Folklore Profile: The Death Song Cave
"Legend of Wisconsin Cavern Into Which Scores of Indians Were Said to Have Vanished Still Puzzles Whites and Red Men, Alike."
If you were alive back in the '30s and were also a subscriber of The Milwaukee Journal newspaper, this headline for a story would have most certainly caught your attention and sparked your interest into finding out what it was all about. It did exactly what a headline is supposed to do, grab your gaze and force your eyes to continue reading. And honestly, why wouldn't it? In bold letters right before you, a respected newspaper is proclaiming a cave has caused a group of people to go missing and nobody can figure out why. The mystery of this specific cave was written about in the November 23, 1930 edition and was left unsolved, but I highly doubt The Milwaukee Journal thought the mystery would continue to go unsolved nearly ninety years later. And it's because of this that we are talking about this piece of classic Wisconsin folklore today.
Now, before we begin to dig into this legend (Ha! Get it, "dig in", you know because it's a cave? No? Alright, never mind...), I'm quickly going to list the sources from where we have gathered a good majority of our research for this piece. This relatively obscure legend has been around for a long time so a large amount of information comes from The Wisconsin Historical Society. From them, we were able to obtain articles involving the mystery cave from The Wisconsin State Journal, The Milwaukee Journal, a publication known as The Wisconsin Archaeologist, and some personal letters written by Charles E. Brown. A major contributor of the updated and modern facts of the legend comes from the book, 'River of Mystery: The Stories of Paul Seifert, Bogus Bluff, Richland City, and the Ancient People of the Wisconsin River Valley' by Dan Bomkamp, Ron Nagel, and J.L. Fredrick. Each of these resources contained a lot of extremely detailed information and I'm extremely confident we are good with using these as our main sources.
Alright, we can now begin with the legend.
So imagine this scenario, you are sitting there in your late 1920's, early 1930 living room and you pick up today's copy of the large printed Milwaukee Journal off the coffee table. You're flipping through the pages, eyes going crazy over all the articles stacked nearly on top of each other that you can choose to read, when one, in particular, catches your attention, a somewhat longer article talking about a cave. You think to yourself, "What's all this about, people vanished inside a cave and we don't know why? I'm sure there's a good reason, I bet they'll explain it somewhere in the story." So you settle into that well-worn groove in your scratchy couch and start to read. But once you get a few paragraphs in, you quickly realize this cave is anything but normal, and it may be something much more sinister.
The article states that around the unincorporated community of Gotham, within the borders of Richland county, there exists a cave that has been part of Winnebago legend since before European settlers had arrived in Wisconsin. When exactly this specific legend began is unknown, because as with almost all stories involving the strange and bizarre, the origin was said to have been lost to time. Anyway, the legend states that somewhere among the many bluffs along the Wisconsin River, there exists a cave that two young boys from the Winnebago tribe had the misfortune of stumbling across.
They were said to have been hunting deer not far from their settlement, but for some reason, failed to return after two long days. Concerned, the tribes chief, Great Eagle, sent out 10 of his best trackers and warriors to locate the boys and bring them back safely. The fear was that the young tribesmen may have possibly run across an enemy tribe and were taken and held captive. Not wanting any bloodshed, the group was to pick up the boys' trail as quickly as possible and end any conflict before it began. So off the men went, deep into the surrounding wooded area in search of the trail.
Since these were the best trackers Great Eagle under his command, it was no problem at all finding the boys, trail. Through thick forest and down into a deep ravine the trail winded until it came to a stop at the mouth of a dark cave. The trackers noticed that all signs pointed to the young hunters entering the ominous cavern, but nothing provided any evidence that they had ever come out. The group talked about the best plan of action and it was decided that two of the warriors would enter the hollow, locate the boys, and bring them back out safely. Proceeding forward, the brave warriors walked slowly into the darkness until they were completely out of sight, the darkness of the cave appearing to have swallowed them up. And then just like that, they were gone.
Hours passed and the remaining group waited anxiously for the two warriors to reappear with the boys in tow. But as the sun began to set, it was realized that the men were not coming back, and they had vanished as mysteriously as the two young hunters before them. The remaining trackers and warriors left topside shouted into the cave in hopes their brothers would hear them, but they never received a response. Well technically they did receive a callback, but it wasn't from any of the tribe members who had entered the cave. No, the legend states that the sound that carried up and out of the cavern carried softly on the wind and sent a cold shiver down the backs of every man standing at the mouth of the cave after reaching their ears. It was a sound they had never heard before, and one that went on to be called the "Death Song of an Indian".
