Crystal Cave of Wisconsin
Crystal Cave was discovered in 1881 by local farm boys, William and George Vanasse. The discovery occurred while William and George were in the woods just a short distance from their home. They were chasing a small animalwhen it suddenly disappeared down a hole. The brothers probed and pushed with a stick which suddenly slipped from their grasp, disappearing into the ground. The initial exploration of the cave took place the next day when William and his younger brother, George, descended into the large vertical entrance. They entered a clay and debris filled dome from which they then dropped down into what is now the main room of the second level. In other directions, the boys saw only shallow entrances to clay-filled galleries on the upper level.The existence of other levels and galleries was not suspected. Crystal Cave, at that time was called Sander’s Corner Cave, remained in it’s semi-filled condition for several decades. A slight amount of caving from the sink on the surface was the only alteration visible to the succession of adventurers who visited the cave.
1941 – 1957
Crystal Cave was developed, or commercialized by Henry A. Friede, an advertising agency manager and amateur geologist from Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Mr. Friede had been interested in caves for some time and had studied many possible sites in the Spring Valley/Elmwood/Plum City area, hoping for a discovery equal to that of Blue Mounds (now Cave of the Mounds) or the caves near Harmony, Minnesota (Mystery Cave and Niagara Cave).The most likely prospect was Sander’s Corner Cave. a quarter mile south of the junction of State Highway 29 and County “H” (now County CC).Work began during the week of November 2, 1941 on the first and second levels. By November 20, 1941, six men worked daily using a drag line to remove the silt and debris filling the cave. It was during this same time that Alvin Peterson began developing plans for the entrance building. By early April, 1942, much of the debris had been removed and construction was begun on an entrance building. Arthur Maher, from Durand, Wisconsin, was hired as stone mason. At that time, plans called for a building measuring 52’ x 30’, built from “loose fragments of dolomite removed from the cave, and will be of one story with a full basement. An easy series of stairways will lead from the basement to the first and to the second and third levels below. The basement will be used to display the numerous minerals, rocks, and fossils found at the cave site…”. (Taken from the “Sun”, April 23, 1942.) The cave itself had a reported 1101 linear feet of passageway open to the public at a depth of 81 feet. The April 23, 1942 “Sun” reported opening day as sometime in June of that year. In conversation with Mrs. Henry Friede, original plans were to have a “Memorial Day Weekend Grand Opening!”. There are no newspaper accounts of opening day. On Friday, May 29 and Saturday, May 30, 1942 the area received 8” of rain in 30 hours causing massive flooding of Spring Valley (water depths of six feet and more almost destroyed the newspaper office). Mr. Friede was forced to delay opening weekend until June 7, 1942 when, according to the September 15, 1942 “Wisconsin REA News”, “four thousand people visited the opening”. Construction of the building continued throughout 1942.The “Assembly Room” had been completed and was used as a curio and souvenir shop. The REA News article mentioned a separate opening providing an exit from the cave but no more information can be found on these plans. Photographs of building construction show completion during the summer of 1944. Sometime between summer 1942 and summer 1944, an apartment was added to the building plans increasing the size to 80’ x 30’.Mr. and Mrs. Friede continued to operate the cave making it a well-known local attraction. A few years after opening, the Assembly Room was converted into a restaurant where such (in)famous people as Joseph P. McCarthy dined (September 3, 1951).
1957 – 1986
Prior to owning Crystal Cave, Mr. and Mrs. Moe lived in the Twin Cities. Mr. Moe worked for Montgomery Ward and owned a series of apartment complexes in the Twin Cities. Looking for a second career, the Moe family moved to Spring Valley and into the living quarters attached to the gift shop. During 29 years at Crystal Cave the Moe Family managed a successful business at the Cave. One time Mr. Moe hired a local student named Jean to give cave tours. She worked for several years at the cave and this was the start of her on a lifetime passion for geology and Crystal Cave.
1986 - 2012
Prior to becoming owners, the Cunninghams worked as mineral and oil and gas exploration geologists for Exxon, Gulf Oil Corporation and Chevron Corporation. Blaze, originally from San Antonio, Texas, graduated from Texas Tech, Lubbock, Texas and attended University of Houston for graduate work. Jean, a native of western Wisconsin, graduated from University of Wisconsin-River Falls and University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. Both have had a life-long association with caves. Blaze began exploring caves in high school while Jean’s first job was as a tour guide at Crystal Cave, working for the Moes. Beginning in 1992, major exploration began in the cave. Following a major breakthrough made by Blaze Cunningham and Nathan Carlson, the Minnesota Speleological Survey (MSS) led by David Gerboth, has almost tripled the length of the known cave. A new survey of the cave was completed, spearheaded by John Lavass and Dawn Ryan, members of the Wisconsin Speleological Society (WSS). Data collected from this survey was incorporated into the most detailed map of Crystal Cave to date. Exploration of the cave by Dave Gerboth, (MSS) continues from April through October with new footage being discovered almost weekly. A second cave, Fuzzy Critter Cave, has also been discovered and is currently being explored by father-son team Allen and Chris Lewerer (MSS). In addition, Hank Boudinot (MSS) and Evelyn Townsend (MSS) also provide assistance to the project.
2012 – Present
Eric and Kristen McMaster, long-time friends of Blaze and Jean Cunningham, purchased Crystal Cave in 2012. Blaze and Jean are planning an active retirement, which will involve caving, of course! The two couples met underground years ago.
Eric and Kristen were active cavers in Tennessee before moving to the Midwest. Both are Life Members of the National Speleological Society (NSS) and active in local and national caving organizations. Eric was awarded the prestigious “Fellow of the National Speleological Society” for his lifetime of volunteer work. Eric and Kristen met at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN and one of their first dates was caving! Eric received a Masters of Engineering in Electrical Engineering from Vanderbilt . Before taking the helm at Crystal Cave, Eric's last job was President and CEO of KWIK SEW Pattern Co., Inc., a multinational corporation in the home-sewing and quilting markets. Eric decided to exchange his business suits for caving suits, and hasn’t looked back! Kristen received her Ph.D. in Special Education at Vanderbilt. She taught for several years in Nashville public schools, and is now an Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Minnesota. Kristen works with school districts and the U.S. Department of Education with the goal improving education for diverse learners. A childhood dream of Kristen’s was to run a summer camp, and Crystal Cave is the realization of that dream.