Friday, July 31, 2020

Bunny Smith - Silent Movie Star

When you are wandering here and there across old newspapers you always find the unexpected.  So while researching the early movie theaters of Chippewa Falls I should have only been mildly surprised to find a home town boy who "made it" in pictures.  Sort of.  Here is the tale of a certain "Bunny" Smith.

This blurry picture appeared in the Chippewa Herald Telegram on January 18th, 1916.  No doubt it was mailed to the editors by Mr. Smith himself.

Accompanying it is an article that contains a longish letter from Bunny.  It reads in part:


"Bunnie" Smith, son of Mrs. Jane Smith of the Taylor Block, and a product of Chippewa Falls, has made good in the moving picture world, and the accompanying picture shows him as he appears in "His Majesty the King", a feature that took well. "

The article goes on to say that he had been in pictures for less than two years and that he was writing from Jacksonville Florida.  Most of the article is actually a letter from "Bunny" to the folks back home...

"Bunny" mentions that he had been in approximately 20 pictures in less than a year, and that he got the job because it was noted that he looked a little like a fellow named Nolan Gane who played many of the "juvenile" parts for a production company called Thanhouser.  After just a few days of stand in work Mr. Smith got the job full time when Gane died.  Gane was at the time of his death 23 years old.  Too young to die.  But getting on a bit for "juvenile" roles.

I figured it would be easy to learn more about young Mr. Smith.  IMDB is a pretty good repository of film knowledge even from the early days.  So I started with this list of films that "Bunny" said he'd been in:

Most of them were actually listed....but no Bunny Smith.  In fact nothing close.  Fine, I figured if I was trying to make it in show biz I'd quickly ditch a silly nickname and a boring last one.  But of the few recurring actors common to these films, nobody matched at all.  And of course the film he was supposedly going to star in does not appear.  It was likely never made.

Something was up here.

In doing a bit more research I learned things about the early film industry.  These are all products of an extremely prolific company called Thanhouser.  How prolific?  In 1915, the year Mr. Smith seems to have been with them, they put out 207 films.  Allowing for an occasional holiday or time to move from their New Rochelle NY to Jacksonville studios, that's about four a week.  A great deal more can be learned at this site.  It lists about 1000 biographies of people associated with Thanhouser.  No Bunny Smith.

So what to make of all this?  Well, I don't doubt that he did appear in films.  The description of some of these movies and shorts makes it clear that there were many uncredited minor roles.  "Spear Carriers" they were called back in the day of live stage.  Although in the above photo Bunny is instead equipped with a saber.

Although an absent first name and unhelpfully common family name make for tough sledding, I have a few guesses about Bunny.  

1. He was probably in his 20's.  "Juvenile" roles were not played by actual juveniles.  The pace of making four films a week must have been crushing, not something kids would be doing.

2. He grew up around the movies.  His mother, and presumably Bunny as well, lived in the Taylor block.....and right downstairs was the Lyric theater.  I'm guessing Bunny worked there and/or saw every movie they played.

3. There is a sad family story.  Mrs. Smith lived in the hotel permanently.  No Mr. Smith is mentioned.  I was able to find just a few wisps of additional information.  Bunny had two sisters, one married and living in Superior Wisconsin.  The other, Irene, was often ill.  I think Bunny might have been writing home with an exaggerated story of success to help cheer up his mom and sister.

Eventually when access to archives gets easier I'll track down a few more details.  But for now let's leave Bunny Smith in Jacksonville Florida circa 1916....dreaming of becoming a movie star.  And, for all we know, maybe actually doing so under a catchier name!
Addendum:  One of the films Bunny claimed to be in is actually on YouTube!  
This is "The Mistake of Mammy Lou".  Quite the time capsule.

As I predicted, there are two uncredited parts.  Bunny could have been either I suppose, but the "thief" seems to have rather different features from the cast photo above.  On the other hand, this guy has a bit part.  Have we found Bunny Smith of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin?

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Forgotten Movie Theaters Chippewa Falls - The Falls I and II

In contrast to most of our entries the Falls Theater in Chippewa Falls still exists.  Sort of.

It opened on July 6th 1938 and was owned by Miner Theaters.  They also owned the Rivoli about two blocks away.  Ownership went to the large Marcus Theater group in 1969 who ran it until it closed in the late 1970's.  At that time it was converted to a bowling alley.

That's the bare bones of the story but there is a bit more to puzzle through.  At 800 seats it was a big theater.  Sadly this is the best picture I've found so far:

And here it is today.

