The Maribel Caves Hotel's clientele in the 1920s included prostitutes, bootleggers and infamous gangsters.

Town to discuss fate of Caves Hotel

10/08/03 - Green Bay News-Chronicle

By Steve Arveson
For The News-Chronicle

Tucked into a clearing along a wooded stretch of County R in the town of Cooperstown, stands an abandoned landmark known throughout the region for its history and legend.

A skeleton of its former self, the Maribel Caves Hotel has withstood the test of time and the elements, as well as a blaze that gutted most of the former hotel's interior in 1985.

An ongoing rash of vandalism on the private property has left neighbors concerned and town board members wondering what should become of the 103-year-old historic hotel. One possibility, Town Chairman C. Ross Johnson said, is to raze the building, removing the three-story limestone structure and leaving behind only the folklore that surrounds it.

Some of that folklore places interesting clientele there in the late 1920s, including prostitutes, bootleggers and infamous gangsters. Rumors of ghosts living within the walls give the empty hotel a sense of mystique.

According to Denmark Press archives, the hotel was designed by Charles Steinbrecker, who moved to America from Austria in the late 1800s.

Steinbrecker, who designed it to resemble health spas he saw in Innsbruck, never saw the building and died in 1892.

His son, Francis, an ordained priest with his first parish at St. James Church in Cooperstown, turned his father's dream into reality. In May 1900, he hired 40 stone masons from Kaukauna and, under the direction of William Ditter, the hotel opened its doors four months later.

The vacation spot and health spa went through a number of owners after the death of the younger Steinbrecker in 1927. That year the hotel was rented to Chicago-area residents, according to an excerpt from a letter written by current owner Robert Lyman published in the Oct. 31, 2002, issue of the Manitowoc Herald Times Reporter.

"The hotel experienced a radical change in clientele which included moonshiners, prostitutes and reportedly John Dillinger and Al Capone," the letter said.

The Denmark Press contacted the Lyman family for further explanation, but they declined to comment.

In 1932, the hotel was sold to Adolph Cherney and the remodeled bar became the building's lone operation after the hotel was closed. Cherney's daughter, Alice Kornely owned the hotel in 1972.

Two other individuals and one group owned the bar through mid-1980s, when an early morning fire on June 4, 1985, gutted the structure. The cause was never determined.

The mystique of the bygone building has brought spectators to the site, despite "no trespassing" signs strewn across the property. One visitor, Terry Fisk, a paranormal investigator from Eau Claire who first visited Maribel early this summer, has chronicled fact and myths about the Caves Hotel.

"I read about the Maribel Caves on the Internet and drove over there when I was checking out other places in the area," Fisk said. "I didn't have much information about the caves and I went to Maribel on a Saturday and everything was closed so I didn't have anybody to talk to."

Fisk's information, located at www.chadlewis.com, chronicles some of the urban legends surrounding the caves, and contrasts them with substantiated facts.

"On my first sight of it, the hotel was just awesome. I couldn't believe it," he said.

One of the more popular myths is that Chicago mob boss Al Capone once owned the hotel.

The legend of the hotel has made it more difficult for Cooperstown to decide whether to raze it, although the best option would be if a developer opened it again.

"The last thing I want to see is that place taken down," he said. "I think there are a lot of business prospects that may come forward if it is restored, but how do you go about getting the money to do it."

"We want to bring it up, see if (the Lyman family) is willing to do anything with it or start with procedures to condemn it," Johnson said.

"I'd hate to see it get torn down but it's something we have to fix."

The Cooperstown Town Board will discuss the issue at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

"I sure hope they don't tear it down," Fisk said. "When I saw it I was hoping that somebody would restore it. I would love to see that."

Maribel Caves Hotel: Fact vs. fiction

Information compiled by Terry Fisk and located at www.chadlewis.com/files_spectrology/maribel_hotel_hell.html

Myth: The building burned three times, each time on the exact same date. In one fire, everyone died in their sleep. Skeletal remains can still be found.

Fact: The hotel burned once, June 4, 1985 and no one was injured in the blaze.

Myth: A mass homicide occurred within the hotel.

Fact: There is no evidence of any homicides.

Myth: The hotel was used by Hollywood stars in the late 1800s.

Fact: The hotel was built in 1900 and was used by priests and vacationers.

Myth: Al Capone once owned the hotel

Fact: While both Capone and John Dillinger may have visited the hotel, neither were among the hotel's many owners. There are also no underground passageways, reportedly used by the mobsters.

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