The Quest for Devil’s Pulpit and Other Mysteries

I saw the notation on a 1916 map of Peninsula State Park. Devil’s Pulpit was located on Hemlock Trail where it intersected with Orchard Trail. The original Hemlock Trail began along the south edge of Weborg Marsh going east until it ran into the bluff. There it ascended the bluff and went north until it merged into the present day Hemlock Trail. Orchard Trail went east from the Hemlock trail along the edge of the orchard where the CCC camp would later be located. These trails were popular with hikers who lodged in Fish Creek and used them to explore the newly created State Park. Park naturalist Kathleen Harris told me that Devil’s Pulpit was a rock outcropping that with some imagination resembled a pulpit.

Mysteries got me started collecting information for the book I wrote about Peninsula State Park. Why was there an old gazebo and stone steps leading down to the water along Shore Road close to the intersection with Skyline Road? Why were there tennis courts in the woods at this location? Why was there a beautiful cobblestone patio on the shore at Horseshoe Island? In the early 1950s, while camping in and exploring the park as a young boy, I wondered about the origins of these things I encountered while hiking. I began collecting information about the park in the 1970s and eventually published my book in 2006. In the process, some, but not all my mysteries were revealed. Until this last year, I had never found Devil’s Pulpit.

I had not thought much about Devil’s Pulpit until this past spring. I was camping at Weborg Point and walked our dog each morning to Blossomburg Cemetery. One day I met a gentleman at the cemetery. I thought he looked familiar. I asked if he might be Jim Thorp, descendant of the original Thorps that founded Fish Creek. Indeed he was. I had not seen Jim for at least 25 years. I had engaged Jim’s services many years earlier to solve a manufacturing problem I had at SSI Technologies in Janesville, Wisconsin. Jim was a consulting engineer working out of Milwaukee at the time. Jim and I quickly renewed our friendship.

Two days later, Jim pulled into camp just as I was finishing breakfast. He asked if I wanted to hike to Devil’s Pulpit. I had never told Jim I was trying to locate Devil’s Pulpit. Jim has told me other stories involving his mental telepathic ability and I now believe them to be true! Jim took me directly to the rock outcropping. The only remnant of the original trail is where it ascends the small bluff. It appeared to have been an early logging trail wide enough to allow teams of horses to haul logs down the bluff. But the trail disappears both above and below the bluff, which is why it is so hard to locate. My quest was over and I thought about the old adage; it’s the journey and not the destination that is most important. I felt sad that this one journey was over, but I was rewarded nonetheless by renewing my friendship with Jim Thorp.

As I child, I fished, swam, and water skied off an old “L” shaped dock located on Nicolet Bay just north of the present day boat launch. I know this dock was destroyed by high water and ice in the early 1970s because I watched its demise over the period of two years. However, I always wondered about the origin of this dock. Who built it and when?

While doing research for my book about the park, I found a Door County Advocate article from the 1930s reporting that park superintendent Al Doolittle had employed some local men to work on the pier at Weborg Point. The great depression had created a lot of unemployment in the area and government funds were sometimes available to hire people for public works projects. When the work on the Weborg pier was finished, Doolittle moved the crew to work on a dock at Nicolet Bay. This gave me a hint that the dock probably dated from the early 1930s.

More information concerning the Nicolet Bay dock came slowly over time. Two years ago, Bill Klein, an avid Door County sailor and part time historian, gave me a copy of an entry from a Great Lakes Cruising Club publication describing Murphy’s Dock on Nicolet Bay. The description included a drawing of the “L” shaped “Murphy’s Dock” including depth soundings in the area. The original publication entry, made in 1955, indicated the dock dated back to the 1930s confirming my suspicions based on the Advocate article. Now my problem became, why was it called Murphy’s dock? The answer came following a talk I gave on June 9 to the Gibraltar Historic Society about the making of the Peninsula State Park Centennial Video. A lady told me that there was a dentist named Murphy from Green Bay who always camped by this dock. Over the years, it simply became known as Murphy’s dock.

New mysteries that need unraveling are always being added to my quest. I hike Eagle Trail with Bill Klein a couple times each year. Bill and I are trying to locate the remains of the foundations for the old staircase that used to ascend to Eagle Terrace. We’re still searching and now we have a second mystery in this area to unravel. Peter Sloma, proprietor of the Peninsula Bookman in Fish Creek, asked me if I knew anything about what appears to be a piece of lightweight rail (railroad rail) just off Eagle Trail below Eagle Terrace. I’ve never spotted this piece of rail, but Bill Klein has found it and promised to point it out to me on our next hike. Why is it here in this unlikely spot? Another mystery!

A sure sign of getting old is when you stop wondering. There are many mysteries yet to unravel and keep me wondering.

Norm Aulabaugh lives with his wife Carol on a farm just outside Orfordville, Wisconsin. Norm’s book The Park contains history and stories about Peninsula State Park. Norm and Carol produced an hour-long video about Peninsula State Park for this year’s centennial celebration. The video, available on a DVD, won an award of excellence at the 2009 Wisconsin Public Access Channel film festival. All profit from the sale of the book and video are being donated to the Friends of Peninsula State Park.