Tartarus Cave System




By Gary K. Soule, WSS Grotto Historian

Co-Authors Bryan Kleist, Allan Schema,

and Kasey Fiske

August 28, 2012

Neither the exact discovery date of the historic Tartarus Cave, nor the identity of who named it, is known. But, its impressive bluff type entrance could hardly be missed. What follows is a chronological listing of events as they relate to this cave.

1837 --- The land containing the Tartarus Cave is purchased for $1.25 an acre by the famous Henry Samuel Baird, who was the first professional lawyer in Wisconsin.

1850 --- The Tartarus Cave and the surrounding Maribel Caves area are annexed to Manitowoc County from Brown County.

1872 to 1892 --- The Tartarus Cave and the nearby caves are deeded to, and owned, by Judge Henry A. Aldrich. The property is listed in the Manitowoc County plat books as the “Cooperstown Caves.”

1892 --- Charles Steinbrecker purchases the property from Judge Aldrich “when it was discovered that the land contained valuable mineral springs and several caves of unknown depth.” With adjoining land to the north, he owns 160 acres.

1900 --- Charles Steinbrecker’s sons build the nearby Maribel Caves Hotel, and it becomes a resort and health spa.

1903 --- A 24 page booklet is published that states: “…four wonderful caves…open for anyone to go as far as he will, for no one has yet sounded their depths.” The family once thought about charging 10 cents to go thru the caves, but never did. The Tartarus Cave is pictured on pages 7 and 20 in that booklet.

1904 --- Historical writers make reference to the notoriety of the Cooperstown Caves or Maribel Caves. This lasted well into 1912.

1905 --- The small town of Maribel is established, and a railroad brings visitors to the area. They mostly come to see the caves. The first of three known old postcards specifically on the Tartarus Cave is produced.

1906 --- The Tartarus Cave and other caves are explored by Leo Steinbrecker, and others. Claims of considerable length and side passageways are made.

1909 --- The second historic black and white postcard, also showing people all dressed up and standing in front of the Tartarus Cave, is published.

1913 --- The third known postcard is published. Under a photo of the Tartarus Cave, it says on a white, surrounding border: “Tartarus Cave, Maribel Health Resort, Maribel, Wis.” Tartarus in the Bible correlates with the bottomless pit, while in Greek mythology it refers to the deepest abode of the underworld, an abyss far below Hades ~ August 3 - 1907

1925 --- Tourism to the Tartarus Cave falls off rather suddenly.

1931 --- Adolph Cherney buys the hotel property, which includes the cave.

1961 --- The Maribel Caves, (which includes the Tartarus Cave,) are first mentioned in both the WSS Newsletter and The Wisconsin Speleologist.

1962 --- A WSS preliminary cave inventory lists three caves in the park, and includes their maps. The Tartarus Cave is labeled as Cave # 2, and called the “South Cave.” It shows a tiny, two to three foot high, 35 foot long, blocked passageway on the map. This is the first map ever done on the cave.

1963 --- On November 5th the Tartarus Cave becomes part of the 75 acre Cherney Maribel Caves County Park. The land is sold by Adolph and Elizabeth Cherney for $16,200. This became the first Manitowoc County park.

2003 --- Digging in the Tartarus Cave was very minimal and sporadic over the preceding years, but starts to pick up during the end of this year.

2004 --- Kasey Fiske reports on the “Rebirth of the Tartarus Cave.” The cave is now 56 feet long, and digging credit goes to J. D. Skattebo, Ray Kling, Scott Moll, Kasey Fiske, and others.

2005 --- On February 15th Scott Moll from Franklin, Wisconsin, and Gary K. Soule from Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, survey and map the Tartarus Cave. This is the second map ever done on the cave. Further dig trips follow, and the cave is surveyed to 100 feet long as of March 26th. Roller track is put in the cave to achieve these digging results by Kasey Fiske, with help from others. Gary Soule becomes interested in the blocked tunnel passage which is just to the left inside of the Tartarus Cave Entrance. He starts to excavate it for thru crawling trips. Although originally called Tunnel Cave by Gary, it is really part of the Tartarus Cave System, and is now known as the Tunnel Passage.

2005 --- Andy Ebenhoe, Scott Moll, and Gary Soule work on finally enlarging the Tunnel Passage for thru trips for everyone. Andy made the first trip from the South Entrance to the North Entrance at 12:17 P.M. on October 1st. Scott then did it in the opposite direction. Hillary Roh, age 10, of Appleton, is the first girl to crawl thru, while Garrett Brandon, age 11, and his brother, Nier, of Green Bay, follow as the first boys to ever do it. The Tunnel Passage has been enlarged since then by others.

