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Odd Wisconsin Archive

The Man Who Vanished


Fabian Streiff came to the Swiss colony of New Glarus as a child about 1860 and never learned English. One summer day in the 1880s, he was hunting in nearby woods when he came upon a cave. He thought it was a wolf's den and cautiously entered, hoping to collect a pelt and rid the community of a pest.

Two days later, neighbors found Streiff's hat lying on the ground outside the cave. They assumed that he had been killed. Over the next decade, whenever wolves howled on a frigid winter night, his story would be told to children around family hearths. Everyone gave him up for lost.

Then in 1923 an old man claiming to be Fabian Streiff walked into New Glarus. "For years we believed that Fabian had been devoured by wolves," said a nephew. But Streiff told a different story to reporters.

"Entering the hole, he was unable to get out by the same route, due to the condition of roots under the mammoth tree... For two days, he says, he crawled on, sometimes able to stand up in the cave, again forced to progress on his hands and knees.

"The third day, nearly exhausted, he came to the end, having wandered, he declares, for miles. He pushed on through the country until he came to the Wisconsin river… unable to speak a word of English, the lost man had no way of finding his way home to New Glarus."

Streiff said that he eventually made his way down to the Mississippi River, turned south, and found work on an Illinois farm. There he remained until old age, when his employer searched for his relations and sent him home to New Glarus.


:: Posted in Odd Lives on June 9, 2011
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