Alarmed and concerned that a terrible fate had befallen those who had entered before them, six of the remaining eight trackers and warriors took up arms and proceeded quickly into the cave. But just as before, they too disappeared into the darkness and all that came back out was the disturbing death song. Only this time though, it was significantly louder than before. Horrified now by what they were hearing and extremely concerned at what was happening to their fellow tribesmen, the remaining two of the search party ran back to camp and alerted Great Eagle that they had encountered something which could only be described as evil. So the next day, Great Eagle gathered up 100 men from the camp and proceeded towards the cave, weapons, and torches in hand.
A quick bit of information before we continue as I'm sure many of you are wondering what the "Death Song" sounded like, the answer is nobody knows. Nothing was ever written as to what sort of tune the song had or if it was even a song, to begin with. The closest we have to a description says it was "answering echoes with weirdly beautiful plaintive notes." From that, we can gather that it was along the lines of both sad and creepy. I'm sure you now have a tune playing in your head that you would describe like the above, so whenever you think of the death song, just play that exact tune and you'll be all set! Now let's continue.
When Great Eagle and his one hundred men reached the cave, they were already mentally prepared for what they would encounter. While they didn't know the specifics of what was causing it, they knew that the cave was making people disappear. So to combat this terrible thing from happening again, the men grabbed hands and marched forward as a human chain into the mouth of the cavern. As the light grew dim for those in front and the echoes of footsteps hit the ears of those in back, it seemed as if the human chain was unbreakable. That is until the second man in front realized the leader who at one moment was holding his hand, seemed to have completely vanished.
The once second man who had unwillingly become the line leader gasped and reached out for the hand of his missing link in the chain. But as he did, his hand released from the third man behind him and in an instant he was gone as well. With the second man now missing, the third took charge, but like the previous two leaders, he simply vanished into the darkness as well. This continued down the chain in a fashion similar to falling dominoes. One minute a man was there and then the next, poof, gone. Not wanting to meet a similar fate, the remaining links in the human chain broke apart and made for the safety of the light on the outside of the cave. Once all footsteps had diminished and nothing but silent men stood in front of the rocky entrance, the all too familiar mournful song fluttered out from the darkness of the dark hollow.
Realizing that he may have drastically underestimated exactly what he was dealing with, Great Eagle contemplated one more attempt at bringing those loyal to him safely home. He came up with the plan that only one man would attempt to enter the cave, only this time though, he would enter with a rope tied securely around his torso. As you can probably guess, the rope was to alert those on the outside if the brave warrior needed help. If the warrior tugs on the rope from inside the cave, the remaining men on the outside pull him back via a quick tug. It was a simple idea and one that seemed as if it couldn't fail. But as you've already learned, this cave isn't a regular run of the mill cave and doesn't like to adhere to the rules of nature.
With rope secure around the volunteer, the lone man walks cautiously into the cave. Those on the outside holding the rope watch as he fades into the darkness before being ultimately consumed by it. While this would normally be the moment worry would begin to take over, it looked as if it was unnecessary here as the rope continued to slide slowly through the hands of those holding it. For all they knew, their fellow tribesman was making it farther than anyone previously had. But then the rope stopped moving. The men tugged at it to see if perhaps the man inside had simply stopped for a rest, but they received no response. Great Eagle loudly shouted for them to pull back the rope as fast as they could to remove them warrior from the cave, and pull they did, until the end of the rope came flying out of the darkness towards them. It was empty, and it still held the same knotted loop in which it was tied around the brave volunteer.
After that Great Eagle addressed his remaining men and declared that the cave would be forbidden to all. Nobody was allowed near it and no further attempts were to be made to rescue those who had fallen victim to it. As disheartening as it was to leave all those who had vanished into its inky black darkness, the chief was unwilling to put any more lives at risk. He ordered all those who were lucky enough to survive to gather all available supplies and make their way back to camp. But before they were about to set out, the Death Song once again began to filter out of the cave and entered the ears of every horrified man standing around it.
