#48 – Whittall’s Mistake – 1986/87

Written by Fred Rydholm:

Jim Whittall wrote to Burrows saying he was going to come out to Illinois and explore the cave himself. He also said he was going to bring along a man by the name of Chris Bird, to photograph the cave. If Whittall had had the slightest inkling of what Russ Burrows had been through, he would have framed this as a suggestion, not as a statement. And he should have moved more slowly, maybe coming alone for the first inspection before suggesting the photographer. The next move, of course, would have been to sit down with Russell to formulate a plan agreeable to all parties. None of this happened.

Burrows would probably have agreed to Whittall’s coming out, with a photographer (though Bird was a complete stranger to Burrows); he might even have shown both men the interior of the cave.

But in the same letter, Whittall also stated that if Russell accepted his proposal, Burrows could no longer say anything about the cave without clearing it with Jim, nor could he write anything about it without Jim’s OK.

After receiving that letter, Russ contacted Virginia Hourigan and brought her up to date on what Jim wanted. They discussed it and agreed that this was indeed an attempt to take over and they just could not let that happen so easily.

When Russell gets his dander up, he is not a good negotiator.

He wrote back that “So long as the grass grows and the river flows,” neither Jim Whittall nor anyone in his group would get near the cave.

Naturally enough, the next thing Russell heard was that Mr. Whittall was badmouthing the entire project to whomever would listen and saying that the whole thing was a fraud.

Russ Burrows feels that Jim Whittall has a lot of clout in the field of archaeology, and his broadcast opinion caused a great setback to the project. Yet he had this to say after he first met Jim Whittall face-to-face:

“It is really a shame that he had to take the attitude that he did because, after meeting him for the first time at the 1990 ISAC meeting in Columbus, Georgia, I really liked the guy. But his opinion being voiced around has really hurt getting this thing off the ground.

“No archaeologist worth his salt wants to get involved with something that everyone is calling a fraud. I don’t blame them. If I had spent years in college studying and had more years in the field building a reputation, I wouldn’t want to risk that either.”