2009 Burrows Cave Hoax Update
By R. D. Flavin




Image from "Holy Grail in America" featuring Burrows Cave artifacts and Wolter (video removed by Google/YouTube).

     Though 2009 is some two months and change away from completion, an update is nonetheless due the Burrows Cave hoax.  On April 4, 2009, Fred Rydholm, the co-author of The Mystery Cave of Many Faces (Burrows & Rydholm 1992) passed away, and on September 20, 2009, The History Channel released a two hour television program [Note: I ...just can’t bring myself to describe it as a “documentary” film.] entitled, “Holy Grail in America,” which likely exposed more people to the Burrows Cave hoax in its premiere showing (to say nothing of subsequent reruns, it’s still in program rotation, and will probably be available for DVD purchase at some point sooner rather than later) than ALL the combined investors, buyers of BC "artifacts," readers of this bad book, or that asinine article on the “cave down in southern Illinois” and its several thousand laughably phony “antiquities.”  We’ve lost a fine amateur historian and the Burrows Cave hoax has unfortunately made it to cable television. 

     The involvement of C. Fred Rydholm with the Burrows Cave hoax, to Fred’s credit, was inevitable with Rydholm’s committed interest in Midwestern American (pre)history, though sad.  Burrows has often blamed Fred for published mistakes and errors (also Buck Trawicky, the “editor” of the book), yet The Mystery Cave of Many Faces is apparently still available for $23 with an autograph by Burrows from his Colorado home address.  Pardon my honesty, but Fred has escaped Burrows Cave, many are still looking for a way out, and …some are still stumbling into the imaginary abyss of the Burrows Cave hoax.       

     “Holy Grail in America” was directed and edited by Andy Awes, written by Maria Awes, and features interviews with (in order of appearance accreditation): Dr. Alice Kehoe (anthropologist), Dr. Antoly Liberman (philologist, University of Minnesota), Darwin Ohman (grandson of Olaf Ohman), Scott Wolter (forensic geologist), Tom Trow (past archaeologist, MN Hist. Society), Florian Ledermann (past president, Runestone Museum), Dr. James Scherz (prehistoric cartographer), Alan Butler (author , The Knights Templar Revealed), Simon Brighton (author, In Search of the Knights Templar), Erling Haagensen (author, The Templars' Secret Island), Steven Sora (author, The Lost Colony of the Templars), Kelly Krause (archaeologist), Ashly Cowie (author, The Rosslyn Templars), Evan Pritchard (director, Center for Algonquin Culture), Scott Wolter (geologist & author, The Hooked X), Niven Sinclair (Clan Sinclair patriarch), Carmen Legge (president, New Ross Historical Society), David Brody (chair, Westford Knight Committee), Dr. Virginia Kimball (Westford Knight Historian), Dr. Bruce Bourque (archaeologist, Maine State Museum), Roslyn Strong (New England Antiquities Research Assn.), Richard Lynch (New England Antiquities Research Assn.), Dr. William Penhallow (astronomer & physicist), Suzanne Carlson (architect & president of NEARA), and Akram Elias (Freemasonic Grand Master).


Dr. James P. Scherz.

     All accreditations are standard and self-explanatory, with the exceptions of the emeritus status of both Prof. Alice B. Kehoe (anthropology, Marquette Univ.) and Prof. James P. Scherz (civil engineering, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison), and that Scott Wolter is the only individual featured in the program who is described twice, first as a “forensic geologist" and, again, as a “geologist & author, The Hooked X.”  The designation of Scherz as a “prehistoric cartographer” is almost too ridiculous for comment.  However, given the fantastic nature of the program and its inclusion of Burrows Cave material, I would guess that Scherz is claiming to be an expert on Burrows Cave inscribed items which are thought to depict maps of the Mississippi River.


BC "map stone" thought to depict the Mississippi River.

     Our English language term 'writing' conveys much more than the characters used to represent our alphabetic script, as it also includes punctuation marks, numbers, musical notations, and many symbols to represent different concepts and things.  The use of the term “prehistoric” would imply from a time before either the invention or introduction of writing or a script, though when used in a New World context specificity is extremely important, as various Native American peoples and cultures either possessed the means to record 'history' (the script of the Maya, the quipus knots of the Peruvians, the narrative rock art of certain Amerind tribes or nations, etc.) or their initial contact period differed (ca. 1000 with the Norse, ca. 1350 with the Basque, 1492 with Columbus, 1500 with Pedro Álvares, 1524 with Giovanni da Verrazzano, etc.).  Arguing the “age” of a Burrows Cave inscribed "artifact" with a map on it is comical enough, that it was buried in southern Illinois before Columbus is a joke that has amused and bemused for over two decades, and that despite many of the Burrows Cave items having alphabetic and symbolic writing on them (including the so-called “map stones”) if Scherz wishes to describe himself not as a professor emeritus in civil engineering, but rather as a “prehistoric cartographer,” I can only hope that his university health care insurance program adequately covers his medication.

