People have been searching for the elusive Rock Lake pyramids for decades. Some claim to have seen clearly man-made structures with their own eyes, while state archaeologists assert they’re little more than naturally occurring deposits of glacial debris. So what’s really on the bottom of Rock Lake? Is it really the ancient necropolis of a forgotten civilization with ties to Atlantis?
“Yeah, they’re real,” a Lake Mills resident told me when I inquired about the legendary Rock Lake pyramids. He was an outdoorsman – a farmer, hunter, trapper, and spent countless hours fishing on Rock Lake. “At the right time of day, with the right light, you can see ’em.”
At the bottom of Rock Lake.
The ones built by the Aztecs. Or railroad workers. Or Atlanteans. Or a group of dastardly horse thieves. It all depends on who you ask. To some, it’s incontrovertible proof of myth, mysticism, and alternative history. To others, it’s hogwash. Since these pyramids have been a bit difficult to find, no one really knows for sure.
Legendary Lake Mills
Lake Mills is home to a 1,000-year-old abandoned city with numerous macabre mysteries, a hissing lake monster said to have been terrorizing local fisherman since the 1800s (until it was killed in 1986), and stories of underwater structures that some believe are connected to the Aztec civilization, the construction of Solomon’s Temple, and the lost continent of Atlantis.
That’s a lot of weirdness for a small Wisconsin town of about 6,000 residents, but “Legendary Lake Mills” is up to the challenge.
You wouldn’t realize it was at the center of a swirling vortex of mysterious phenomena if you were just casually passing through. But you might raise an eyebrow when you start to notice the numerous businesses with the word “pyramid” in their name, the monument in the downtown Commons Park enshrining a sculpture of a red marble pyramid, or the local brewery named after the ancient indigenous name for the lake (Tyranena) with brewed tributes to local legends such as the headless man and Rocky, the Rock Lake monster.
History of the Rock Lake Pyramids
“Legend has it that in 1066, after suffering a long and terrible drought, Aztec Indians appealed to their gods for help by building (and using) sacrificial pyramids,” the old Lake Mills Chamber of Commerce website read. “Apparently, their prayers were answered because great waters came to cover those pyramids and created a beautiful lake the Indians called ‘Tyranena’ meaning sparkling water.”
The belief that the Aztec civilization once occupied the area is how Aztalan got its name in the 1800s. There was an old myth that the Aztecs came from a northern land called Aztalan. We know now that the area was actually a northern outpost of Cahokia, the massive pre-Columbian city of the Mississippian culture near what is modern day St. Louis.
According to the now defunct Rock Lake Research Society website, the first white settlers in the 1840s saw strange formations sticking out of the lake, but they became completely submerged in the 1850s when dams for sawmills caused the water level to rise. Legend says local Native Americans told them of the “stone teepees” in the lake, and spoke of “ancient foreigners.”
Evidence has been found in Aztalan suggesting human sacrifice and cannibalism, both reminiscent of the Aztec culture. In addition, the remains of a young woman, dubbed the “Princess of Aztalan,” were found in a burial mound. She was adorned in clam shell beads, some coming from as far away as the Gulf of Mexico.
According to later writings, the pyramids were rediscovered sometime around 1900. Two duck hunters, brothers Claude and Lee Wilson, were out on the lake, which was unusually clear at that time and low rainfall brought the water level far below normal. The brothers spotted a large stone structure beneath them, touched the top of it with their paddle, and word quickly spread around town. Residents clamored into their boats to see it for themselves. They described it as a tent-shaped structure made of small rocks about 100 feet long. Some local boys even dove in and touched it.
Rain came the following week, raising water levels and clouding the view. The pyramid was lost.
In the following years, many more visitors to the lake claimed to catch a glimpse of the structure, though it remained difficult to pinpoint exactly where. But they caused trouble over the years, as fishermen complained of often snagging their lines on the structures, and a commercial fishing company had their net torn up on them.
To drum up excitement for the town’s centennial celebration in 1936 and boost tourism during the Great Depression, local author Victor Taylor decided to write about the pyramids. He gathered stories from other Lake Mills residents, including the Wilson brothers.
Taylor hired members of the university swim team to dive on the structures and confirm their existence. One returned claiming to have seen hieroglyphics on them. Taylor believed they were sacrificial altars constructed by the Aztecs for offerings to the rain god.
When word reached Charles E. Brown, director of the Wisconsin Historical Society Museum and founder of the Wisconsin Archaeological Society, he seems to have disregarded the claims entirely. A family of local horse thieves called the Finch gang lived on an island in the marshland near the south end of the lake. Brown assumed that if the pyramids did exist, they were not ancient at all, but had been constructed by the Finches to hide their loot.
World-Famous Diver Finds Pyramid in Rock Lake
In the summer of 1937, young Milwaukee native Max Eugene Nohl decided to test his experimental new diving equipment – the world’s first self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (SCUBA) – while searching for the pyramids in Rock Lake. He spotted a tall, conical stone shape during one dive that he believed to be man made.