I enjoy studying old buildings and trying to figure out how and when each section was constructed.  Obviously this one is a real puzzler.  A blank wall of tedious cement blocks covers the former front of the theater and I know from studying maps that this site incorporates the location of several earlier buildings including a Chinese laundry and a wagon shop!  

A delightful bit of movie theater can still be seen peeking out on one corner.

I am not sure what to make of this.  It is on a section of the building that I think was new construction as this part was a vacant lot in 1910.  Perhaps it was a fire escape door.  It would be in about the right place for a balcony escape.  And it almost looks as if some kind of ledge or platform has been removed from the wall.  Note also the lower door space, no doubt a fire escape for the main floor.

The building is again being renovated.  If I can manage a visit during construction I will report back on any more theater remains. But I've been there bowling a number of times and don't recall much.

I look forward to hearing from people who have memories of The Falls Theater.  One solid citizen mentioned to me that for Saturday matinees you got a ticket and popcorn for 12 cents.  Ah, memories of a time long past....

Interestingly the Falls had sort of a revival in the 1980's.  Not at this site of course, but a couple of blocks away on a site with previous cinema history.

The 1980's now look like a Golden Age for movies.  And so it seemed to one local businessman who felt the time was right for movies to return to down town Chippewa Falls after a decade plus of absence.  He remodeled a building that had previously been an American Legion Post and before that a print shop.  He dubbed it The Falls Theater.  It's the building on the left, now an insurance agency.

You may recall seeing an AMERICAN LEGION sign in the background of our visit to the former site of the Empire.  It is a newer addition, but probably pretty handy when creating a theater space.  Long narrow buildings with lots of exits for fire code status are ideal.

I can contribute my own memory of The Falls Theater (II).  I think it was only open for a couple of years and can date it to 1989.  I took one of our kids to see The Little Mermaid when he was rather young.  He found the Sea Witch terrifying and we had to leave.

Wrapping up our tour of Chippewa Falls movie theaters I must mention the current establishment.  Micon Cinema has a multi theater on the South Side of town about a mile from this spot.  They are classy folks and very supportive of the community.  When my son recovered from seeing the Sea Witch he went on to be a rather creative person.  In High School he took the TV Production class and on a whim he and his pals created a feature film....that the good folks at Micon were willing to put on as a World Premier!  There were tuxes and evening gowns involved and admission was free.  We were of course encouraged to buy some popcorn.

It now costs more than 12 cents.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Forgotten Movie Theaters Chippewa Falls - Lyric, Loop and Palace

Note:  This is week two of my series on the history of movie theaters in Chippewa Falls Wisconsin.  It is admittedly a topic of only local interest but the burden of a historian is not always a light one to carry....

Today three minor theaters.  

The Palace.

The address for this one comes from a 1917 City Directory, and ads can be found from 1915 onward.  I assume it was not present in this 1910 Sanborn map as it should be in the long narrow space marked Bazaar at 107 North Bridge.  In fact it does not make the "At the Playhouses" article in 1912. I'll spare you the complexities of street addresses jumping about over time, suffice it to say that the Bank shown at 111 North Bridge is a solid structure that has been in the same spot since the 1870's

The location today.  It is probably the same building, as it is almost certainly pre-1910.  Now it is a chiropractic office with no evidence of it's past function.

After the owner of the Rex Theater bought up most, and perhaps all, of his local competitors circa 1917 one does wonder what sense it made to keep them all open.  As one of the lesser houses in town I figured the Palace would have gone out early but it was still running as late as this 1922 advertisement.

The Lyric.

This is another theater whose location is given in the 1917 directory and which is described as part of the "At the Playhouses" article:

The Lyric seems like a fairly classy establishment, at least if you can take that away from their ads...

 In the case of the Lyric I can offer a fairly specific starting date.  An article in the Chippewa Herald Telegram from 12 October 1911 says that:  "Work was begun yesterday on the "Lyric" the new theater which will be built in the Taylor block.  The construction will be rushed as rapidly as possible and it is hoped that it will be ready for occupancy about Nov. 5."  

I'd place the Lyric at 211 North Bridge.  It seems a rather narrow frontage for the "Five Double Door Exits" mentioned in the ad, although I see two exits on the alley before the remodel.

Here we are in 2020.  The alley adjacent to the Lyric has been enclosed and the entire site is now part of a newer building that sells paint, carpet and home furnishings.

