When Albert Reitz went out to mow his lawn, the last thing he expected was that the ground would cave beneath him. It turns out Albert and the rest of his neighbors were living on top of a sinkhole. Even more surprising was what the hole lead to underground.
He Was Just Mowing His Lawn
It was a day like any other in Blackhawk, South Dakota. Resident Albert Reitz was out mowing his lawn like he had so many times before. Then something happened that changed everything.
The man felt something strange underfoot. He later described the sensation to local news stations, saying, "I felt suction behind me and a little bit of movement under my feet." The 56-year-old man carefully turned around to see what could be going on.
Just In The Nick Of Time
When Albert turned around, he could hardly believe his eyes. Only a foot behind him was the beginning of a giant sinkhole that had caved out of nowhere!
The man admitting to being terrified in that moment. He said, "I didn't even hear it go down, it just went down." Part of his surprise could have been related to the fact he was mowing the lawn. Have the machine not been running, perhaps he would have heard the collapse.
Running To The Neighbors
What does one do when their property collapses into a sinkhole? What Albert did was bolt to the neighbor's house. He knocked on the door of John Trudo, who had also been experiencing some unusual happenings.
John had already suspected something was amiss that morning because the faucet had suddenly stopped working. Albert's story was enough to make this an official emergency. John's wife hurriedly called 9-1-1. As it turns out, they weren't the only neighbors impacted.
Not The Only Sinkhole
When the authorities arrived, they moved quickly to get everyone to safety. This meant evaluating the sinkhole and quickly moving out people who were within an unsafe range. That's when they discovered that the sinkhole near Albert's home wasn't the only one.
Another sinkhole appeared right across the street. Right away, six families were evacuated. That number would double once the experts determined the cause of the sinkholes. But finding that answer didn't require officers; it required cavers.
In Over Their Heads
When caver Adam Weaver heard about what had happened to the neighborhood, he volunteered to check it out. Adam is a part of Paha Sapa Grotto, a subchapter of the National Speleological Society (aka, people who study caves).
Adam, who holds a master's degree in Natural Resource Stewardship, offered to try and map out what he thought was a natural sinkhole. When he arrived with his team, they soon discovered that they were in over their heads.
A Huge Discovery
When Adam and the rest of the Paha Sapa Grotto team inched their way into the sinkhole, they quickly realized that it wasn't at all what they'd expected. They came to find out that hole led to an abandoned gypsum mine!
The mine was more than 600 feet long and still had drilling holes and mining gear in it. Adam told The Rapid City Journal, "I really never imagined that when we went back down there, it would be that big."
Full Of History
Even though Adam knew that there was a lot of gypsum in the area, it never dawned on him that there might be an abandoned mine down there. It probably escaped his awareness because the mine was decades old.
It had first opened in the 1920s and it closed three decades later. Still, there remained old items, such as a mining handcart. They also found bones which Adam's wife, a paleontologist, confirmed belonged to a calf.
They Hesitated To Go In At First
Even though Adam is the vice president of the National Speleological Society, he was hesitant to continue exploring once he realized it was a mine. He told Hagerty, "We really don't do mines. We explore caves."
Another member of Paha Sapa Grotto, Christopher Pelczarski, echoed this sentiment in his interview with SDPB Radio. Christopher said, "Being experienced at traveling underground, we were cautious to go in, but we recognized somebody needed to do this, and we're the ones that have expertise in that area."
Continuing To Explore
The crew at Paha Sapa Grotto carefully made their way further into the mine, making incredible discoveries along the way. They could still see the old rail-car tracks that were used when the mine was still operable.
Even the natural elements in the cave held a certain mystery. Christopher described finding wood as: "That's just to the point where it looks like a piece of wood, but then you step on it and it just mushes like paper pulp."
Spotting Something Unusual
As interesting as all of the findings the team was making were, they were also items to be expected in an abandoned mine: old tools, animal remains, deteriorating wood.
Then they spotted something that made everyone stop in their tracks. While there was plenty to be distracted by on the floor, the real gem was wedged into the ceiling of the mine. Adam later said of the surprising find, "I've been caving all over and that's a first."
A Car Was Hanging From The Ceiling
Much to the cavers' surprise, there was a car hanging down from the top of the mine! It was wedged between rocks and appeared to have fallen into a hole from the surface. Christopher described it as "half sticking out of the ceiling, basically."
However, this wasn't a newer car. The vehicle was actually a 1954 Ford Crestline Sunliner! The group was amazed to see such a thing in the mine and started speculating about what happened.