Hours passed and turned to days, days turned to weeks, and weeks turned to months. The cave and all areas surrounding it had not been ventured to since they were designated as forbidden by Great Eagle, but one day, the normality that had once again returned to the camp was shaken by an unknown visitor. From out of the surrounding forest, an old man and a young boy walked into camp and immediately everything that had been going on came to a stop and all eyes fell upon the two visitors. The man, who was said to be extremely old and frail, was also fully blind and incredibly pale. His hair and beard were each described as being pure white and quite long with the beard reaching to his waist. His language was described as something the Winnebago tribe members had never heard before and as a result, they were unable to understand him. It appeared the language barrier went both ways though as the stranger was unable to understand the Winnebago members as well.
Now if the old man wasn't a strange enough sight to see, his visitor was even stranger. You see, the young boy was accompanying the old man as a sort of guide. Slowly leading him through the woods and helping him to avoid hazards. He looked to be around ten years old but acted as if he was much older and wiser. From what those in camp could tell, he appeared to be of Winnebago descent, but just sort of seemed "off". What was most intriguing and sort of unsettling though, was that he looked almost identical to one of the young boys who had gone missing in the cave only months earlier.
The resemblance was so uncanny, that the missing boy's mother even recognized the young stranger as her own. But when questioned by the woman, he spoke softly and let her know that he was not her son and that he was in fact from another tribe. When asked to further explain where he had come from, he would simply say that he came from the North and that was it. Not sure if they should believe it or not, the chiefs most trusted warriors accompanied the two visitors to Great Eagle in hopes he could make sense of the situation. The old man and his young guide spoke to one another the entire way there. The men and women following behind listened with great curiosity and wonder.
When the two strangers finally met with Great Eagle, the trio spoke for what seemed like hours. The chief would speak and the young boy would translate for the old man. The white-haired stranger would answer and the boy would translate for the chief. Though not revealed as to what they spoke about, Great Eagle deemed the visitors to be safe and allowed them to stay. During their time there, all manner of the surrounding area was spoken about without so much as a sound of concern from the old man, but as soon as Great Eagle told them about the cave and his missing men, the frail man grew noticeably alarmed and spoke to the boy. After nodding his head, the young guide turned to the chief and said in a tone of voice much more serious than before, "Lead him to this cave."
It is not known whether they left for the cave that night or the following day, but Great Eagle did do as the boy said and lead him and the old man to the cave. But they did not go without company, no, this time around the entire remainder of the village went with. After walking through scores of trees and deep within tight ravines, the large group arrived at the entrance to the cave. All members of the Winnebago formed a sort of half-circle round the mouth but did so at, what they felt, was a safe distance. Great Eagle walked forward with the young boy and old man and began to explain once again what had occurred here, but as he did, the old man raised his hand causing the chief to stop mid-sentence. The white-haired man spoke to the boy and when complete, the boy turned to the chief and informed him that he was unable to partake in the next part of the journey. After that, the two strangers walked forward into the large mouth of the cave and began to fade into nothingness.
Almost immediately the Death Song began to filter out of the cave and into all present ears of every man, woman, and child. Great Eagle stood firm and tall as if telling the cave that he would not fear its terrible song, but in a move almost reminiscent of conscious thought, the volume of the song filtering out of the cave began to grow louder and louder, as if the cave was reminding the chief he should be afraid. But then something strange happened, the once loud and prominent music suddenly ceased. As if someone had quickly pulled a needed off a spinning record, the mournful music vanished and calm filled the area around the mouth of the cave. Almost as if someone who had forgotten to breathe suddenly took a deep breath and clicked back into normality. The crowd began to speak in hushed tones and looked around them nervously, instinctively waiting for something to happen. Great Eagle remained firm in his stance, eyes never breaking from the entrance to the cave. Then he heard it, the sound of footsteps walking forward through the darkness until the footfalls gave way to dim silhouettes. The two strangers had returned to the land of light, and they appeared to have cleansed the cave in doing so.
Without saying a word, the young and old strangers walked out of the cave and straight ahead past the chief and all those standing around. They continued forward back into the trees, through the ravines, and towards the river. Curious as to what was happening Great Eagle followed behind, and behind him, the remaining tribe members marched single file. After some time, the old man and young boy arrived at the river where a canoe unknown to the chief was floating stationary along the bank. The old man walked forward and was helped inside by his young guide. After he took his seat, the younger stranger lowered himself down next to him and as if by magic, the canoe moved out into the river and began to float downstream unassisted. Within minutes, the two strangers were gone just as mysteriously as they had arrived. They were never seen or heard from again.
