Mammoth Cave in Kentucky USA - Hauntings and History
Staircase Tower in Mammoth Cave ~
Tourist Attraction ~
The second largest tourist attraction in the United States is Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, which is also the longest cave system in the world. With semi-subterranean waterways, it is a fascinating place to visit. The hauntings and history of the cave are just as fascinating as the immense size.
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 peering into dark, dusty corridors is a unique experience.
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.
Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, USA
Human Remains ~
The earliest known people to use the cave were Native Americans from pre-Columbian times. Hunters-gatherers lived in the area over 12,000 years ago. These people hunted the bison and mastodons. Evidence has shown that ritualistic ceremonies were held by the hunters-gatherers. They more than likely used parts of the cave for storage of their meats and other food items. The dark coolness of the cave, which stays at a constant temperature, would have been ideal for food storage.
Mummies found in the cave are those of Native American peoples from pre-Columbian 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. In Mammoth and other caves in the area, remains of Native American peoples have been recovered. Some mummies found are indicative of ancient ceremonial burial and unique funerary practice.
One miner from pre-Columbian times was found in 1935 under a boulder that had fallen on him. The victim was given the name "Lost John" and reburied somewhere in an undisclosed location in Mammoth Cave.
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?
The remains of Lost John were put on display in a glass case for tourists to see. In the 1970s political sensitivities regarding respect and beliefs of Native American people, the remains of Lost John were removed from display and buried in a non-disclosed final resting place. Ancient human remains and artifacts in Mammoth Cave and other caves in the area are protected under federal and state laws. Some areas of the cave are accessible for archaeological research only.
Mammoth Cave Map drawn by Stephen Bishop in 1842 ~
Stephen Bishop ~
One of those spirits who reside in the underground labyrinths may be that of Stephen 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 about geology. His interest, curiosity, love and extensive knowledge of underground systems opened up a whole new world of discoveries and amazing sites for cave explorers, writers, photographers, and, of course, tourists.
The park covers 52,830 acres outside the cave -- the majority of the park is in Edmonson County Kentucky. Small portions of the park extend east into Hart County and Barren County. It is a beautiful area with the Green River running through the center of the park. Another river, Nolin river, is a tributary, which flows into Green River.
Bishop's interest in the cave became his lifelong 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. Bishop also named most of the areas in the cave system.
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.
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?
Bishop and Franklin Gorin discovered the bottomless pit. Bishop was the first person to cross over the pit and that courageous act opened up whole new discoveries beyond.
It was Stephen Bishop who began the tradition of naming the areas of the cave, like the River Styx, which in ancient Egypt mythology was the name of the Underworld river. After Stephen's death in 1859, Franklin Gorin wrote about Stephen.
"I placed a guide in the cave -- the celebrated and great Stephen, and he aided in making the discoveries. He was the first person who ever crossed the Bottomless Pit, and he, myself and another person whose name I have forgotten were the only persons ever at the bottom of Gorin's Dome to my knowledge.
"After Stephen crossed the Bottomless Pit, we discovered all that part of the cave now known beyond that point. Previous to those discoveries, all interest centered in what is known as the "Old Cave" . . . but now many of the points are but little known, although as Stephen was wont to say, they were 'grand, gloomy and peculiar.'
"Stephen was a self-educated man. He had a fine genius, a great fund of wit and humor, some little knowledge of Latin and Greek, and much knowledge of geology, but his great talent was a knowledge of man." - Franklin Gorin (1798 - 1877)
Bishop was buried on a hill above the cave in what became known as "The Old Guides Cemetery"
Bottomless Pit ~
Stephen Bishop's tombstone ~
Doctor John Croghan ~
In 1839, John Croghan (1790 - 1849), medical doctor, purchased 2,000 acres which included Mammoth Cave. Inside the cave, Croghan set up a tuberculosis center for experimental purposes. He believed that the humidity and constant temperature in the cave would cure the patients. Over the next ten years, he worked with cases of tuberculosis.
Croghan had eleven huts built within the cave to house and treat his patients. Over time, his project failed as patients continued to die. Dr. Croghan, himself, eventually contracted and died from tuberculosis.
Is this why some visitors have heard strange coughing sounds in the area of the huts? Did some souls linger on in that area? Are the noises of their suffering still heard?
Ranger guided tour of Mammoth Cave ~
Young Melissa ~
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. Did the poor young man stumble around blindly and perhaps fallen into the river and drowned? Or is it possible he found the bottomless pit and disappeared into it? 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.