It's In Good Shape All Things Considered
By everyday standards, the car looks like it came out of a junkyard. The windows are all missing, the paint is severely damaged, and there's rust all over. Still, Adam notes that it's in "super good shape" given what it's been through.
It's true that the car could have been much more jumbled. It could have rolled down the rocks and been banged up or smashed. That brings up the question, what exactly has the vehicle been through?
The Ford Probably Isn't Going Anywhere
The team conjured up two possibilities regarding how the Ford got there. The first is that the car fell into the mine after it had closed due to a sinkhole. The second is that it had been there the whole time.
It could have belonged to one of the workers and ended up getting trapped in the mine. The Ford's origin story will likely remain a mystery since Adam thinks it probably won't ever come out.
Not The Only Vehicle
Finding the 1954 Ford Crestline Sunliner was a big surprise for the entire group. Adam told Hagerty that the experience was "amazing." Even more amazing, though, was what they found next.
As though one vehicle wasn't jarring enough, the team ended up stumbling upon another one! Adam confirmed that there was also a truck in the mine, adding that it was even older than the car! The truck was positioned nose-down and too inaccessible to photograph.
Mapping The Mine
As incredible as the group's findings were, they had to get down to business and accomplish what they went there to do: map the mine. They measured 2,300 linear feet of passages, and that's just where they were able to reach.
There were still other tunnels that had collapsed or flooded, and therefore couldn't be mapped. They also found some tunnels to be upwards of 40 feet wide! The ceilings ranged from 12 to 30 feet tall.
Piecing Together The Mine's History
While the mine investigation led to some answers, there was still plenty of information needed to uncover how all this happened. That's where Doug Huntrods came in, the emergency manager for Meade County, where Blackhawk is located.
At a press conference, Doug revealed that the Dakota Plaster Company had owned the mine. This makes perfect sense considering that gypsum is commonly used in plaster. Additionally, the Rapid City Journal found in their archives that they'd covered the Dakota Plaster Plant opening back in 1910!
The Displaced Families
As fascinating as the gypsum mine is, the finding is bittersweet for those whose homes are now at-risk due to safety hazards. A total of 12 families were displaced due to the sinkholes, totaling between 30 and 35 individuals.
John Trudo, the neighbor who Albert Reitz ran to when his lawn caved in, brought up a question that many of the neighbors are likely pondering: did the developers know and turn a blind eye?
Not Covered By Insurance
The question of who is responsible is especially crucial since insurance companies are refusing to cover the damage or to pay for the cost of the lost home. Both John and Albert reported that this was the case for their insurance companies, who simply told them that their policies don't cover underground sinkholes.
As a result, many of the displaced families have turned to GoFundMe to try and raise money to at least help make ends meet for the time being.
Taking It To Court
Meade County did make an effort to get funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help the families that no longer have their homes. However, these discouraged residents have still included county officials in their lawsuit.
That's because public records indicate the Meade County Planning Board knew of the mine's existence when they approved the neighborhood development. The lawsuit is also aimed at the state, real estate agents, and developers, all of whom should have been made aware of the dangers.
A Close Call With I-90
The mine not only posed a risk for the neighborhood, but also for a nearby interstate. As a result, engineers had to inspect I-90 to ensure that there wasn't threat of sinkholes near the highway.
After inspecting 1,500 feet of the road and 60 feet underneath, the experts confirmed that the road is safe from the underground mine. Now that the road is handled, the county can put their full attention toward the residents and deciding what to do about this surprising find.
Right In Front Of The Pantheon
The sinkhole that appeared in the middle of Rome was discovered in front of the Pantheon, a house of worship used continuously since it was first constructed back in 117 AD.
It is located in Rome's Piazza Della Rotonda, which is exactly where a 10-square-foot section of the earth collapsed on itself, opening a hole in the ground. After the sinkhole emerged nobody knew exactly what the archeologists would find once they began sifting through the rubble.
It Wasn't Out Of The Ordinary
Although the sinkhole in front of the Pantheon can be considered unique, sinkholes around Rome aren't all that uncommon. This is mainly because the city is so old that all ancient quarries, tunnels, and catacombs built in the past eventually collapsed after all of those thousands of years.
Particularly in the eastern region, Rome has countless hidden cavities beneath the cobblestone streets that used to be mined, which are now full of history and waiting to be discovered.
They Never Seem To End
Sinkholes in the Eternal City can sometimes reach over 100 in just the passing of one year! Nevertheless, not many of them become as popular as the hole that emerged in front of the Pantheon in April 2020.
However, this one caught the attention of countless archeologists who figured that there had to be something worth finding beneath the ground since it was located in a part in the city that was packed full of history.