Many days passed after the young boy and old man, who had become known as the Great Healer among the tribe, had left. But even though they appeared to have taken care of the problem with the cave, the fear of it had not subsided and nobody dared to venture close to it again. But one day that changed when a brave warrior from the tribe decided to enter the cave to see exactly what the Great Healer had done. With a small group accompanying him to the cave, the warrior was given a weapon and was encouraged to yet again tie a rope around himself. But the brave warrior declined and walked slowly into the darkness of the cave. The members of the party outside held their breath and waited anxiously for the sound of the Death Song to once again come filtering out of the cave, but there was nothing but silence. Many minutes had passed and not a word was spoken when suddenly the sound of footsteps once again filled the air. They belonged to the lone warrior, and he was walking back to request assistance.
The lone explorer explained to the others that he had walked as far into the cavern as he could before the ceiling started to slant downward. It wasn't long before he was practically crawling on his stomach to move forward. Not wanting to possibly wedge himself into an area he could not escape from, he decided to turn around and bring a partner back in with him. Once a volunteer had stepped forward to accompany the warrior back into the darkness, the two men moved forward along the same path until they were both, as was previously mentioned, crawling on their stomachs. Only this time though, they would press forward and squeeze through the tight spaces once out of reach.
After some time had passed where the two men were practically slithering between the ceiling and floor of the cave, the ceiling suddenly shot up and the men found themselves in a large, cavernous room. Now able to stand, the two brave explorers reached for their torches and were ready to light up the dark room they had found themselves standing in deep within the earth. But at this moment, it was clear that neither of them was prepared to lay eyes upon what the light was about to expose. With a spark, flame engulfed the torch head and darkness began to retreat. But as it fled, bones began to appear all around them, and horror started to creep back in.
With both torches flicking brightly, the men were able to see that they were surrounded by hundreds of skeletons. While it was assumed that some of these had to have belonged to their brothers, the others had to have come from people who lived in the surrounding area from long ago. But what truly made this scene terrifying was the fact that none of the skeletons were scattered or in disarray. No, all these skeletons were said to be laying in perfect rows, faces down, with their arms outstretched in front of them. And up front and center before all these well-placed skeletons were said to be a giant stone throne that appeared to have been carved out of the wall itself. But what sat in it was nowhere to be found, and it was this detail that caused the two men to vacate the cavernous room as quickly as they could and make for the safety of the outside world once again.
When the men finally made their exit, they and the group around the entrance rushed back towards the camp. After explaining to chief Great Eagle what they had encountered, he concluded that the cave must have been the dwelling place for some great evil spirit and that this was the source of the Death Song prior to the Great Healer cleansing the area. After much deliberation, the chief and his most trusted men decided that the entrance to the cave must be sealed up so as not to risk the evil spirit one day finding its way back inside and once again claiming the lives of all who are unlucky enough to enter. So the tribe went to work sealing the entrance and building up the earth around it until it completely vanished.
As the years passed, those who had known about the cave began to grow old and die. New generations were never told of the location of the cave and eventually, all direct knowledge had ceased to exist. All that remained was the verbal legend of the Death Song and the Great Healer. Great Eagle it seemed, had accomplished what he had hoped to do all those years prior, keep those in the area safe and erase the cave from existence so it could never be opened again. And that's how things were looking to continue, at least that is until 1848 when Wisconsin was officially declared a state and the cave decided to make itself known once again.
Alright, I'm going to take this opportunity to let you all know that we have reached the end of the "ancient" legend portion of the story and will now be getting into the "modern" legend portion. But before we do that, I'd suggest maybe getting up and stretching a bit or just walk around for a few minutes. That first stretch was pretty long and the second half will be just as long in order to accurately give all the information necessary. So treat this as a reading intermission and get back to us when you're all situated and ready to proceed.
