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

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“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).

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