The Night the Cave Burned Down
Cobleskill, New York
On August 22,1995, at approximately 2:30 in the morning, "the cave burned down."
A fire set by mysterious arsonists destroyed the historic Secret Caverns lodge, which had stood since 1952. The burn display in today's rebuilt lodge contains blackened lumps, charred wood, and the official police photo of the blaze. A description on a plywood sign finishes with a single word: "Bummer."
The Secret Caverns guides all agree. "It sucked." As it turned out, lead guides Kurt Piller and Todd DelMarter were in Pennsylvania attending a Medieval Festival. "Thank God we had an alibi," said Todd.
Kurt continues: "We didn't find out until we got back and heard 'The cave burned down.' It didn't really sink in. We came over and saw lots of smoke, lots of wet rubble and people milling around.
Todd: "It was arson. There were accelerants found in the old barn to the side."
Kurt: "No suspects, nothing official."
Of course, we just had to know...what was the reaction from the Howe people?
Kurt pauses, and looks at Todd. "That was kind of touchy, because they were having a guides party down the road [that night]. I doubt that they did it. But if someone knew there was a Howe Caverns party..."
Secret's rival over the hill was blameless and had no role in the fire. But the prospects for Secret Caverns returning weren't good. If Howe was going to lend a hand, it would probably have been to pull down the billboards. Kurt notes:"They were kinda hoping we'd fade out."
Instead, as the summer of 1995 ended, the rebirth began. "We took about a week to clear the rubble and hook up electricity," Kurt said. "Cleared the way to the cave, and started up tours again."
"We ran tours out of a tent for most of 1996," Todd adds.
Kurt: "Every tour brought us that much closer to indoor plumbing. We had a Port-O-John."
Todd: "Like a Dr. Who capsule. The grass still doesn't grow there."
Kurt: "The Crap Circle, we call it."