*Time slowly passes by.*
Alright, now that you have taken your recommended break, we can continue with the story. Before we begin we will just do a quick recap of what the "ancient" legend was about. Two young boys of the Winnebago tribe went missing inside a cave along the Wisconsin River. Searchers from the tribe went in to look for them but they also went missing. More people went to search the cave and they also went missing. The chief said nobody was allowed around the cave again and then a strange old man and young boy showed up who wanted to see the cave. The chief said ok and showed them the cave and they took care of what was happening to all the people who were going missing inside. Later, two explorers from the tribe went into the cave again and discovered hundreds of skeletons "praying" to a giant empty throne deep inside the dark cave. The explorers told the chief about it and he ordered the cave sealed up and hidden. It remained hidden for years and years and years until it became known of again in 1848.
The recap is now over and we can proceed!
Years after the sealing of the cave and the eventual "relocation" of the Winnebago settlement along the Wisconsin River, a town by the name of Richland City was proposed. The year was 1848 and Issac Wallace and Garwood Green were making preparations to purchase the land that would eventually develop into the future town. After planning, developing, and building, the original town which consisted of 33 blocked lots grew to include commercial buildings, churches, taverns, a post office, a flour mill, a schoolhouse, sawmill, distillery, and many other locations a normal pioneer town would possess in the mid-1800s. The rapid growth had established Richland City as an important stop on the Wisconsin River and it quickly became one of the busiest locations in the area. (Fun Fact: Richland City is no longer a city in Wisconsin. Why? Because the river washed away the sandy banks and a majority of the town pretty much slid into the river back in the 1860's.)
With this steady growth, many came to Richland City to put down roots and create a life for themselves. During this time, a great influx of German immigrants began to flock to Wisconsin and establish themselves across the state, and one of these new Wisconsinites was a man by the name of Paul Seifert. A 21yr old from Dresden, Germany, who arrived in Richland City in 1867. We could go into the background of Paul, but that would take way too long, so if you are curious, I would recommend picking up a copy of 'River of Mystery' by Bomkamp, Nagel, and Fredrick. They cover everything you would want to know. As for us, we are just here for the mystery of the cave.
Jumping forward through a large amount of time we come to the late 1880s. During this time, Paul has gotten married, had kids, and he and his wife Elizabeth have purchased over 60 acres of land within the area. Paul likes to spend his days painting as well as partaking in the collecting of various Native American artifacts that could be found throughout the area. Remember, at this specific point in time, not much cultural and historical value was placed on Native American history, so a lot of what Paul would find, he would turn around and sell to personal collectors throughout the state. This proved to be a pretty good way to make money so Paul would search around his land for new deposits of artifacts and dig through the areas until they were empty. Well, as you can probably already guess, during one of these searches for new areas to explore, Paul found himself in an area already familiar to us, but completely new to him. Yes, that's right, Paul Seifert somehow managed to stumble upon an entrance into the legendary Death Song Cave.
Flash forward to the early 1900s, a man in Vienna, Austria, is writing a letter to the local newspaper, The Vienna Courier, about an adventure he had while in Wisconsin in 1901 (Side note: this letter was later republished in a Milwaukee newspaper). The letter states that the author traveled to the town of Gotham, located in Richland County, to visit his old friend Paul Seifert and to explore a cave in which relics sent to him had originated from. The letter recounts how Paul led the author down the Wisconsin River and after some time the duo arrived at the base of Bogus Bluff. From there they hiked over two miles through thick forest, deep ravines, and narrow paths. Eventually, the men arrived at a large ledge which required them to rappel down to a much narrower ledge. After doing so, the pair stood in front of a tight crevice going into the hillside.
Continuing forward, the men squeezed themselves into the thin passage and descended into the earth. After some time the passage widened and the men found themselves in a cave. The letter states Paul lit the lanterns and led the author across dried up underground creek beds and over piles of ancient prehistoric animal bones. Eventually, the dried beds led the men to a great drop off straight into black nothingness. But Paul had come prepared and removed yet another rope from his bag and proceeded to tie it to a large boulder for them to rappel yet again further into the earth.
After dropping down what seemed to be over forty feet, the author of the letter states that Paul continued to lead them forward until the ceiling of the cave began to grow smaller and smaller. Eventually, the height became so low that the two men found themselves unable to stand and had to crawl on their stomachs if they wished to move forward. After crawling along for some distance, the ceiling finally shot back up and the two men found themselves standing yet again, only this time they were in a large chamber. Paul was true to his word and led his friend to the location of the artifacts which he had sent him, the location being the same one that Great Eagle had ordered sealed all those years ago.