The Legacy Of The Pantheon
To this day, the Pantheon remains one of the best-preserved ancient Roman structures that were built by our ancestors thousands of years ago. Even more impressive, it is still in use today and is still utilized as a place of worship, just like it was during ancient times.
However, it is now a church that is typically closed off to tourists during the weekends so that the locals can worship in peace without being disrupted.
It Wasn't Always A Church
Even though Rome's Pantheon may be used as a church today, that wasn’t always the purpose it served. The original structure, which is different from the one we see today was built in 25 BC by Marcus Agrippa, whose father-in-law Augustus was Rome’s first emperor.
This version was much smaller and wasn’t a church, but a place for the people of Rome to worship the Roman gods. However, the Greek words that makeup "pantheon" are pan, meaning “all” and theos, meaning “gods”.
It Was Destroyed By A Fire
Unfortunately, the original Pantheon only stood for around 100 years before a fire consumed it, destroying it almost entirely.
Then, Emperor Minitian, who ruled over Rome from 81 to 96 AD, had the temple rebuilt. Incredibly, this new temple wouldn't prove to last long either, and it was struck by lightning and destroyed in 110 AD. This led worshippers to be superstitious about the structure, considering that it had been "struck down" twice.
Emperor Hadrian Was Known For Ordering The Construction Of Numerous Structures
It wasn't until Emperor Hadrian rose to power in 117 AD that he decided to rebuild the Pantheon that we know today. Known for his appreciation of architecture and the arts, he made building various structures around his empire one of his main priorities.
However, one of his most notable architectural accomplishments is Hadrian’s Wall, a 73-mile wall that stretches across northern England. This wall marked the northwestern border of Rome’s territory, and beyond was considered the "end of the world".
Hadrian Paid Homage To His Predecessors
Most experts agree that the third and final Pantheon was finished between the years 126 and 128. AD. When Hadrian officially opened it, he didn't forget about those that came before him.
He added a description of the structure that confused historians for quite some time. It reads: "Marcus Agrippa the son of Lucius, three times Consul, made this." Experts now know that Hadrian most likely built the new Pantheon on the same spot as Agrippa did.
The Pantheon Eventually Suffered From Disrepair
Just 200 years later, the capital of the Roman Empire was moved from Rome to Byzantium which is modern-day Istanbul. Unfortunately, this didn't exactly work out for the Pantheon. During this transition, the Pantheon fell into disrepair. This continued until 609 AD when Pope Boniface IV stepped in to fix things.
He spoke with the Byzantine emperor Phocas, asking permission to give the Pantheon a new purpose, with Boniface hoping to convert it into a Catholic church, which he was allowed to do. He named it Sancta Maria ad Martyres, Latin for St. Mary and the Martyrs.
From Pagan To Catholic
And just like that, the temple that was once a place of pagan worship was turned into a Catholic church. Not only was this the first time that such a transition was made, but it had a great effect on the Pantheon's structure.
Now, the Pope had the resources to return it to its former glory and maintain it. To do so, the builders used a combination of concrete and bricks, creating three major sections which are the portico, rectangle interior, and its incredible ceiling.
Its Roof Is An Architectural Feat
The Pantheon's domed roof is considered to be one of the most impressive achievements ever accomplished by Rome’s ancient architects. Incredibly, it arcs overhead without needing any kind of visible support, making it all the more impressive.
For more than 1,000 years, it held the title of the largest cupola in the world, and today remains the only concrete roof in this style that doesn’t have reinforcements to support it. So, not only is it a marvel of the ancient world but the modern world, too.
There's More Than Just The Dome
While the dome itself is incredibly impressive, with a diameter of just over 142 feet, what is even more mind-blowing is the Pantheon's oculus in its center. At the top, there is a 28.5-foot circular opening. However, this wasn’t included just for any reason.
It’s was built specifically so that those inside could be closer to the gods that they worshipped. Architecturally, it also reduces the tension the dome places on the structure, one reason it has stood for so long.
Even Michelangelo Was Impressed
Michelangelo is considered one of the most talented artists of all time, especially those living during the Italian Renaissance. Speaking of the Pantheon, he described it as a divine design, and it was unbelievable that man could create something so perfect.
The structure's design also inspired Thomas Jefferson, who created his own copula for his estate in Virginia, known as Monticello. Many of the American state capitol buildings have also drawn inspiration from the design.
Another Connection To The Pantheon
On top of impressing some of the Renaissance's most renowned artists, it became a popular burial site for many people of importance during that time because it was made into a Catholic church.
This includes the painter Raphael and some Italian monarchs. Today, tourists from all over the world come to see the incredible architecture and the gravesites of some incredibly notable individuals from the past.