     As an “anthropologist,” I can understand why Prof. Kehoe was included in a speculative-themed program which features the (in)famous Kensington Runestone, as she is a respected and accomplished diffusionist anthropologist, archaeologist, and author whose published opinions, even the most controversial ones, are always well founded.  Her work on the Kensington Runestone (Kehoe 2005) remains thought provoking, though I personally disagree with her conclusions.  Scherz?  Ah, he taught advanced plumbing for many years, founded an amateur group to investigate Native American burial mounds (Ancient Earthworks Society), co-authored a book with Burrows (Scherz & Burrows 1992), and has a fine collection of Burrows Cave “artifacts.”  I'd guess it was Scherz's collection which was on display in Wolter's laboratory, but I can't be sure and I ...honestly don't care.  If Wolter and the producers of “Holy Grail in America” gave Scherz on-screen time in exchange for displaying his collection of fakes, that's their business.

     A quick Google search with the keywords “Wolter Burrows Cave” provides a hyperlink to an exceptionally whacky “Reformed” Mormon web-site which claims: “Burrows Cave is one of many caverns opened up through the New Madrid Earthquake of 1811-12.  The two and a half month earthquake even caused the Mississippi River to run backwards.  Russell Burrows needs to assist the general public in re-opening this special Book of Mormon Mulekite deposit of King Solomon’s temple treasures.”  The web-site also reproduces what appears to be an e-mail between Wolter and Burrows (though the different fonts are puzzling).  An initial Mormon connection to Burrows Cave will be described in my forthcoming “The Cave of Hill Cumorah and the Burrows Cave Hoax.”  However, for the skinny purposes of this update, the ludicrous “belief” that the Burrows Cave inscribed items were somehow part of Solomon's “temple treasure,” that they somehow survived the temple destruction by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BCE, that the inscribed items were somehow incorporated into Herod's temple and survived its destruction by Titus in 70 CE, and were somehow found by the Knights Templar during the Crusades, and transported from Jerusalem to Olney, Illinois is ...a horrific new low for The History Channel.  Yeah, Mormons, hyper-diffusionists, and the tin-foil hat crowd are known for that level of whack, but for The History Channel to show a reenactment of Templars reverently digging up Burrows Cave items, placing them in a “treasure” chest, and carrying the items from the Old to the New World is ...very, very wrong.  Such foolishness belongs on The Comedy Channel, or the Sci-Fi Channel, but not The History Channel.


Alleged e-mail from Wolter to Burrows.

     Regarding the Kensington Runestone, the inclusion of the “Larsson Papers” in “Holy Grail in America” is potentially significant.  The “hooked ‘x’” runeform and Freemason’s Cipher (i.e. the “Pigpen” cipher) aside, the young author and amateur cryptographer, Edward Larsson (1867-1950), is known to have been a traveling tailor and violinist. Coincidence is a magical occurrence, yet too many associations often indicate a layered relationship.  The Kensington Runestone was “discovered” in the midst of a thriving Swedish community, not German, Irish, Italian, French, etc., but …Swedish, a Scandinavian people who (along with their Norse and Danish brethren) invented the runic alphabet.  Such a coin-dance!  Who’ll hop for a penny?  It just so happens, wonder of wonders, there’s another Scandinavian violinist with an association of runes and Minnesota, the “Nordic Paganini,” Ole Bull (1810-1880).

x
Edward Larsson's "alfabet" from 1885 and photo of Larsson (Sköld 2005, pp. 8 & 12).

     By all accounts, the Norwegian violin virtuoso, Ole Bull, was one of those larger-than-life characters who made history most mornings that he awoke.  He also inspired people.  A biographer has written (Smith 1943, p. 179), “Grieg himself has told the story of his early relations with Ole Bull.  One day in the summer of 1858, when Grieg was fifteen years old, a horseman on a beautiful Arabian steed galloped up to Landaas, the Grieg summer home near Bergen—a tall, slim, dashing figure who greeted the family with rushing enthusiasm and heartiness.  This was the young Edvard’s first glimpse of Ole Bull, his legendary hero, and he recalled that, when he shyly approached and shook the great man’s hand, ‘something like an electric shock passed through my body.’  He sat with wide-eyed fascination and bated breath as Bull, with the true story-teller’s art, described his recent six-year sojourn in America and his adventures with the ill-fated Pennsylvania colony.”  It’s said that when the Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen, asked Grieg to compose incidental music for his new folklore-based drama, “Peer Gynt,” that Grieg envisioned Ole Bull as the eponymous lead character.  Okay, he was a great musician, got tossed in jail and sued a few times, but his accomplishments far outweigh his occasional lack of good judgment. 

