The 'What Is That?' team goes to Deep Eddy (but doesn't swim)

AUSTIN, Texas -- Welcome to the 2018 season of "What Is That?" Let's kick it off by heading over to Eilers Park (where Deep Eddy pool is) with semi-retired lawyer Fred Helms. I'm not really sure what it means to be a semi-retired lawyer. Perhaps you only semi-sue people.

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Ken Herman
, Cox Newspapers

AUSTIN, Texas -- Welcome to the 2018 season of "What Is That?" Let's kick it off by heading over to Eilers Park (where Deep Eddy pool is) with semi-retired lawyer Fred Helms. I'm not really sure what it means to be a semi-retired lawyer. Perhaps you only semi-sue people.

But that's not the mystery we're meeting up with Helms to explore. It involves is a structure he recently mentioned to me while helping me pick a cemetery plot.

"Ken," he said in a follow-up email, "this is the structure I told you about. It's located west of Deep Eddy and behind the picnic area by the hike and bike trail."

Attached were some photos of a nondescript, yet distinctly curved, stone structure that Helms says he first noted in Eilers Park two or three years ago. Helms swims at Deep Eddy about once a week. So there's some information about what semi-retired lawyers do when they're not semi-lawyering.

"What is this we're going to see?" I asked Helms as we headed from the parking lot to the mystery structure.

"I have no idea," he said. "It's a strange structure. It kind of looks like an immense beehive. But it's obviously fairly old and I think it used to serve some function." "But I couldn't discern what it might have been," Helms said.

I asked for his theory, reminding him it's always best if it somehow includes UFOs.

"Well," he said, "once they landed ... ." And then he wondered aloud: "I wonder if this was subterranean at one time. It might have been something like an ice house."

I didn't tell him at the moment, but his aborted "once they landed" theory seemed more plausible than the ice-house surmise. There's no need to insult a guy who helped you pick your cemetery plot.

"A cistern would be another possibility," he said as we approached the structure.

Yes, another possible possibility.

The mystery structure is simple yet a bit challenging to describe. It's made of stone, kind of like a wall, and is maybe 10 feet high and curved, apparently with a purpose. It's concave or convex. Concave and convex confuse me. Ditto for affect and effect.

Having let the mystery reach a crescendo, I told Helms I already had the answer, thanks to the ever-helpful folks at the city of Austin. So what do we have here? Cistern? Immense beehive? Indian burial ground marker? Ice house? Leftovers from a long-ago fort? New, trendy and affordable micro house?

Oh, the drama. Here's the answer from city spokeswoman Cara Welch, which I triumphantly revealed to Helms as we stood at the mystery structure:

"Hi, Ken," Welch wrote. "It took me a few days, but I got a basic answer. It's a retaining structure west of Deep Eddy and Eilers Park."

"A retaining structure?" said Helms, unimpressed.

"A retaining structure," I confirmed.

And I told him Welch had also attached the Historic Places Registration Form that got the park and pool designated as a historic place. "It looks like it calls out these stone retaining walls as part of the contributing historic elements of the park," Welch noted.

Helms remained unimpressed as well as unconvinced, noting there seemed to be some unconnected stones that might have once been connected to something that's no longer there. He had a point.

"Weird," he said. "See, now that's something I would consider a retaining wall. ... (But) a good stone mason is not going to leave stuff like this sticking out. I think it's been partially dismantled."

So, semi-retired counselor, you're not buying the city explanation?

"I don't think so," he said.

We lingered a bit, including pondering an outdoor grill that inexplicably held an empty bottle of Gatorade G2 Glacier Freeze and a box of Black Box Chardonnay, praised on tastings.com as boasting "Fruity, toasty aromas and flavors of apple pie, lemon tart, and banana muffin with a silky, bright, dry-yet-fruity medium body and an easy vanilla cream and kiwi finish with soft tannins and a suggestion of oak." I could not find any similar online reviews of Gatorade G2 Glacier Freeze.

The beverage tableau somehow inspired Helms to recount this tale from one day when he was changing at Deep Eddy for a swim:

"This guy walks in, gray hair, and I'm changing to leave and he's coming in and he starts changing clothes. I realize he's putting on a two-piece bikini. Just as he goes out the door another guy comes in and sees my T-shirt that says 'Keep Austin Weird' and it says Austin in Hebrew. This guy looks at me and says, 'You're wearing the shirt. He's living the life.' Turns out the guy is from Israel and that's how he understood (that the shirt said) 'Keep Austin Weird.' Made it even stranger."

But we digress.

Helms and I left unsatisfied with the city's answer, which seems incomplete at best. Concerned that 'What Is That?" had failed in its God-given mission to bring peace to the puzzled, I asked Helms how much sleep he's been losing as he pondered this mystery since discovering it a few years ago.

"Zero," he said.

Helms and I remain open to any further details anybody might have about this structure. And, as noted above, all the better if UFOs are involved.

Ken Herman is a columnist for the Austin American-Statesman. Email: kherman(at)statesman.com.

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