The Loop

I have very little on this one.  As you get closer to the modern era it actually gets harder to nail down details.  It was on North Bridge street, probably in one of the earlier theater locations.  Circa 1935 it was described thusly:  "..the shabbier was the Loop, a second run house."  At that time the first run house in town was the Rivoli (former Victor/Rex).  I think they also owned the Loop, but would have no need for it in a few years, when they opened a brand new theater in town....

Friday, July 24, 2020

Forgotten Movie Theaters of Chippewa Falls - The Empire

As I mentioned last time, the local paper seems to have had a preference for The Empire theater.  In that 1912 article about local picture houses they give it the coveted top billing:

Like its contemporaries it presented a mix of live and film entertainment.  I found this interesting because it was one of two establishments - Gem being the other - that are identified specifically as "Moving Picture" theaters.

C'mon, admit it...are you not just a little curious about the third feature, listed as "Chicken. Comic."?

The moving picture industry got a little complicated during World War I.  A war time tax of 10% was placed on all movie and play tickets.  Interestingly this was not repealed until 1953.  And within the little world of local cinema there were other changes.  In June of 1917 it was announced that Mr. Waterbury, owner of the Rex Theater, now also owned both the Lyric and the Palace, leaving the New Empire as the only independent theater in town.  Later ads actually suggest that the Empire may also have fallen, as all four theaters are shown in one ad block.  I have been able to trace the Empire theater into the early 1920's before losing the trail.

Here is the 1910 Sanborn map of the Empire Theater.  

And the same spot today, with the location pretty much aligned from the map above.  An empty lot and the front steps of the local Chamber of Commerce.  Of course your eye is drawn to the sign saying LOCAL CHARM, but I'd also suggest you memorize that AMERICAN LEGION building out back.  We'll see it another day....

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Forgotten Movie Theaters Chippewa Falls - The Gem

Another contender for possible "first" movie theater in Chippewa Falls would be The Gem.  This one takes a bit more detective work.  A 1917 City Directory lists four theaters, The Empire, Lyric, Palace and of course the Rex.  Helpfully it gives addresses for them.  You never find theater addresses in newspaper ads, everyone knew where they were.  Comparing this to a 1910 Sanborn map I can place all four of them.  But, at a location not listed among the above names is a place marked MOVING PICTURES on the corner of Bridge and Grand.  I think this is the site of the Gem, a theater that was in existence since at least 1908.

The Gem appears to have had a rather varied menu of films, and appealed to the younger demographic.   

I was not expecting alligator wrestling!

In 1912 the newspaper ran a short column called "At the Playhouses".  It gave a thumbnail sketch of four theaters - quite a lot for a town of around 9,000 souls although the surrounding area was also part of the market.  Here's what they had to say about the Gem:

A movie about performing dogs....and then the dogs doing their act live.  In a highly competitive market the efforts to be novel must have been intense.  I have gone to very few movies in recent years but I would absolutely go and watch this.

Despite touting themselves as the "House of Quality" there seem to have been issues.  Possibly tainted by some editorial preference for its competition a 1910 article goes on at length about an incident where the management was "...forced to close the show and refund the money for the tickets...".  It seems the quality of the film supplied by the "Western Film Exchange of Milwaukee" was so bad that the operator was forced to stop the film four or five times a minute to try and get it running again.  The writer concludes:  "Sunday night is naturally the best of picture show nights.  It is also the best on which to disgust the patrons, and to ruin a house's business.  Many of the large audience at the Gem immediately hastened to the Empire where a most excellent show was given.

Here is our 1910 Sanborn map of the 200 block of Bridge street.  224 should be The Gem.

The same corner today.  Up on the cornice are the words "Physician's Block".

Although the basic footprint of the building is the same I think this is either a total remodel or more likely a newer building.  The Gem vanishes from the pages of the newspaper in mid 1912, and the Physicians block is described as "new" later that year.  I initially thought that it might have fallen victim to fire, but that would in general have made the news.  Probably the accumulated problems with the business in a market where four or perhaps five theaters were vying for the entertainment dollar just proved too much.  

As the name of the block implies the building was dedicated to physician's offices.  By the time I came to town in the mid 1980's it was a pharmacy.  No trace of its colorful past was visible in the interior at that time.

