The Fatal Allure of JACOB'S WELL

by Louie Bond


In January 1980, Dibble attempted to seal off the depths of the well by building a grate of rebar and quick-set concrete at the entrance to the third chamber. Six months later, Dibble found the grate dismantled. Divers not only dove with the proper tools to pull off the grate, they also left a note for Dibble. "You can't keep us out," was written on a plastic slate.

Austin writer Steve Harrigan says that while working on a Texas Monthly article, he dove into Jacob's Well at least 20 times back in the late 1970s and early 80s, including a dive to help Dibble install the grate.

"It's a very mysterious place, a place of constant sensation," says Harrigan, who centered a novel around the well in 1984. One of the main characters, a scuba instructor, perishes after venturing too deeply, perhaps as a suicide, or perhaps due to the mind-altering effects of nitrogen narcosis.
Harrigan says he never dove below the relatively safe 90-foot level for many reasons, but basically because "I knew my limit."

Through the years, many have successfully explored the first and second chambers of the well. The first chamber is a straight drop to about 30 feet; then it angles down to 55 feet. Nourished by the rays of sunlight that penetrate the crystal water, this cavern area is bright and is home to algae and wildlife.

The second chamber is a long funnel to 80 feet, where there is a restricted opening to the third chamber. Inside the second chamber is a false chimney, which appears to be a way out of the well but has trapped at least one diver. Southwest Texas State University student Richard Patton lost his life in that false chimney in 1983.

The third chamber is a small room with a floor of unstable gravel. Divers must inflate water wings to navigate this chamber successfully, trying not to stir up silt or dislodge the gravel.

The passage into the fourth chamber is very tight, but the San Marcos Area Recovery Team (SMART) was recently able to penetrate it without removing their air tanks. The tightest restriction occurs 15 feet down the next tunnel where there is a knife-edge formation in the ceiling and fine gravel below. The few who have seen the fourth chamber say it is "virgin cave" with fantastic limestone formations and no gravel. Covering the bottom is fine silt that can totally obscure vision when kicked up by one misstep.

SMART divers Dan and Kathy Misiaszek, with teammate Jim Price and an extensive topside team, penetrated the fourth chamber in October, 2000 to videotape the area. "We were not looking for human remains," Misiaszek recalls. "We knew some remains might be found but we sincerely believed the bones had been washed away years ago during the many floods."

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Article by Louie Bond © 2001

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