In an October 12, 1937 letter to Taylor, Nohl wrote:
“The pyramid rises up from a 36-foot bottom to its upper base which is 7 feet from the surface, therefore, being 29 feet high. A deposit of ooze has collected at the base and penetration of this with my hand revealed that the structure continued on down. The pyramid is in the form of a truncated cone. Approximate dimensions: diameter upper base, 3 feet, diameter bottom 18 feet, altitude 29 feet. The construction is apparently of smooth stone set in a mortar. It is covered with a greenish, thin scum that rubs off.”
Nohl went on to set the world record for the deepest dive that December when he reached the bottom of Lake Michigan off the coast of Port Washington at a depth of 420 feet. He achieved this with the help of another Milwaukee native, Dr. Edgar End of the Marquette University School of Medicine. End pioneered the oxygen-helium mixture Nohl breathed during that dive.
These advances allowed Nohl to reach “hitherto forbidden ocean depths,” as one promotional poster enthused. He even dived to the wreck of the RMS Lusitania, the sister ship of the Titanic that was sunk by a German U-boat off the coast of Ireland in 1915.
Nohl was busy breaking records and making headlines around the world, but he always intended to return to Rock Lake to photograph the pyramid. He spoke of it for a while at his lectures, first often, and then less and less as the years went by and his interest waned. He and his wife Eleanor met their untimely demise in a car crash in 1960 before he could ever return to Lake Mills.
An archaeological survey of the lake was conducted by officials from the Milwaukee Public Museum in 1960-61 with a team of divers from a Milwaukee-based dive club. Their extensive work turned up no sign of the structures. They concluded that what people were mistaking for pyramids were piles of glacial deposits left behind from when the lake was formed 10,000 years ago.
In 1967, Illinois scuba instructor Jack Kennedy was diving in Rock Lake when he came upon what he described as a slanted wall of grapefruit-sized rocks and a low platform rising about five feet from lake bed. It was 20 feet wide and 40 feet long. He gathered three of the stones and returned to the surface.
Though he was never able to locate the structure again on subsequent dives, Kennedy’s findings were published in a 1970 issue of Skin Diver Magazine. A journalist named Frank Joseph stumbled upon this article in 1987, and believed the lost civilization beneath Rock Lake had been involved in the bronze trade with Atlantis. Joseph and his team conducted sonar sweeps of the lake, capturing anomalous images of what they believed were at least 10 man made structures. One of them was a 100-foot-long structure made of large black stones that Joseph called the Limnatis Pyramid.
The Rock Lake Research Society was formed in 1998 by Archie Eschborn, Jack LeTourneau, and others. Their motto: “The truth is down there.” They began conducting extensive surveys of the lake using cutting edge technology like GPS and side scan sonar.
The History Channel filmed a diving expedition into Rock Lake for an episode of the series Digging for the Truth called “American Pyramids.”
In 2006, Eschborn published his findings in a book titled The Dragon in the Lake.
Today, contemporary researchers point to grainy sonar images that they believe show dinosaur bones, burials, effigy mounds in the shape of a turtle and a headless man, and other fuzzy, indecipherable evidence of a lost city or necropolis. During dives with Frank Joseph in recent years, researcher Mary Sutherland claims to have discovered an 18-foot tall black pyramid with inscriptions.
According to Sutherland’s website, the ancient culture that lived in the area purposefully built these structures to harness electromagnetic energy from a ley line that stretches up from the Mayan citadel of Tikal through Lake Mills, and into Mayville where crop circles appeared during a summer storm in 2003.
“Strange things happen around the area of Rock Lake,” she writes on her website. “People see things that aren’t there – Ice fishermen can’t start their chainsaws out on the ice, but back on shore they start fine – They return to the ice and again run into the same problem. Scuba divers, trying to film the underwater pyramids can’t get their cameras to work. Other divers, preparing to dive into the waters of the pyramid, are overcome with a sense of dread. It is apparent that there is an energy disturbance going on in the area – strong enough to cause mechanical failure as well as affecting the human consciousness.”
Sutherland says the lake has an area that’s said to be bottomless, it’s home to multi-dimensional portals, and UFOs are frequently sighted going in and out of the water.
Besides grainy sonar images and potentially tall tales, however, decades of research have turned up little, if any, evidence. It seems the legends lurking at the bottom of Rock Lake are doomed to remain submerged in the murky depths of fringe science and pseudoarchaeology.
More pyramids in Wisconsin?
It’s worth noting that the Rock Lake pyramids don’t exist in isolation – some believe there are other pyramids in Wisconsin hidden in plain sight. Bill Benson, the late proprietor of Benson’s Hide-a-Way on Long Lake and founder of UFO Daze, believed a long-forgotten pyramid beneath Dundee Mountain – a large glacial formation in the heart of the Kettle Moraine State Forest – is the cause of all the bizarre phenomena that occurs in the area.
Have you seen or experienced something strange around Lake Rock? Pyramids? Lake monster? UFOs or multi-dimensional portals? Share your story in the comments below.