The young man whom Melissa fell in love with was William Beverleigh of New England. The story of Melissa and William was fiction and written by Lillie Devereaux Blake and published anonymously in The Knickerbocker magazine as the deathbed confession from Melissa and titled "A Tragedy of Mammoth Cave".
Even though the story was fiction, there are many who believe there is more to it and that it either has some truth in it or it manifested an actual spirit of Melissa wandering in the cave, searching for William. Even a few of the Rangers have reported seeing or hearing Melissa.
Melissa's death wish ~
"... to reenter that dark Cave, the threshold of which I have not crossed for fifteen years, and there I will patiently wait the coming of that death, which I hope to me will be a blessed release. The gloom and horror to which, years ago, I doomed my victim, shall be around me when I die : for I think that perhaps amid the silent rocks which witnessed my crime, my last prayer for forgiveness will find acceptance."
- Melissa's confession in Blake's fiction story.
Author's thoughts on the spirit of Melissa ~
I know from personal experience that strong thoughts can cause a manifestation of a spirit - even a fictional spirit like Melissa. The author of the book that had the Melissa character in it must have thought a lot about the story of the young girl and most likely felt a strong affinity to her sorrow.
I once found a house in Montana (online) that I fell in love with and felt a very strong pull to it, as if I had lived there before. The house was for sale and I inquired about it.
I could not afford the house and could not get it out of my mind. I thought about it so often that it created sorrow in me. One day the real estate agent emailed me and asked me to get my thoughts out of that house, for I was creating a manifestation of a spirit that wandered through the house. A few potential buyers complained about the house being haunted. I was shocked and sincerely apologized then worked hard to forget the house and the "spirit" eventually vanished.
Floyd Collins, 1887 - 1925 ~
Floyd Collins ~
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 narrow passageway in Sand Cave, he got stuck when loose rocks fell -- one larger rock fell on his foot and the foot was wedged between the rock and a wall. The rock would not budge and Floyd was helpless. He had not told anyone that he was going into Sand Cave. A few days later, when it was discovered that Floyd was missing, a search was carried out. He was found in Sand Cave, 150 feet from the entrance, cold, hungry and in pain. Rescuers were able to pass through some food to Floyd, but, all attempts to free him failed.
A further collapse of loose rock completely blocked off Floyd from help. On February 16, about six 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.
Floyd Collins tombstone ~
River Styx tour in Mammoth Cave ~
Underground Rivers and Tours ~
There are semi-subterranean waterways, like River Styx, flowing through the caves. One can take a guided cave boat tour which would be a unique memory for your vacation albums. The National Park Service provides guided tours throughout the accessible parts of the cave system. These lighted tours include 'Grand Avenue, 'Frozen Niagara', and 'Fat Man's Misery'. Depending on which tour you choose, it takes from one to six hours to enjoy.
For the more adventuresome tourist, there are some tours that get a little wild, which will take you off the beaten path and into some muddy crawl spaces and dusty old tunnels. Lectures are provided on each tour by a National Parks Service guide. Each tour has a different lecture so that visitors can learn more about the different facets of the cave system.
The history of the Mammoth Cave is just as fascinating as the tours and immense size of the whole system. There is evidence of human beings living in the area spans six thousand years.
There are, of course, legends tied to the discovery of Mammoth Cave. It seems that two brothers, John and Francis Houchin, when out hunting in 1797, were the first Europeans to discover the cave. The story goes that one of them tracked a wounded bear to a spot where a large opening exposed the cave interior. This was near the Green River. Frank Houchin owned land not far from the cave. However, other entrances to the cave system was apparently on Houchin's land. A book titled 'The Longest Cave', written by Brucker and Watson, asserts that the cave was known long before the Houchin brothers chased that bear into it.
Research in the late 1950s, led by Patty Jo Watson of Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, showed that prehistoric hunter-gatherers inhabited the area. The hunter-gatherers eventually learned how to domesticate and cultivate edible plants and began an agricultural society.
Explorations over time have connected all the shorter caves in the area into one huge Mammoth Cave. Currently, the cave system is recorded at 390 miles of passages and corridors -- yet the cave seems to be growing since new discoveries are made yearly. It is believed that there are many more chambers and passageways yet to be found, which adds to the mystery of Mammoth Cave. It will be interesting to find out what else is within those unexplored chambers that may hold secrets of the past.
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Mammoth Cave National Park is a World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Preserve.
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Phyllis Doyle Burns, Lantern Carrier
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Mammoth Cave tour and history
© 2013 Phyllis Doyle Burns