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Mountain Lake dries up and reveals secrets

September 23, 2008

Remember that beautiful lake in the movie Dirty Dancing? The lush green of the mountain and the dark blue of the lake were very relaxing. The lake is gone now. It sounds impossible but it is, and no it’s not global warming. Apparently scientists believe that the lake naturally drains and disappears. Historical records seem to back this up too. The Roanoke Times article, with an excerpt shown below, explains in more detail.

Mountain Lake may be the only known lake in the world to periodically disappear, sometimes for decades. This phenomenon has been recorded since the 18th century and may be related to earthquakes.

The first reference to what is now called Mountain Lake dates to 1751, when British surveyor Christopher Gist explored Giles County and West Virginia for the Ohio Company. In his journals, Gist describes climbing a mountain and finding a clear-water lake, a gravel shore and “fine meadow.” By 1768, however, settlers said such a lake was nowhere to be found in what is now Giles County. Instead, they used the site as a salt lick for cattle, hence the name Salt Pond Mountain.

Photographer Richard Cobb shows the dramatic change in photographs.

Mountain Lake Before and After

With the drop in water previously lost items are being found, including a body. It is believed to be a man from the 1930’s. The Roanoke Times describes the personal effects found with the bones.

He wore a belt with a silver buckle and carried a fancy silver cigarette box, both engraved with elaborate cursive initials that appear to be “SCF.”

His old McCreery wingtip shoes had Sullivan’s Safety Cushion heels held in place with six nails.

His gold class ring carried the initials “MC” on one side and “CA” on the other, above images of trees carved into the metal. It bore a date on top that appears to signify that it is from the Class of ’04 — most likely 1904, Giles County sheriff’s investigators say.

Hopefully someone will recognize the class ring, cigarette box. Maybe someone will remember something from half a century ago when the stone hotel was new. Perhaps this mystery will help bring tourists to the wonderful Mountain Lake Hotel that is now by a lovely grassy meadow.

********************* Update 10/16/08************************

The class ring found near the bones proved to be the biggest help. Investigators say it’s from Clemson University in South Carolina. University officials have provided Giles authorities a picture of a 1904 class ring matching the type found at Mountain Lake. Investigators say they have the person’s identity narrowed down to three possible names from that Clemson class.

************************Update 10/21/08**********************

Watch video from WSLS here

The layered mystery at Mountain Lake is unfolding.Two brothers, one from Virginia and one from Maryland say they’ve successfully closed the case and have the name everyone has been waiting for, Samuel Felder.

All the evidence found served as small clues into an unknown man’s life, but two tokens gave this mystery legs. “The main item was the ring, because once you can identify what college it came from it clearly on the ring 04, so that would have been 1904 and then the belt buckle initials were the clue that allowed you to find out what the guys name was,” said Jim Dalmas, in a phone interview from Maryland.

Dalmas makes it sound easy, but many questions have been looming since the remains, class ring, watch, shoes and belt buckle were found almost exactly a month ago.Dalmas took the initials and ring and called a number of schools searching for answers. “I hadn’t gotten to Clemson when the sheriff’s office discovered that the ring had come from Clemson University,” he said.

Clemson had three graduates of 1904 with the initials S.F.

After Dalmas narrowed it down to who he thought the mystery man was he did some searching and found a newspaper article from 1921 and in the headline it said “S. I. Felder, Troy, N.Y. Falls Overboard at Mountain Lake; Drowns.”

“As far as I was concern once we found the newspaper article from South Carolina it was a slam dunk,” Dalmas said.

Giles County investigators aren’t confirming the identity of the mystery man.

They tell 10 On Your Side they’re still waiting for a family member to come forward, so they can make a DNA match.By Lindsey Ward

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