Next up:  We also hasten to The Empire.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Forgotten Movie Theaters Chippewa Falls - The Victor (also Rex and Rivoli)

History is the story of things as they were, but even more so the story of things as they change.  So I've been pondering how recent events are likely to change things.  And in this New Age where people are and may remain averse to attending crowded public places I wonder if movie theaters in their classic format will be entirely supplanted by streaming services.   Time for a retrospective, a look at the early history of movie theaters in my little community.  It's a story repeated in most other towns in America.

My research will be ongoing but the first movie theater in Chippewa Falls was probably The Victor.   It was built in 1906 as a 900 seat theater.  It's difficult to tell from old newspaper ads exactly when it added "moving pictures" to live performances, the two entertainment formats obviously overlapped.  It was a new place in this illustration from a 1907 map of the city:

The name Opera House suggests the transitional status of entertainment.  Indeed from the incomplete gleanings of newspaper ads I find evidence in the early years of the 20th century not only of films at the Victor but also vaudeville shows and boxing matches.  

The above image is a lithograph that was created from a photo.  It lacks enough detail to tell much about the building but helpfully there is a Sanborn fire insurance map from 1910 that shows things with their usual careful attention to flammability.  The curved, dotted line indicates the balcony.

"Sal." means that the businesses on either side of the theater were saloons.  The entertainment industry was not entirely respectable back then.  Also note a barber shop and a restaurant on the front of the building.  The office on the right hand side is known from a later source to the the offices of the theater, later of "Miner Properties" that owned this and other theaters.

Here is a 1918 ad for the Rex (new name for the Victor) that also lists two other theaters in town.  We'll visit them presently.  Incidentally, IMDB lists all of these films as "lost".

A trade publication also dated 1910 gives us a rare, detailed glimpse at the business:

Among the interesting tidbits here I note that the "prop. man" was named Victor Charland.  Coincidence?  It seems odd to name a place after an employee.  It is also interesting to see how many hats these early showmen wore.  Hansen was manager, business manager and press agent.  Waller was carpenter, bill poster and advertising agent.  

Also in the category of interesting "nuts and bolts" info, I found an article from September 1917 that recounted in detail the installation at the Rex of a "Seeburg Motion Picture Pipe Organ".  This sounds like a marvelous contraption for providing sound to the silent films of the era.  It was a "...combination of pipe organ, piano and orchestra..." that could provide continuous music all day in its autoplay mode, or could be played by an operator.  It was basically a very sophisticated player piano.  If that sort of thing interests you, HERE is more detail.

The theater business was unstable in its early years.  Trade publications are full of business closings, openings and ownership transfers.  The Victor became the Rex circa 1917 and the Rivoli in December of 1930.  By one account the theater was extensively remodeled at the time of the change to Rivoli.  This was to make it more of an exclusive "motion picture" house as opposed to the mixed live/film format it had obviously been employing.

I find a recurring theme when researching theaters.  In most eras there were two main ones in town, often owned by the same people.  One would show first run, the other second run features.  One tip off is ads that list two theaters in one ad block.  

Here is the Rivoli near the end of its life, in the era of tail fin cars.  Older citizens of our town recall going there and paying an admission of 17 cents.  

The Victor/Rex/Rivoli went out of business in the early 1960's and was subsequently demolished.  This is the site today with as close a match to the earlier perspective as I could manage.

Empty streets, as this was taken during the tightest phase of covid lockdown.  Everyone was probably at home watching Netflix.

Next up the Gem Theater.

Friday, July 17, 2020

An American Doughboy - Still Standing....for now.

Road trips are an excellent way to discover new things.  But there are disadvantages too.  When just "passing through" you sometimes have to get your photos on a day when conditions are not ideal.  As for instance with this interesting monument adjacent to the "Janesville 99" memorial we visited last time.

It is a World War I monument, and actually the dark, swirling clouds above do a decent job of bringing to mind the smoke and hellfire of trench warfare.  The Doughboy is standing defiant, rifle in one hand, grenade held high in the other.  The detail work is very nice, notice the little touches such as the barbed wire near his feet.

I learned that this was one of a large series of such statues from the 1920s and 30s.  Here's another image of one taken by someone blessed with better equipment, eye and weather conditions.

When I got up on tiptoes to photograph the leggings and barbed wire I noticed this plaque, a helpful clue to the history of these sculptures.

As it happens there already exists a website and a related Facebook group dedicated to the history of these "Spirit of the American Doughboy" memorials as created* by an interesting character named Ernest Moore Viquesney.  In brief, these were commercially produced in the decades after The Great War, and found considerable favor as memorials that were generally placed in public spaces with the support of, and in honor of, American WW I veterans.  Approximately 140 are known to exist, although some have not survived the passage of time and perhaps a few are yet to be found in some dusty corner of a storage building.