2008 --- Allan Schema spearheads fall, 2008 and spring, 2009 dig activities in Split Rock Cave, after being in the park on a -22 below zero winter day and noticing steam coming out and feather frost brimming at the entrance and drip line of the cave. Cave length starts at a very tight 8 foot squeeze. Don Kollath, Rick Johnson, Kasey Fiske, and others help on various digging trips to widen and lengthen the cave.

2009 --- The first major breakthrough into a huge hidden dome named the Cat’s Lair in Split Rock Cave is discovered on April 4th. Kasey Fiske makes the breakthrough, helped by Don Kollath, Angela Kollath, Rick Johnson, and Allan Schema.

2011 --- After a two year absence of dig activities, July 16th and 17th marks the start of the current excavation work in both Tartarus and Split Rock Caves. With encouragement from both Kasey Fiske and Gary Soule, Bryan Kleist renews the digging in Tartarus Cave and Allan Schema starts digging again in Split Rock Cave. Allan makes a discovery of continuing passage beyond a previously viewed impervious rock jammed back wall just beyond the Cat’s Lair Dome. Helping on this weekend are Tony Kroes, Brad Graf, and others.

2011 --- A newly designed dig tray is made from the bottom part of a cow drinking trough. The tank is obtained and successfully used in Tartarus Cave by Bryan Kleist on August 21st. After a learning curve consisting of a number of modified improvements, the new dig tray eventually expedites all digging in the Tartarus Cave. On the same day, Allan Schema breaks into some smaller voids at the leading dig edge of Split Rock and can clearly hear the digging going on in Tartarus Cave. The sound is the first indication that we may have a connection between the two separate caves. Kevin Kollath, Tony Kroes, and others help on this day.

2011 --- The Tunnel Passage is cleared wall to wall in the fall.

2012 --- A promising forward lead at the straight ahead end of the Tartarus Cave entrance passage turns out to be a dead end higher dome by Bryan Kleist on January 28th. A forward push is made on the right lead from the end room of Tartarus Cave by Scott Moll. Helping on the day was Allan Schema, Kasey Fiske, and others.

2012 --- The second cave pillar in the park is found on March 4th in Split Rock Cave by Allan Schema with the help of Kasey Fiske, Bryan Kleist, Gary Soule, and others. On the lead dig fronts of Split Rock Cave and Tartarus Cave, we get the first indication of directional airflow between the two caves. One entrance has strong airflow blowing in and the other is blowing out.

2012 --- On March 8th the first survey is done by Tony Kroes and Bryan Kleist to show the proximity orientation between the two caves. The survey results show we have 65 feet to go for a connection between the two caves with no more than a 12-inch height differential. Gary Soule suggests that a connection may be possible by the 2012 Hodag Hunt Festival in September. A goal is set to make the connection by the Hodag Hunt Festival. Digging in Maribel New Hope Cave is placed on hold for the summer months in order to expedite the Tartarus/Split Rock Caves connection.

2012 --- A voice connection is confirmed by Bryan Kleist between the two caves on July 15th. A separate new going passage is also found by Bryan behind the pillar in Split Rock.

2012 --- A light connection is confirmed by Larry Buchholz on July 21st between the two caves. A second new lead passage near the Tartarus dig front is found by Bryan Kleist.

2012 --- A visual connection is confirmed on August 12th between the two caves by Tony Kroes and Kasey Fiske. A second survey indicates less than 12 feet for a connection.

2012 --- A breakthrough handshake is made on August 18th at 3:43PM between Tartarus and Split Rock Caves by Bryan Kleist and Allan Schema.

2012 --- A historic connection crawl entering one cave entrance and exiting the other is planned to occur during the 2012 Hodag Hunt Festival outing on September 8th at 10:00 A.M. We have made our goal of a connection by the Hodag Hunt Festival. The two caves are officially renamed as they are now joined together. The two previously separate caves are now part of the Tartarus Cave System. Split Rock will remain as a name for the Split Rock Entrance. The Tartarus Cave System is today a three-entrance cave, with the Tunnel Passage Entrance to the south, the Tartarus Cave Entrance in the middle, and the Split Rock Cave Entrance to the north. With two recently discovered passages during the connection activities, one leading off towards the Staircase Cave and the other’s direction yet to be determined, the Tartarus Cave System will continue to bring us back so we can uncover more mysteries of the unknown. These passageways also have the potential for linking up with at least one, if not two sinkholes in the bluff above, that could soon provide other future cave entrances to this very fascinating, and evolving, cave system. Only the future will tell!