This 1880 picture hangs in the lower level of the River Falls Public Library and shows the monument’s detail well. Although eroded and surrounded by woods, the mysterious formation still sits in the town of Kinnickinnic. Photo courtesy of UW-River Falls Area Research Center/ University Archives

Monumental mystery: Old story prompts a new interest in local landmark

By Debbie Griffin

06/08/07 - River Falls Journal


Chad Lewis started compiling his book, “Hidden Headlines of Wisconsin: Strange, Unusual and Bizarre Newspaper Stories 1860-1910,” almost by accident.


He dug through the Eau Claire newspaper’s archives, looking for a date and noticed lots of “weird” news stories.


He said to himself, “I really gotta start looking for these.”


So he did.


Out of the 108 Wisconsin cities in Chad Lewis’ “bizarre” headlines book, “Hidden Headlines of Wisconsin: Strange, Unusual and Bizarre Newspaper Stories 1860-1910,” River Falls made it in because of a story from the March 25, 1902, Milwaukee Journal:


Pyramid Near River Falls Peculiar Geological Formation


“RIVER FALLS- On the farm of Mr. Johnson, four miles north of River Falls, is one of the most peculiar pyramids to be found in the state, if not in the United States. It is a huge monument 45 feet across at the base, and 65 feet high, and looks as though it has been formed and fashioned by the hand of man. There is no other stone or rock formation in the immediate neighborhood.

“The first forty feet is composed of sand stone, but the cap is of hard granite, which has protected it from the storms through all the ages, and if located in New Mexico it might easily be taken for the work of a prehistoric race.”

Lewis, coauthor of “The Wisconsin Road Guide to Haunted Places,” said he likes the odd, unusual and strange. He found the book research fascinating.


“It took me about five years of digging through papers to come up with these (275) stories,” the author said. “I could do it about two hours a day and my eyes were gone.”


History’s mystery


Lewis said about the peculiar pyramid/monument: “We haven’t been there yet, we’re planning to try and look for it this summer.”


Intrigued, the Journal sought and found what’s known around River Falls as “The Monument.” Although some information exists at the UW-River Falls archives, people generally don’t know a lot about the monument’s history.


The River Falls Public Library displays a nice, clear picture of it, and employees say they get lots of questions about it. Some estimate it to be the most asked-about item in River Falls history.


While dense woods surround it today and time has eroded some of its detail, the monument is definitely real, still there, and probably not formed naturally.


The 1902 news story gives the right approximate dimensions of the monument’s size — much too big and now too overgrown to photograph in its entirety.


It sits about five miles north of River Falls on private property between Hwy. 65 and Monument Road, near the intersection of Hwy. 65 and County Road J. Land owner Shirley Kurtz said she and husband Fred moved into the farmhouse near it in the 1950s.


She can remember a few times in the last half century when people have gone poking around to find it. She said she doesn’t mind that but wishes people would ask her before hiking onto her land and not park cars on the road.


“We just don’t want it to be defaced,” said Kurtz about the monument.


Classifying weird


Lewis said his book features eight chapters of odd headlines and stories: Bizarre deaths, ghosts, medical anomalies, mysterious creatures, oddities, peculiar people, psychic phenomena and UFOs.


A girl yawned herself to death; a man dropped dead during his wife’s funeral; a white boy turned black; a pig grew elephant tusks; and someone claims to have seen a half-boy, half-dog creature.


“You know,” Lewis said, “things they can’t explain.”


One lady made the papers after she had her dead husband’s false teeth removed and fitted for herself. He saw a story about a “spook union of mediums formed” and about bright lights or hovering disks in the sky.


One of his favorite comes from Madison and tells the story of a young girl who proudly wears new shoes — made of human skin. A medical-student friend had taken the skin from a research corpse. Lewis said the friend planned to make a matching purse if she had enough skin left.


Lewis stated, “This is the tip of the iceberg as far as weird stories that are out there…there were times I thought: ‘It can’t get any weirder than this,’ then it does.”


He said the language in old newspapers also made his book research interesting. He said papers back then had more detail, a different style of writing and didn’t avoid gossip or advertisement in news stories.


Weird is wonderful


Lewis said, “I think I have a different view than a lot of people. I like the bizarre and see weird as a good thing.”


He said his book, “Hidden Headlines of Wisconsin: Strange, Unusual and Bizarre Newspaper Stories 1860-1910,” contains photographs from corresponding time periods and tidbits of information from around the state.


Lewis said the book came out last Wednesday and people can purchase it from most major retailers.


“I want people to get this book and enjoy it, to really bask in Wisconsin’s uniqueness…” Lewis said. “Many people think everybody up here is weird, but we really have an interesting history.”


He said in many ways, he thinks the 163-page book brings more color to the state.


Lewis welcomes people to contact him if they have more information about the odd stories in his book or to report others he may not have seen yet.


Contact him at chadlewis44@hotmail.com or visit his Web site: www.unexplainedresearch.com.


Contact Debbie Griffin at dgriffin@rivertowns.net or 426-1048.

Due to the trees and other overgrowth around it, it’s nearly impossible to get a picture that clearly defines the entire, large monument structure. Vandals have also deteriorated parts of the stone, carving in it or knocking pieces off. Debbie Griffin photo

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