Within the letter, it is said that the floor was covered with the bones of countless skeletons. Damp, warm air filled the cave and scattered among the bones were various artificers belonging to a people that had vanished many years before the author and Paul's arrival. The writer claims he saw stone axes, broken pottery, spears, arrows, and discarded torches. At one point, a skeleton hand was discovered still wrapped around a fallen spear, but the body to which it belonged was nowhere to be found. The letter writer stood in awe at the sight around him, a collection of both beauty and carnage contained completely within the earth. This was a place that few had ever seen, and it was also filled with a sound that few had ever heard.
As if someone had placed a needle down onto a spinning record, a frightening noise began to emerge out of the darkness. A sound that the writer described as "the howling of a lot of maniacs and the moaning of the dying under torture." Frozen in fear the Austrian writer stood shaking, Paul, on the other hand, he continued forward into the darkness towards another stone passage. When asked if he feared the source of the horrible sound, Paul replied that there was no reason to fear falling water and rushing wind through the openings above. He proceeded forward.
After a short walk, the men found themselves in yet another chamber. This one, same as the first, was filled with skeletons in various states of completion across the wet cave floor. Becoming more nervous and uneasy with each new chamber entered, the letter writer had seemingly reached his breaking point. After begging his guide to take him back to the surface, Paul finally agreed. Through the chamber, the men walked until they came upon a passage that would lead them back out, but sitting alongside it was a curious oddity that caught the Austrian's eyes.
The writer claims that before them sat the skeleton of what appeared to be a young girl, and around her neck hung a necklace made of many different colored quartzite disks and copper banding. It was the most beautiful thing the writer had seen throughout the entire cave that Paul had lead him through, and as if almost compelled by its beauty, reached out to grab it and make it his own. But before he could wrap his hands around the piece if jewelry, Paul stopped him. When the letter writer asked why his friend did such a thing, Paul responded by saying, "She lived centuries ago and she died so young. She was only a child, and she must have been proud of that necklace. Let her keep it."
After that, the duo spent the next few hours navigating back through the cave until they had found themselves once again standing on the surface of the earth and watching the sunrise. The pair made their way back up the river and to Paul's home where they were greeted by Elizabeth who had breakfast waiting for them. After finishing the meal, Paul accompanied his old friend to the train depot and wished him well in his travels back home. After that, he was gone. The Austrian arrived back home and sometime later sat down to write the letter to the newspaper which contained his story of adventure, death, and mystery.
Paul continued to venture to the cave and remove artifacts which he then turned around and sold to both public and private collectors, museums, and researchers both in the United States, Austria, and Germany. But for some reason, he always did this in secret and never told or showed anyone else the secret cave in which he got them from. When asked about it, he would always state that it needed to be kept safe and would never say anything else. The only person believed to have accompanied Paul to the cave was the Austrian letter writer and that's it. For some unknown reason, the cave was Paul's secret, and it remained that way until his death in 1921.
Since the time of his death at the age of 75, people have been coming to Wisconsin from all over to search for the mysterious Death Song cave that Paul Seifert claimed to have found many years ago. The forested land along the banks of the Wisconsin River has been looked through repeatedly, as well as the area surrounding the borders of Richland Center and Gotham. Bogus Bluff has been explored with a fine-tooth comb as well as every ravine, crevasse, and cave within the area. But still, the famous cave of both Great Eagle and Paul Seifert has never been found. Some claim this is because the earth has once again reclaimed the cave and it is no longer accessible by those searching for it. Others though, they claim the cave never existed in the first place and the entire thing is simply one big hoax that keeps trucking along decade after decade.
So why do people think the Death Song cave is a hoax? Surely if Paul sold countless artifacts to different collectors and museums, there must be some truth to the story. Well in that aspect, the answer is yes, that part is all true. Paul Seifert made many contributions to various collections across the state of Wisconsin and has been talked about within many different archaeological specific publications. He even became well associated with the Wisconsin Historical Society as well as good friends with one of the PBI's favorite Badgerland citizens, Charles E. Brown. In fact, it is Brown who helps put this whole thing into perspective and sways the cave towards the side of a possible hoax.