     Anywho, Ole Bull was a nationalistic investor and persistent proponent for a pre-Columbian “discovery” of America by the Norse.  And, as it goes, it was a MAJOR part of his non-musical career.  In 1853, Bull funded and founded a “New Norway” colony in Pennsylvania, and “spoke of the first discovery of America by Norsemen, a subject always very dear to his heart,” at the dedication ceremony (Smith 1943, p. 103).  In 1857, Bull had someone purchase the Dighton Writing Rock in southern Massachusetts in his name (there was some confusion about a foreigner owning the land, though later it seems the transaction had more to do with Bull not having the $50 for the inscribed rock).  And, over his last years, he performed many benefit concerts throughout America and Europe to raise funds for a commemorative statue of Leif Erikson, which he sadly never lived to see installed.  According to a biographer (ibid, p. 201), “One of his closest friends was Professor Eben S. Horsford, who had made a good deal of money by concocting a new baking-powder, and who spent much of his time writing brochures to prove that the Norsemen discovered America long before Columbus.  The two men used to pass many evenings trying to piece together elaborate proofs that Thorvald and his henchmen had trod the banks of the Charles River.”  A statue was finally erected in Boston, Mass. on Commonwealth Avenue and Charlesgate East in 1887, and it's said that the sculptress, Anne Whitney, had Ole Bull in mind when she imagined Leif Erikson.  Okay, so the Norwegian violinist was a proto-hyper-diffusionist; what could this possibly have to do with the Kensington Runestone?



1853 daguerrotype of Dighton Rock with Seth Eastman.

     In America, a jury considers “means, motive, and opportunity” for a guilty verdict in a criminal trial.  Historians, even those associated with The History Channel, would be well advised to adhere to basic requirements.  The Burrows Cave inscribed items?  Well, as Burrows often claims, the items were subjected to automobile polish by his one-time associate, Jack Ward, and can no longer be “tested” due to modern contamination.  And, inviting Goofy to join Mickey, Wolter doesn't seem to be able to “test” the Burrows Cave items any better than the “Hard Evidence” ex-professor and Mormon 9/11 whack, Steve Jones.  The so-called “testing” of the Kensington Runestone seems amateurish, at best, and at the very least, a waste of time.  Look, even the Catholics regard the Shroud of Turin as an article of faith and not the actual burial cloth of Jesus.  There are books to help such individuals who persist in believing in the fantastic (e.g. Sagan 1996; Shermer 1997).

     In 1848, Seth Eastman traveled to Minnesota and made a series of watercolor paintings; five years later Eastman posed on Dighton Rock.  Yeah, it's a coin-dance...  In 1867, the Norwegian journalist, Paul Hjelm-Hansen, visited Minnesota and ardently wrote about how the land was perfect for immigrant Scandinavians.  Ole Bull visited Minnesota many times (The New York Times, in their obituary for Bull mistakenly describes his second wife as being “from Minnesota,” though she was actually from Madison, Wisconsin), and in gratitude and appreciation, Minnesotans built a large statue of the violinist.  Yeah, another coin-dance...  The “means, motive, and opportunity” may be argued for others besides that so-called simple farmer, Olaf (var. Olof) Õhman, but ...it would be a fickle jury who'd dare pass judgment.  I don't claim to know the answer, however supporters of the authenticity of the Kensington Runestone have not argued their case well enough to convince me.  But, that's just my opinion.



Statues of Ole Bull and Leif Erikson.

     In closing my online article, “Falling Into Burrows Cave,” I wrote, “The items alleged to have been removed from Burrows’ Cave are modern, there is no cave, and Burrows is a liar,” words which should remain sufficiently accurate for research purposes.  Apparently, Wolter and The History Channel believe otherwise.

Bibliography:

Burrows, Russell and Fred Rydholm. 1992. The Mystery Cave of Many Faces. Marquette, MI: Superior Heartland.
Kehoe, Alice Beck. 2005. The Kensington Runestone: Approaching a Research Question Holistically. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.
Sagan, Carl. 1996. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. New York: Random House.

Scherz, James P. and Russell E. Burrows. 1992. Rock Art Pieces from Burrows' Cave in Southern Illinois, Vol. 1. Madison, WI: Ancient
  Earthworks Society.
Shermer, Michael. 1997. Why People Believe Weird Things: Psuedoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time. Foreword by
  Stephen Jay Gould. New York: W. H. Freeman. Revised and expanded edition, 2002: Holt Paperbacks.

Sköld, Tryggve. 2005.  "Kensingtonstenens Språk."  DAUM-Katta. 11,1: 5-12.
Smith, Mortimer. 1943. The Life of Ole Bull.  Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press for The American Scandinavian Foundation.

See also:
2013 Burrows Cave Hoax Update with Addendum


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