Subterranean Twin Cities by Greg Brick and Opening Goliath by Cary J. Griffith, two books about caves and what lies beneath our feet, were published this spring. Both books make for very fascinating—at times, spell-binding—reading. Both contain history and science, along with the telling of a good many stories. Subterranean Twin Cities is somewhat like an interesting textbook, while Opening Goliath reads more like a novel.
In Subterranean Twin Cities (University of Minnesota Press, $18.95), Brick—a local geologist and historian—takes readers on a fantastic journey beneath the surface of the Twin Cities and beyond. With precise detail and fascinating photos and drawings, Brick explores caves and underground areas like no one has done before.
Brick begins with a description of entering Carver’s Cave in St. Paul on the night of the new millennium in 2000, then goes on to tell the ancient stories of the caves he knows so well .
Well-organized and written in colorful language, the book explores, in a methodical and thorough way, the caves we may have heard of but did not know much about. Brick tells us all about Fountain Cave and the Wabasha Street Caves. Most of us have heard about the mushrooms and the bleu cheese and the beer cave lore, but this book takes the reader far beyond all that.
We read of the differences in the way the sewer systems in St. Paul and Minneapolis were built. We learn more than we might care to know about the separation of sewers between systems for sewage and for storm water.
In one very descriptive chapter, titled A Lonely Day Under the Mortuary: The Fort Road Labyrinth, Brick portrays, in quite disgusting detail, the sights and sounds and smells he found in the sewers under West Seventh Street in St. Paul. In that smelly, murky mess he discovered another place to trace the history of old St. Paul. It is not hard to understand why he could never find anyone who was willing to go with him to explore what lies beneath the mortuaries.
Subterranean Twin Cities is a gem of a book for many reasons. It is true to history, and the author’s knowledge of the underground is awesome. Although underground exploration is enticing, the publisher issues a warning at the beginning of the book advising readers that the areas described in the book are “illegal to access and extremely dangerous to visit.” He urges would-be explorers to join a recognized caving club, such as the Minnesota Speleological Society.
Tragedy, beauty, politics, and daring are all part of the drama that unfolds in Opening Goliath (Borealis Books, $27.95). Griffith has written a book that reads more like fiction than the real-life tale of adventure and intrigue that it is.
Divided into three parts, the book begins with a story of some dangerous diving in an attempt to find a way into a cave in southeastern Minnesota in the karst region near the Minnesota-Iowa border in 2001. John Ackerman dives into Odessa Spring, gets tangled in the nylon cords of his diving equipment, and has to figure out a way to escape, all the while attempting to avoid the panic he feels engulfing him.
Next, the scene moves to the West Side Bluffs in St. Paul on March 21, 2004, as a group of young people explore a cave that neighborhood kids call the Al Capone Cave after the famous gangster of the 1930s. As Karl, Alex, and Jessica enter the cave they are startled to see a purse on the floor, its contents strewn about. Upon exploring further, the trio discover a large cache of gunpowder. Now they’re forced to make a big decision. They’re not supposed to be in the cave, but they know they must inform the authorities.
On April 27, 2004, five friends from the Cedar Alternative School decide to explore Fandell Cave, also on the West Side of St. Paul. Tragedy occurs as they are overcome by carbon monoxide in the cave. Heroic rescue attempts are described in detail, followed by the dilemma of city officials who seek to find a way to seal the caves.
Finally, the book again takes us to southeastern Minnesota to Goliath’s Cave, which was not known of until the 1980s. Discovered by recreational cavers, Goliath could only be entered through a sump. Plans to build a quarry threatened the cave’s s existence, leading state officials to purchase the entrance to the cave and designate it as a scientific preserve, cutting off public access to the cave. Angry cavers reacted by finding their own new (and dangerous) ways into the cave.
I would recommend the book to anyone who likes adventure, especially to anyone who has some interest and knowledge of the caving experience. In a disclaimer, the publisher and author warn of the dangers of caving and state that the book is intended to provide the reader with historical information, not serve as a how-to for cave exploration.
Mary Thoemke (firstname.lastname@example.org), a lifelong resident of St. Paul, is a freelance writer for the Daily Planet.
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