The majority of known Doughboys, approximately 120, are made of thin sheets of bronze welded together.  Thus they are much lighter and more damage prone than what an equivalent solid bronze statue would be.  Of course this made them far more affordable, and Viquesney was very much of mercantile inclinations.  At least three were done in stone.  And in 1934 due to the economic hard times of the Depression, a version made of cheaper zinc was marketed.  At only $700 each he continued to sell a few although in dwindling numbers as the shadows of a new war grew and as memories of the last one perhaps faded.  Production ended in 1942, at a time when there was likely no extra metal of any kind available.

I do recommend the site linked above.  It is encyclopedic and a fine example of what dedicated amateur historians can accomplish.  It is in its own way a memorial to a time when a scholarly pride in our nation's accomplishments was much in evidence.

The Doughboy Monuments are mostly still in place.  But over the years a dozen or so have suffered vandalism and a few have vanished altogether.  The vandals have been a mixed lot.  The statues are not nearly as sturdy as they look, and not a few drunkards have been very sure they could swing from an arm or from that extended rifle.  A few have been more systematically savaged by people with obscure political motives or by illicit metal scrappers.  Some of the latter have been badly disappointed by the zinc composition and the thin plating of the later versions.  

But what of today?  Is there much left of that "scholarly pride" in our past these days?  Alas I fear not.  

We've had considerable unrest in recent weeks.  Peaceful protests have mutated into something uglier.  Statues commemorating Confederate leaders have been targeted widely, and with at least some logic.  From there it takes so little to throw the ropes and start pulling down figures with ambiguous status.  Columbus, Jefferson.....even The Great Emancipator himself.  And when no convenient target can be brought down by the jeering mob, well, any statue will do.  At least three Doughboys have been damaged since the Floyd protests began in May of 2020.  

Here is the best documented and perhaps saddest example.  Birmingham Alabama, May 31st.  A mob attacks the Confederate Obelisk in a public park.  It proves too sturdy for their engineering abilities, which are likely as rudimentary as other aspects of their education.  

No problem.  Here's another statue.  Let's Mess It Up.

Immediately thereafter both the Confederate Obelisk and the Doughboy were taken down by the City of Birmingham, whose Mayor had actually participated in the protests although not in the defacement of the monuments.

That the Obelisk should go is palatable.  There are mechanisms by which such decisions can be deliberated and done in a proper fashion.  No doubt there are on the one side firebrands who would advocate immediate dynamiting and stubborn obstructionists who would like to continue to enshrine aspects of our history that are no longer considered noble and good.  Our society always functions best when Progress and Conservation can meet, often uneasily, and compromise.

But the Doughboy was just a target of convenience.

I consider World War One to be our last idealistic war.  We took up arms for others, in a conflict that did not directly impact our nation's security.  We fought for the subjugated and abused citizens of Belgium.  We fought for Freedom of the Seas.  We fought because small nations should not be ground under the heel of mighty empires.  Try as I can to appreciate the peculiar mind set of our modern Visigoths I can't see much racism involved in it.  In fact we joined an alliance where black and asian colonial troops were fighting and dying for Ideals, while looking ahead to the eventual freedom that always seems to result when brave men prove they are the equal of their nominal "masters".

The Birmingham Doughboy is now safe somewhere and supposedly will be cleaned up, repaired and restored to his pedestal.  I hope you'll forgive me if the cynicism of these ignorant times has given me doubts as to whether that will in fact ever happen.
* I will by convention give Viquesney credit for these statues, but the true story of the artists and craftsmen involved is complex and best addressed by the Viquesney website.  I again recommend it.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

The Janesville 99 - A Monument still standing.

Monuments commemorating our soldiers are so common that it is easy to look right past them.  This one in downtown Janesville Wisconsin is eye catching because of the tank on top.  But once you look more closely it tells a remarkable story with no need of decorative flourish.

The American war effort did not begin with Pearl Harbor.  As it was clear things were going to get difficult there were efforts to begin preparations much earlier.  In November of 1940 four companies of National Guard troops were mobilized and formed into the 192nd Tank Battalion.  Company A -with 99 men - came from Janesville.  They trained at an armory a couple of blocks from this site before moving on to Fort Knox in Kentucky.  One year later they deployed to the Philippines, arriving at Clark Field and Fort Stostsenberg on Thanksgiving Day.  They must have been barely unpacked when the Japanese attacked on December 8th, 1941.

