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Cave legend ... What's the truth behind the DePauw cave?

Saturday, September 1, 2007

There is a cave that is rumored to run from near Blackstock stadium beneath the DePauw campus to Boone Hutcheson Cemetery. Known by two names Sellers and University Cave, it was explored as early as 1830 by DePauw students and Greencastle residents.

In 1884, a DePauw student named John Reasoner was asked to check out the cave system by the U.S. Geologic Survey. He recruited another sophomore and one of his Professors to accompany him into the cave.

Reasoner and his colleagues ventured in but the Professor refused to go more than about ten feet fear of getting lost.

The DePauw student ventured further into the cave by himself but discovered no lost artifacts or civilizations. He did find the names and dates of former DePauw students written on the walls dated 1830.

In his report to the state geologist Reasoner concluded that there were many interesting things in the cave but nothing of significance.

Today the cave is recognized in spelunking circles as being the only known cave in Mississppian Age limestone north of the Wisconsin glacial boundary.

The path shown here is just a few feet from the entrance to Sellers Cave. The area is overgrown and poison ivy abounds.
Local residents say they have entered the cave from both ends (at the DePauw entrance and at Boone Hutcheson Cemetery) and claim the two caves are one and the same.

According to Sean Lewis, president of the Indiana University Caving Club it is very unlikely that the cave goes very far in any direction.

Lewis told the BannerGraphic, "One thing that I can tell you is that almost all caves up that far north (Greencastle area) are very small. The limestone is only a few feet thick there and is only exposed to the surface in areas that have been heavily eroded by rivers and such as a result of glacial till. This rumor that it goes 5 miles underground is unlikely in the extreme. The cave probably only goes a few dozen feet."

Rumors since as early as the 1830's have described the cave as running underneath most of the DePauw campus. There is a story that a home owned by the university has a sealed off entrance to one of the cave tunnels.

The underground tunnels that span the campus of DePauw University are believed to have been used to transport slaves in the Underground Railroad. It's highly likely that this lore confuses the cave with a tunnel system which was used to steam heat some of the older buildings on campus.

In 1853 a story circulated about a goose that was dropped into the entrance of the cave. The critter supposedly reappeared days later near the Boone Hutcheson cave entrance. Or, depending on who is telling the story, near the spring that is a few hundred feet away from the entrance of the cave.

In 1929, The Greencastle Banner report of a fire suggests that one of the building's lost in the blaze sat on top of Sellers Cave. The article also pointed out that generations of Greencastle kids had explored the cave. In fact the BannerGraphic has talked to local residents who have been inside the cave. Most concur with that same Banner story which talks about what a disappointment the cave was with nothing inside but rocks and mud.

The Putnam County Museum has information that relates another cave adventurer named Wilbur Kurts who entered the cave in 1958 confessed to being impressed and intrigued with what he saw. However, he didn't expand on just what it was he observed.

Local lore has continued to grow around the cave. It is rumored to have been used by John Dillenger as an escape route during his infamous robbery in Greencastle.

Although records show that Dillenger left the county in an automobile following the robbery.

If one of the entrances to the underground caves is in the Boone Hutcheson Cemetery it has an other world attachment in the guise of a strange figure seen standing in the cave entrance in the cemetery.

Some reports even include reports of bodies falling out of caskets into the cave.

There are other spirited reports about a ghostly police officer from the 1950's who sits inside the graveyard with a blue light near the cave. One other occurrence involves sinister looking dogs with red glowing eyes that emerge from the cave to chase people to their cars, then disappear.

These manifestations are probably as believable as John Dillenger using the cave as an escape route.

In 1962 a cave explorer by the name of Tom Rea explored Sellers cave, charted a map and gave the following description:

Lewis whose organization at IU keeps extensive records on caves in Indiana, also provided information on the cave site being checked out in the fall of 2000.

This report reads: "The situation has much changed. The karst is more extensive. A sink has developed around the pits. The property is posted strongly. The area is now completely developed with homes."

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Well...I have been to the back of Boone Hutch Cave. You crawl most of the way. There is a point about half-way were you can kneel, and the the end, I was able to stand up, the second explorer could almost stand, and the 3rd in our party had enough room to turn around and head out. It is extremely narrow. There is *NO* connection to the cave at DPU.

-- Posted by localman on Sat, Sep 1, 2007, at 5:37 PM

Ah, yes, the sotry of the long cave has been around for a long time. In 1962 I poked around pretty thoroughly. Could barely get out of sight of daylight. In 2000 or so I checked back and things had really changed. I just looked at it from the railroad track then because the owners obviously wanted people to stay out. I have been to the end of Boone-Hutcheson Cemetery Cave and there is no chance the two connect--None. There are a couple of dozen caves in Putnam County, the longest being about 1,700 feet in length but most of the others are much smaller.

Tom Rea

-- Posted by tomrea on Sat, Sep 1, 2007, at 11:20 PM

I spent the better part of my childhood digging for Sellers cave. After it was filled in with trash by our city or Depauw?

Anyways what about the Miami indian mounds? or the hall of skeletons? All these were covered by a gentleman by the name of E.E.Edwards which is very well documented in the Depauw archives dept. At one point in the cave you even come to a very deep casm where there seems to be no bottom. Howwever if you listen carefully you can hear the bottom (dropping something). The most unfortunate thing is we have something as special as this and we filled it in with trash, thats a shame. Originally the locals hired an expert on the subject to find out if it had any ecological importance. The expert went some 2 rods (33 ft)into the cave and his report said he could go no further. Another person was found and with his team (DPU students) built two ladders and carried 3 bullseye lanterns went in. This gentleman actually broke his shoulder squeezing through the tunnel. They drew pictures of what they found. Including a room with 3 mounds (believed to be Miami Burial Mounds) Miamis were cave dwellers in our area. they also found a room with several paintings on the wall. It was always my dream to fully explore this wonderful gift we have or had. I think the DPU or the county should take it unto themselves to redeem what they have destroyed. Boone Hutchison cave has been explored time and time again. Myself and S.Brown camped in the cave for 3 days looking everywhere for anything, its just a cave that ends, thats all. when we reached the end of Boone Hutch cave we lit a candle and the the flame didnt bend one way or the other. As far as Dillinger goes that cave was Bald Hill cave further west of Greencastle. It is easy to find but another short one. Do I need to come over there and tell you guys about this stuff?

Jeff D. Lancaster

AKA: Jefferson

Long live te Pizza Guy!

-- Posted by Jeff Lancaster on Tue, Sep 4, 2007, at 9:41 AM

Thanks for the interesting story! Caves have a long history of mystery and intrigue, and are often associated with folklore and legends; I believe each one has truth in it. Additionally, perception of caves varies with each and every visitor. Members of the Indiana Cave Survey welcome the opportunity to provide landowners with information about their caves, as well as provide first-hand knowledge through exploration, mapping, photography, and other types of documentation, if it hasn't already been done. Please visit the ICS website and feel free to contact an officer at any time.

Dave Everton

2007 ICS President


-- Posted by deverton on Tue, Sep 4, 2007, at 3:25 PM

Thanks for sharing that story, Jeff!

Long live The Pizza Guy!!

-- Posted by TD on Wed, Sep 5, 2007, at 3:19 PM

We were just discussing the caves today. My father grew up near there and always said that the nearby dairy farmer created the cave to store milk in to keep it cool before we had the refridgerators we have today. Does anyone have any info concerning that idea?

-- Posted by Dee on Tue, Sep 11, 2007, at 10:06 PM

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