The modern-day Rome area has been inhabited by humans for thousands of years, even before it became a civilized city. So, understandably, a lot of this history has been lost beneath the ground. This includes a network of quarries mined by the ancient people.
The miners also dug cavities, tunnels, and catacombs that are causing the sinkholes in Rome today. Another thing that creates the sinkholes is the loose soil that the city's foundation is built on.
Investigating The Sinkhole
The sinkhole opened up in front of the Pantheon in April of 2020, starting out as a 10-foot-square hole that was 8-feet deep. Although the hole itself was big, compared to everything that lies beneath Rome's city, it was only a fraction of what could be discovered. Nevertheless, the hole provided some key insight into Rome’s past.
A team of archeologists from ANSA took up the role of investigating the sinkhole, unsure of what they might find.
They Found Ancient Stones
When the archeologists from ANSA first made their way into the sinkhole, they discovered paving stones that dated far back to the ancient times when Rome was the capital of the empire.
In total, there were seven of these stones which were dated to be around 25 to 27 BC. Interestingly, 27 BC was also the same year as the empire's creation.
The Stones Were Part Of The First Temple
As we already know, Agrippa built the first Pantheon in Rome around the same time, 25 BC to be exact, with his father-in-law, Augustus, served as Rome's first emperor.
From this information, historians concluded that the ancient slabs of stone were part of Agrippa’s first temple’s work. What makes it even more fascinating is that Agrippa helped design the stones himself. The archaeologists were astounded by this discovery, knowing they were standing right on top of history.
How The Stones Ended Up Underground
After the first Pantheon built by Agrippa had burned down, Hadrian had a new one built in his place, one of his many architectural achievements. Furthermore, he also ensured that the surrounding piazza was refurbished.
The piazza and Pantheon underwent further renovations at the beginning of the 200s, which pushed the original stones used deep into the ground. However, this wasn't the first time that these ancient stones had been unearthed during the modern age.
Some Were Found In The 1990s
In the 1990s, workers were laying a brand new network of service cables that ran through an underground tunnel. It was during this project that they found the travertine stonework laid by the ancient Romans.
While this was still an incredible find in the 1990s, what made the discovery in April 2020 that much more fascinating was that they had been found due to a sinkhole. It was almost as if they wanted to be found.
They Were Reburied After Discovery
When the stones were initially found by those working on the service cables in the 1990s, they were examined and then reburied. Nevertheless, they were buried with a layer of pozzolan on top.
The superintendent of Rome, Daniela Porro explained in a statement that pozzolan is a material that is similar to cement when wet. So, adding a layer on top after returning the stone to the earth acts as a form of protection from damage over time.
The Pozzolan Was Successful
When the stones were once again uncovered in April 2020, Porro made sure to mention how the pozzolan had successfully protected the artifacts.
In a statement in May 2020, she commented that it was, "an unequivocal demonstration of how important archaeological protection is, not only an opportunity for knowledge but fundamental for the preservation of the testimonies of our history, an invaluable heritage in particular in a city like Rome."
The Sinkhole Helped Prevent A Disaster
Because of all of their planning and preservation tactics that were put in place to protect the stones, the Romans were lucky regarding the timing of the Pantheon's sinkhole finally opened up.
The national Italian newspaper La Stampa reported that "The area, fortunately closed, could have become a hazardous trap for Romans and the thousands of tourists who on a beautiful day in the middle of spring, in a 'normal’ period, would have filled it."
Rome Has Precautions Put In Place
Thankfully, Rome's government is well-aware of the dangers of sinkholes that plague the city, which is one of the downsides of living in such a historic area.
To help correct the problem, in March 2018, the city announced its plan to fix the more than 50,000 potholes that riddled the city to prevent them from opening into sinkholes. The mayor, Virginia Raggi, designated a €17 million (more than $20.5 million) budget to put the project into action and stop future problems.
Things Didn't Go As Planned
When Raggi first announced her new plan to fix the potholes, she promised that 50,000 of them would be filled and fixed within the first month of the program. Yet, since the spring of 2020, the project has been delayed significantly.
Because of this, potholes still remain a great danger to both the thousands of citizens and tourists of Rome that walk the streets every day. Furthermore, sinkholes have continued to form due to a lack of maintenance.
Other Sinkholes At Historic Sites
Although the sinkhole in front of the Pantheon was all the buzz for a while, it wasn't the only sinkhole to open up near one of Rome’s most historic locations. In January 2020, one of these craters opened up on Via Marco Aurelio, which is very close to the iconic Colosseum.
As a result, the city officials had to evacuate an entire apartment building as they closely inspected the safety of the ground surrounding the new hole.