When I was a sophomore in high school, my brother, Lucas, and our boyhood friend, Jack Lilly, decided we were going to explore a sinkhole we had heard about off Lions Den Road in Jefferson County, Mo.

To this day I can’t understand why my mom took us all the way over there and dropped us off, but she did. sinkhole-hunting-fatality-2

Since Dad worked on construction sites a lot, and was a pack rat, he had a lot of neat things to play with like 200 feet. of 1-1/4″ hemp rope. This was so much rope one person could hardly carry it.

We packed a lunch, had gloves, flashlights, and cave exploring clothes on. The first thing we saw was a fischer in the earth. Thinking that this was the sinkhole, we walked carefully down the gradually ramped narrow crack in the earth.

This large crack in the earth opened up into not too big of a cave, but we went back about one hundred yards. When we got back that far we turned off the flashlights and pretended that we were lost.

I did such a good job of pretending I frightened myself. I just could not believe spending the rest of my life in a cold, wet, black hole in the ground.

After we climbed out of that hole we looked for the sinkhole our spy told us was there. As we walked around the property (which I do not remember getting permission to use), we found a place in the earth that gradually sunk down and formed a bowl.

In the middle of the bowl was a large hole. Thinking back trying to remember, I guess the indention in the earth was about 45 to 60 yards in diameter. As we approached the hole there were a few small trees around it. We carefully approached the hole so as not to slide into it.

We didn’t know who would go down into the hole until we saw how deep and how wide the hole was. The actual hole was about 50 to 60 feet across. Since Jack was the smallest, Luke and I decided he would be “the lucky one” to be let down into the hole.

Jack did a fair amount of complaining, but since we called him a sissy and a chicken, he decided he would “show us.”

We tied a good knot so Jack could sit into it (of course comfortably and safely) and hold on with one hand. We lowered Jack into the hole and he held onto the flashlight with one hand and the rope with the other hand, negotiating his way down the overgrown ledge of the hole.

Before Jack was lowered we had Jack walk around a tree to get resistance enough to “safely” let him down slowly into the hole.

There was about 20 feet of rope that dragged on the ground as Jack dropped out of sight into the dim, coolness of the gaping hole. Jack kept yelling “take it easy, go slower.”

Now, Luke and I had waited a long time planning this “drop” (I really don’t mean DROP, I mean exploration) and we wanted to know what it looked like down in that hole right away, not easily or slower.

We continued to holler at Jack while we lowered him down into the pit. We yelled, “How you doin? Whada-ya see?”

Jack said a few times that he couldn’t see much because he was doing a lot of spinning at the end of the rope and he was getting a bit dizzy, along with all the dirt and debris being pulled down from the edge of the hole while Luke and I paid out the rope sending him below.

Luke and I didn’t want to hear anything about being dizzy or getting dirty. We wanted to hear what it was like to be dropped into a black pit by two guys that just called him a “Sissy-Chicken.”

When there was about 3/4ths of the rope paid out, Jack yelled “slow down, not so fast” again. Luke and I slowed a bit but still questioned him, “What’s down there, whatt-a-ya see?”

We continued to lower Lucky Jack into the hole for another 10 feet until Jack started screaming, “Get me outta here! Get me outta here fast!” We yelled right back, “What-a-yaw see?”

Since I have mentioned how heavy the rope was, its weight comes into play here. The rope weighed about 80 pounds, Jack weighed about 80 pounds, and the rope dragging through the dirt was about another 50 pounds. That doesn’t take a lot of math classes to figure that Luke and I had a bit to pull to get old Lucky screaming Jack out of that hole.

Jack kept yelling, “Get me outta here, get me outta here.” We kept yelling, “Whata-ya see. Whata-ya see?”

As Luke and I pulled, our feet slid down the hill into the pit. We sure were glad we wrapped the rope around a tree before we lowered Lucky Jack into the pit, but it was also a lot of resistance pulling him back up.

Luke and I pulled for all we were worth, pulling, then re-wrapping the rope around the tree, then pulling and all the while Jack continued his yelling, “Get me outta here, get me outta here.”

The rope was jerked a lot while we negotiated re-wrapping the rope around the tree. I don’t know how long it took to pull Jack out of that hole but we were exhausted when we got him to the rim of the pit.

When Jack surfaced over the precipice, his face was white under the dirt- and mud-caked eyes. His head was packed with clumps of dirt and vegetation and sweat. Luke’s and my legs were shaking so badly we could not stand and we had to sit.

We finally asked Jack what he saw down there at the bottom of the pit.

Jack said, “I saw the largest stinking, bloated, rotting cow I ever seen inches from my feet and you guys were letting me down right on top of it.”

Lucky Jack!

By Bob Brennecke

(Bob Brennecke lives in Ballwin, Mo., and can be reached at robertbrennecke@hotmail.com.)

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