Every state treasures a legend, a story on which its reputation is built. Pennsylvania has Big Foot, Kentucky has a “portal to hell,” and Wisconsin has…underwater pyramids?
Legend states that at the bottom of Rock Lake, a fishing hole east of Madison in the town of Lake Mills, lies ancient pyramids, a 200-foot-long figure made of rock, and ruins. Those who believe in the legend say pre-Columbian settlers originally built these structures on land before the area was flooded in the 1800s.
Published in texts like and “The Lost Pyramids of Rock Lake: Wisconsin’s Sunken Civilization” and “Atlantis in Wisconsin,” the legend has a perhaps surprising multitude of followers. Archie Eschborn, a plastics executive with a passion for archeology, is the current leader of those hunting for the pyramids. He’s even coordinated the Rock Lake Research Society, a group dedicated to exploring the depths of the lake. So far, the group—including history students, scuba divers, and academics—has committed $50,000 to its efforts.
However, critics claim that the legend is nothing more than fable—the mysterious structures below the 40-foot deep, algae-filled waters are just rocks and natural formations. The legend’s biggest skeptic is Robert Birmingham, Wisconsin’s state archeologist with the Wisconsin State Historical Society. Skeptics like Birmingham blame Lake Mills’ marketing for intensifying and spreading the legend. For example, the town is home to Pyramid Motel and Liquor, Pyramid Silo Service, Pyramid Driving School, and Pyramid Supper Club and Lounge. The town’s website even includes the “City of Pyramids” slogan.
“We have gone down there on a number of occasions and seen piles of rocks, as you would expect in this part of Wisconsin,” Birmingham said. “We’ve seen nothing out of the ordinary and nothing that could not be well explained by geology,” he added.
Believers like Eschborn find doubt like Birmingham’s beyond frustrating. Eschborn alleges that the state’s dives have been hasty and lacking.
Eschborn and the Rock Lake Research Society will dive on until they find the evidence they’re seeking. Using a specialized underwater sonar device called a “towfish,” the group is determined to prove skeptics wrong.
In the meanwhile, the legend of the Rock Lake pyramids will continue to draw tourists to the otherwise run-of-the-mill town of Lake Mills. Only time will tell if the stuff of legend is, in fact, reality.