Guest Author - Phyllis Doyle Burns
The second largest tourist attraction in the United States is Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, which is also the largest cave system in the world. With semi-subterranean waterways, it is a fascinating place to visit. Guided boat or walking tours, or even more adventurous type tours where one may have to crawl a little ways, are available to the public. Exploring the cave, seeing the beauty of it, traveling along the underground rivers and peeking into dark, dusty corridors is a unique experience. Yet, the history of the cave is just as fascinating -- for instance, the mummies, ghosts and cave wars fill many pages of history.
Visitors to the cave since the early 1800s have reported hearing voices, whispers, disembodied steps, and coughs from unexplained sources. Even some apparitions have been seen by many people. Most of the reports came from reliable witnesses, some even from National Park Services employees.
The mummies found in the cave are of Native American peoples from pre-Colombian times. In 1813, the cave was being mined for saltpetre. While digging in the cave floor, a miner had found a mummy in a small crypt under a flat rock. This became known as the "Fawn Hoof Mummy" due to the unusually small feet. It was a mummy of a woman, six feet tall in life, who had been embalmed and preserved much like those of ancient Egyptian mummies. Several other mummies have been found since then in different locations.
Native American ritualistic ceremonies, such as burials, are very powerful spiritually -- so, it is possible that someone who is sensitive to the spiritual realms would hear voices of the past in areas where a tribal member was buried.
Voices that echo through the corridors could be those of another tour group somewhere else in the vast system of caves -- or are they pleas from spirits of those who chose not to die so far underground, lost and alone in the darkness?
One of those spirits who reside in the underground labyrinths may be that of Steven Bishop, who was one of the earliest cave guides. Bishop was a slave owned by Dr. William Croghan, who purchased the cave in 1839. Bishop was a self-educated young man and very knowledgeable of geology. His interest in the cave became his life-long passion. He discovered much of the passageways, corridors, waterways, and rooms within the cave -- the maps he drew were very accurate and are still used today. In later years, when Stephen was offered his freedom by new owners, he refused to leave his beloved cave. He remained a guide at Mammoth Cave till his death in 1857. Many believe Stephen Bishop still journeys throughout the places he discovered and so loved.
Dr. Croghan had eleven huts built within the cave to house and treat patients with tuberculosis. His thoughts were that the humidity and constant temperature in the cave would cure the patients. His project failed when his patients died. Dr. Croghan, himself, eventually died from tuberculosis. Is this why some visitors have heard strange coughing sounds in the area of the huts? Did some souls linger on, still coughing and suffering from the disease?
Guilt-ridden and ashamed, a young woman named Melissa confessed on her deathbed in 1858 of the horrible trick she played on the man she loved. The man chose another girl whom Melissa knew. Stunned and hurt, Melissa took the young man into Mammoth Cave for a "tour". Melissa grew up near the cave and knew it well, the young man did not. Once deep inside the cave, near Echo River, Melissa slipped into a corridor and left the man alone in the darkness as she went back home. After many days, the young man did not return. Melissa went back to the cave every day calling for him. She said she only meant to play a joke. He was never heard from again. Had the poor young man stumbled around blindly and perhaps fallen into the river and drowned? No one knows, and his body was never found. Yet visitors and park employees have heard Melissa wandering around, calling for the man, long after her death. Some have even seen her apparition.
And then there is the Bottomless Pit. How many people may have taken that last step into eternity before the pit was discovered by Stephen Bishop?
Floyd Collins was a cave explorer who discovered Crystal Cave, which is located on Flint Ridge, not far from Mammoth Cave. The cave was on the Collins family farm. The whole underground system of caves could very well all be linked together. This is one thing Collins was working on, to see if his cave connected to Mammoth Cave by some hidden passageways. Crystal Cave was a magnificent find, but access to the cave was not suitable for tourists. Collins began exploring further for a more accessible entrance -- the thought of having a profitable income from tourists for his parents, brother and himself pushed him to explore every option.
On January 30, 1925, when Floyd was exploring a new passageway, he got stuck when loose rocks fell and one larger rock pinned his foot down. Floyd was wedged between the rock and the wall. The rock would not budge and Floyd was stuck. When it was discovered that Floyd was missing, a search was carried out. All rescue attempts had failed. A further collapse of loose rock completely blocked Floyd from help. Somehow, food and water was sent down to Floyd. On February 16, about three weeks after Floyd became trapped, workers found him from a shaft that had been drilled down a short distance away. They were three days late, for Floyd had already died. Since his death, Floyd has been heard from his lonely and dark trap, calling out for help.
The complete story of Floyd Collins, his tragic end, and the "Cave Wars" that started a frenzy of cave explorations by local land owners, is written in great detail by Troy Taylor, and can be read at the link below.
MAMMOTH CAVE: The World's Largest Haunted Place by Troy Taylor.
Learn more about Stephen Bishop, a fascinating man: