham. Atmospheric pressure changes cause wind movements in or out of the cave; thus its name. Wind Cave is noted for displays of calcite formations known as boxwork and frostwork. I visited Wind Cave as a young boy, during a family vacation in the summer of 1969, and marveled at these formations. At that time, a discovery linking Holmes and cavern was, as you’ll see, impossible.

Wind Cave Tour Routes
A number of different tours of varying length and stamina are offered by park staff including Garden of Eden, Natural Entrance, Fairgrounds, and Candlelight. We chose the Natural Entrance tour, a moderately strenuous walk of about ninety minutes that moves through abundant boxwork. Tours begin near the cave’s natural entrance—a ten by sixteen inch hole through limestone. Although this was the original point of entry in the 1880s, the park service created another, more convenient, walk-in entrance for modern visitors. Contemporary access begins with a stairway, about 150 steps, to a group of cavernous middle level passageways.

“Between a slop-shop and a gin-shop, approached by a steep flight of steps leading down to a black gap like the mouth of a cave, I found the den of which I was in search.” (Arthur Conan Doyle, The Man With the Twisted Lip)

Detail of Wind Cave Tour Routes
There are no slop or gin shops near Wind Cave’s entrance, but searching for a certain den soon became a reality. While waiting for our tour guide, I studied a detailed cave map and noticed a room name that caught me by surprise: “Baker Street.” How did this appellation find its way on the chart? Who christened this part of the cave? Did they know the canonical stories? Were they Sherlockians? Questions crystallized in my mind. It was not until returning home to books and computer that I began putting more pieces together.

My search started at the Wind Cave National Park internet web site. Web pages provided limited information on each named room or passage in the cave. A list of rooms beginning with “B” provided a table with additional facts.[iv] “Baker Street” received its name in November 1982 from Mike Scholl, Dan Swenson, and NeNe Wolfe. (The Sherlockian/Great Game player in me humored over the question: “Is NeNe any relation to Nero?”). An explanation column in this list, where I hoped to find some reason for the naming, read: “The southern continuation of Wall Street.” No joy there. Baker Street and Wall Street are located within the “Historic” cave zone. Other zones include: Colorado Grotto, Club Room, Lakes, Half Mile Hall, North, Silent Expressway, Western Fringe, and Southern Comfort. (Cavers are delightfully creative in creating names.) Additional web site searches showed that Scholl, Swenson, and Wolfe named Wall Street in 1981[v] and that as late as November 1995 Paul Burger, Evan Anderson, and Hazel Barton journeyed to Baker Street and surveyed an additional 394.3 feet of cave.[vi]

Wind Cave with Historic Zone Highlighted
I now had a date, three names, a location in the cave, and an unsatisfactory explanation for naming the room. There is no continuation of Wall Street in New York City known as Baker Street. There is a Baker Avenue in the Bronx, but no street by that name in the city. Interestingly, there is another New York Wall Street. Northwest of Jamestown, on the western edge of New York and south of Stebbins Corners, a Wall Street runs north and south, bends east, and is continued by Baker Road. About three miles to the southeast, as the crow flies, even closer to Jamestown and running east-west from the city, is Highway 30, otherwise known as Baker Street. Could it be that one of our three explorers hailed from western New York and exercised a little poetic license in naming a new cave room? I had more questions than answers. It was time to track down names.

To be continued...

[i] United States Forest Service web site, (accessed October 29, 2015).
[ii] The Mammoth Cave system in the state of Kentucky is the longest, currently measured at 367 miles. See (accessed October 29, 2015) for a list of the world’s longest caves.
[iii] (Accessed October 29, 2015). According to Rod Horrocks (e-mail of August 19, 2008) the current length of Wind Cave is 129.55 miles. My thanks to Horrocks for reviewing this article and offering helpful comments.
[iv] (Accessed June 19, 2008). See the newer page at (Accessed October 29, 2015).
[v] (Accessed June 19, 2008). See the newer page at (Accessed October 29, 2015).