The American response to the subsequent invasion was brave and resolute...but also doomed.  The 192nd fought during the retreat down the Bataan peninsula until their eventual surrender on April 9th.  So far they had only two dead during the actual fighting, and remarkably only lost one during the ensuing Bataan Death March.  But of the 99 men who arrived in the Philippines, only 35 made it home alive.  

They died of disease and malnutrition and outright murder at foul prison camps all across Asia.  15 were lost when their unmarked transport ship was torpedoed by an American submarine.  The remains of many were lost forever.  At sea or in unmarked jungle graves.  But their comrades, the lucky or the resolute who made it back alive never forgot them.

This is a photo of most of the survivors, posing in front of a much more modern tank than the lightweight Stuart M3s they rode into battle.  The date of the photo is not clear, probably 1946....most are still in uniform but said uniforms are not hanging loosely on them.  Of the 23 men I see only one who is smiling.  They were remembering hardships, but they remembered something else too.

"This memorial stands in fulfillment of a pledge by the tank company boys to their comrades on Bataan".

As I write in 2020 the men of Company A are all gone.  When they dedicated the monument they marked with stars the ones who had died in service.  And left room for the addition of later markers when the survivors joined the final muster.

A heroic tale, albeit one full of sadness.  But at least in times when monuments are being toppled by mobs who don't know - or worse yet, don't care - about the sacrifice of brave men and women who preceded them, surely a monument such as this will be safe?

Or will it?  Another monument and another story next time....
Addendum.  There were not many survivors of Company A, and some of them never spoke of their experiences.  One who did was Forrest Knox.  If you can bear it, his tale is recounted HERE

Monday, July 13, 2020

Industrial Archaeology - Brewery Style

OK, I admit it, I have interests that bring me into contact with some interesting people.  Doubtless they feel the same way about me.  Recently I had a chance to travel to the southern part of the state and help some of them out with an ongoing project.

It seems there is a historic brewery site that has fallen into disrepair.  Rather than let it suffer the fate common to such places - a quick but final tidy up with bulldozers and excavators - there are diligent efforts afoot to clean the place, study it, and eventually make it into an impressive public space that highlights the history.  Here it is today:

Various things were on tap for my brief stay.  A test excavation next to the old bottling plant...

There's at least ten feet of solid glass at this location, other spots might run deeper.  The number of bottles involved is staggering.

And why?  A small number of mis-returns from other breweries turned up, you'd never help out the competition so those made sense to discard right away.  A larger number of  bottles had just the tops chipped off, raising the possibility of them being units that were damaged by the bottling equipment.  But the sheer mass of these, many thousands of discards -most of them crushed - makes for the possibility that this was a mass purge at the time of Prohibition.  And this remarkable degree of destruction also gives the impression that they were destroyed methodically.  Was this usually done before shipping the "cullet" back to the glass house for credit on your next batch?

Naturally there are caves on the site.  Two well sealed ones are excavations from the 1860's.  The third is speculated to be the original 1850's cave.  It is known to have been "accessed" by visitors as recently as the 1990's.  So of course we felt obliged to explore it a bit.  Just to make sure it was not going to be the target of foolish kids trying to find creative ways to endanger themselves.  Here is the starting point:

Vines cleared away and a start at digging down.

Surprisingly the roof of the cave was quite a bit deeper than expected.  You can see it under the horizontal bit of stone near the bottom of the hole.  There is a good ten feet of fill on this spot.  And to boot, the folks who secured this site 25 years ago tossed in plenty of railroad ties and Lord knows what else deeper down.  Tip of the cap to an efficient public works crew.

While we were disappointed that we could not even sneak a Go Pro into the space and learn more about it, we feel we did conclusively prove that no casual vandals would be getting into this cave.  We then proceeded to add even more rock and timber.  I was tempted to write various messages on these beams as we placed them.  "No, you really don't want to dig deeper".  "Seriously dude, you are like maybe 5% of the way there.  Tired yet?"   "There's probably dead cats buried in here".  And so forth.

That phase of the project was so much fun I was ready to carry on with additional brush clearing duties.  But my cohorts claimed fatigue and insisted on a bit of time off.  Really, what's the younger generation coming to?  I mean, my car thermometer was still reading a two digit number!