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Subterranean city

Ethelyn Pearson

Greg Brick goes places you don't know exist. He delves in sewer lines, tunnels, catacombs and the likes of the Wabasha city caves in St. Paul. He is not urging you to go there.

The caves are a large network that lie across from the Mississippi in downtown St. Paul and extend for miles along the river. They are man made, dug in 1840 to mine silica to make glass.

Exploring any cave is fascinating and dangerous; to do as much in the labyrinth of caves beneath St. Paul is foolhardy and against the law without a knowledgeable guide. One sad happening involving the caves happened in 2004 when teenagers, three boys and a girl, ignored the warnings. Only one survived to tell about it.

The caves cover 12,000 square feet with a 1,6000 square foot hardwood dance floor and a 60 foot bar. They are always clammy and cold on the hottest days. Ceilings range from a crawl space to two stories high. Light seems not to radiate in them, hence many shadows. People have drowned in deep potholes of water.

It is an ideal place to raise mushrooms, make wine and store cheese and beer. There was a restuarant, speakeasy, casino and swing dancing as well as conferences. Groups like Dillinger's mob and their horses have hid in the caves for weeks. Ma Barker also found them convenient for her outlaws.

When floods ruined blocks of St. Paul, debris and wreckage was shoved back into the caves. Climbing over it to get wood to make a fire proves fatal since climbing back proves to be a trap.

Reservations were always filled for the seats around the big fireplace where a real shootout between outlaws took place in 1934. Bullet holes in the fireplace are still there. Bodies lay where they were shot down until somebody moved them, but who and to where? Ghost stories concerning the cave thrive.

Police warn of getting lost, drowning, carbon monoxide and ceilings collapsing. In 2010 three teens died of carbon monoxide poisoning, trapped when a fire was made. In 1992 Annie Fries and two friends, all 17, died in the caves.

A vast collection of entrances make catching criminals virtually impossible. These same entrances make sealing the caves equally impossible.

Of all the horribly impossible places Greg Bricks' curiosity has taken him, none outdo the caves of Wabasha city for sheer horror.