Resident Dale Bruning inspects what may be the aperture of the Pemberville cavern.
A small Pemberville group is on a crusade - a mythical quest, really - to find a hole in the ground.
But theirs is no ordinary hole. Instead, it is a long-forgotten piece of Pemberville's past that once swallowed local livestock whole and may even have claimed the life of a wayward French Canadian man.
The hole, more appropriately called an aperture, may lead to what has been described as "the Great Pemberville cave," which was a hot topic in several news articles published in the early 1900s in the former Pemberville Leader newspaper, which stopped publication in August, 1980.
According to an article dated Aug. 16, 1901, a cow once ventured too far into the cave and starved to death, prompting a farmer to block the majority of the entrance with large rocks.
The cow's fate was the same as a French Canadian who went into the cave to explore only to get lost in its "many halls," according to an "old lady" who wished to remain anonymous in an article published a week later, on Aug. 23, 1901.
It's hard to believe such an immense cavern has been forgotten - until now.
Pemberville resident Dale Bruning, a retired history teacher, stumbled across the articles on microfilm while researching several old homes for the Pemberville Public Library and for the Pemberville Freedom Area Historical Society.
The articles described the cave as having "lofty halls, jeweled with stalactites that sparkle and scintillate in the deep subterranean recesses. Its caverns are musical with the tinkling waterfalls. Its great hanging and projecting rocks are carved into a thousand fantastic forms "
He said the articles intrigued him enough to show them to Pemberville Mayor James Opelt and members of Pemberville Village Council, who gave permission for Mr. Bruning and a small group to "rediscover" the underground cave, which is said to be in a wooded area near Kahler Road on village-owned property. "There's got to be something," Mr. Bruning said. "We don't know how much or if it's fact or fiction. I just thought the article was interesting."
The small group includes Mr. Bruning's brother, Bob Bruning, and experienced cave explorer Brian Edwards. They have begun digging and exploring free of charge, but anything found in the depths of the cave will belong to the village.
"They basically formed this group of explorers, but no one else has permission to be on the property," Mayor Opelt said, adding that anyone found in the area without permission would be charged with trespassing.
Bob Bruning said the biggest challenge is to find the opening of the cave, so the group has been looking for the large rocks that are said to have been placed at the mouth of the opening.
So far, the group dug at the cave site in October and then again in November, but have only found several obstructions and an eight-foot-deep aperture near where they believe is the opening to the cave. They are now waiting for warmer weather to continue their quest.
"We're excited about it as far as finding exactly where it is, but proper procedure is to go in and excavate the aperture that's there now and get out 100 years of debris," Dale Bruning said.
Mr. Edwards, who has been exploring caves for more than a dozen years, said the next step is to go to the cave site on an early-morning, cold winter day to see if he can see steam vapor coming from the ground, which would tell him the ground is hollow underneath.
"We have promising leads, it's just a question of getting back there and checking them out," he said. "If there is a cave system like the articles say, the caves breathe."
But for now, Dale Bruning said the cave may be lying dormant right underneath the explorers' feet, or may simply be a fable printed in the Leader.
"All I can say," he said, "is either they're reports or they were really writing a fictitious story - but I don't think so."