You see, before the whole legend of the Death Song cave even being a thing, Seifert and Brown had already built a notable friendship. Since Paul was fascinated by the artifacts around his property and city, he often had many questions regarding the history behind them. To help answer all his questions, he reached out to Charles Brown for assistance. This basic correspondence eventually evolved into Brown accompanying Seifert on over 24 artifact gathering "expeditions" as well as Paul giving Charles regular site updates and information regarding various locations of past searches and future searches. The men not only knew each other well, but they also trusted each other fully. So right away it's odd that Paul never once made mention to Charles about a secret cave filled with various artifacts and skeletons.
The second bit of info from Mr. Brown which paints the story of the cave in a negative light revolves around the specific artifacts that were said to exist within the cave itself. The letter from the Austrian claims that many unknown aged axes, spears, and arrows, as well as body-less limbs, were discovered by Paul within the cave, yet no artifacts of this specific description were ever presented to Charles from Paul. Add this to the fact that Paul kept no secrets regarding the exact locations of his many finds as well having no issues bringing anyone who asked to view the dig sites along with him when he went. This fact is 100% verifiable as well because currently, the Wisconsin Historical Society has within its archives all the notes and letters sent to Mr. Brown which contained information regarding locations of notable dig sites and areas of interest, all written by Paul himself.
So, right there we have a pretty trustworthy source telling us that the cave of the Death Song more than likely doesn't exist. But that brings us to another question then, if the cave didn't/doesn't exist, then who wrote the letter claiming it did? Well, therein lies another problem. You see, the author of the letter is a ghost. Now, what we mean by that is nowhere in the letter that was published in the newspaper speaking of the adventure with Paul ever names the individual who claimed to write it. Not once is any name mentioned other than Paul's. Now, over the course of time, somehow the name “Von Wolfgang” did get associated with being the author's name, but various researchers have concluded over time that this name is not legit. Another interesting fact that researchers have found during their searching is that even the supposed paper this original letter was published in, The Vienna Courier, did not exist at the time this letter was written (also, how it got sent to the Milwaukee newspaper to be published and from where it originated is a mystery as well). Finally, there is the issue with the false facts contained within the letter itself.
The mysterious ghost author makes statements regarding the history of Paul's schooling as a child as well as information about his brother back in Germany. Problem is, Paul never went to the school the author claimed he did, nor did he even have a brother. So if the author actually was someone who was a lifelong friend of Paul's, why would they get these simple facts wrong? It seems that the more one digs into this letter, the quicker it breaks down. But even after you get through all the letter research pointing to this not being true, we have one final nail that helps put this Death Song cave in the coffin, and this nail comes directly from one of Paul's daughters themselves.
Not long after Paul Seifert had died, and this story about him began to make the rounds of the area, his daughter chimed in on the matter. She specifically stated that she never once recalled her father speaking about a secret cave or bringing back artifacts from an unknown location. As far as she could tell, the entire thing was fabricated as some sort of tall tale, but from where it originated, she was unsure. All she knew was that the story appeared one day and from then on, many people started to ask her where the secret cave was and if her father left any clues about it. Needless to say, she began to grow frustrated at the multitude of times she had to do this.
But still, the legend of the Death Song cave survived and spread. Various books regarding legends and paranormal/supernatural locations have included it within their pages, and multiple magazines and newspapers have used the story as a filler when it was a slow news week. But why? Even if there is a lot of evidence pointing to the fact that this may be completely fiction, why do some continue to believe it? Well, that answer is simple, it's because people want to believe in something that goes against the norm and brings excitement into a world that is much less magical than books make it out to be. We as a species are drawn to adventure, danger, and mystery. We love stumbling upon something that makes us feel like we are a part of something bigger than everyone, something that has a power over us, something that connects us in one common way and we are drawn to the what-ifs and the endless possibilities these looking glass adventures give us.
I don't think we will ever know who wrote the letter describing the cave adventure with Paul Seifert, or why Paul was picked as the person to base the claim on to begin with. We will never know if the Death Song cave actually existed, or if it stems from another ancient event that has ties to fact. Could the legend of Great Eagle and the missing tribesmen be based in truth, or was it simply a story created to teach a lesson? These are questions that seem like they will never be solved, but in reality, is that really a bad thing? Because as history tends to show, once the mystery is solved, the adventure ends. And in our current day and age, a little adventure and mystery might just be what we need to bring us together once again.
-The Pine Barrens Institute
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