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SCARY STORIES OF MAMMOTH CAVE

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Few people in history are elevated to the status of being remembered primarily by their first names: Jesus, Napoleon, Floyd. What!? You don't know Floyd? Then I must tell you his story and why cavers know him so well.

The section of the Mammoth Cave System where cavers most often encounter the unexplainable is Floyd Collins Crystal Cave. Crystal Cave was found to be connected to Mammoth Cave in September, 1972. The connection between the Flint Ridge Cave System (which Crystal Cave is a part of) and the Mammoth Cave System made Mammoth Cave part of the world's longest known cave system. It is little wonder that those who enter Crystal Cave get the shivers, because for many years the cave was the resting place of the body of the famous caver Floyd Collins who died in 1925. Until Crystal Cave was closed to the public in 1961, tourists could pay Floyd a post-mortem visit, and cave researchers continued to walk by his underground casket until he was re-buried in 1989. Knowing there was a dead man in the cave for more than sixty years may give you an idea of why going into Crystal Cave could be a spooky experience, but one cannot truly appreciate Floyd and his after death antics unless one knows the whole story.

Floyd Collins, like many people around Mammoth

Cave, had a passion for caves. And like many people

around Mammoth Cave, he had a passion for making

money from caves. Floyd and his family discovered

the cave, and guided tours in it. They also sold arti-

facts found underground, but Floyd wanted in on the

real action.

Since the early 1800s, there have been guided tours

through the caves of south central Kentucky. By the

beginning of the twentieth century the increased com-

petition for the tourist dollar led to cave wars between

commercial caves. Show-cave employees would dress

like police officers and stand at information booths

along the road to stop travelers bound for Mammoth

Cave. In the quest for more customers, these solicitors

did their best to direct tourists to their employer's cave.

The Collins family was losing the cave wars. Crystal

was a beautiful cave, but was farther off the beaten path

than the other show caves. It was off an old dirt road

and offered no modern accommodations for travelers.

Floyd knew a better location was needed to attract

tourists. He found a cave he named Sand Cave along

the main highway leading to Mammoth Cave. He knew

that by stopping tourists on their way to Mammoth, he

would get plenty of business if Sand Cave was of show

quality. So Floyd set out to explore Sand Cave.

Although he was an experienced caver, Floyd often

broke one of the most important rules of caving -never

cave alone. If you run into trouble, there is no one to

help you or to get help. On January 30, 1925, while

exploring Sand Cave alone, a thirty-five pound rock

slipped and caught Floyd's foot, trapping him in a low,

narrow passage with no one to hear his calls for help.

Floyd was missed the next day. Friends went to

Sand Cave fearing the worst. They called down into the

cave and heard Floyd yell back, "Come to me, I'm hung

up." He asked them to send for his brother Homer and

his friend Johnny Gerald, a caving companion who had

freed him when he had once been stuck in Crystal

Cave.

Family and friends were soon there. Those who

were small enough and brave enough could actually

crawl down to floyd and feed him while they worked

on freeing him from his underground prison.

What began as a local cave rescue quickly erupted

into much more. Newspapers soon got word of the

event. Radio stations and motion picture companies

heard as well. As the nation learned of Floyd's plight,

they wanted daily updates on the rescue attempt. Peo-

ple were snapping up papers as soon as they hit the

newsstand, causing huge numbers of extra editions to

be printed. To hear about Floyd, listeners tuned their

radios to special broadcasts that interrupted regular

programming. Silent movie theaters featured news-

reels showing the rescuers at work.

When the media ran out of fresh news, they turn-

ed to whatever colorful stories they could come up

with. Reporters wrote of Floyd's sweetheart, who stood

by the cave entrance calling to her lover, and Floyd's

faithful dog, who refused to eat or leave the cave en-

trance until his master was safe. It was beside the

point that Floyd showed little interest in women and

the family dog probably did not know that Floyd was

trapped.

All the publicity brought plenty of curious people to

Sand Cave. So many arrived on the weekend that the

atmosphere of Sand Cave was like a carnival. The coun-

try road leading to the rescue site was choked bumper

to bumper with cars and horse-drawn vehicles. The

L&N Railroad added extra coaches to its Louisville to

Cave City train. Stands selling hot dogs and hamburgers

were set up to feed the crowds. Booths were set up to

sell cave onyx, heal-all elixers, moonshine, and balloons

with SAND CAVE printed on them. The rescue scene

was so macabre that it eventually inspired the movie

Ace in the hole starring Kirk Douglas, about the carnival

scene that sprang up when a man was trapped in a mine

shaft.

About the fifth day of Floyd's entrapment, a rock fall

occured in Sand Cave. Rescue workers stopped crawling

all the way to Floyd, although they could hear his voice

awhile longer. They decided to dig a shaft to get to him,

since rescuing him through the natural passage was

proving to be impossible.

More than two weeks after the ordeal began, the

shaft reached Floyd. A rescue worker scrambled down

to him, but Floyd was dead. The sad, but unsurprising

information was quickly relayed to the Collins family

and the rest of the country, who had adopted Floyd as

their own. Floyd's body remained in the cave for two

and a half months before being brought out through a

second shaft. He was buried on Collins family land near

Crystal Cave.

After a couple of years at rest, Floyd had to make

another move. His father, Lee Collins, sold Crystal Cave

to Dr. H. B. Thomas, a local dentist already in the

commercial cave business. With the purchase, Dr.

Thomas obtained permission to move Floyd's body into

Crystal Cave for display in a glass topped coffin. His

facial features were restored by a mortician to make

him presentable. Floyd was more successful attracting

customers to Crystal Cave after his death than he was

in life.

Two years into his stint as a tourist attraction,

Floyd's body was abducted. The body (supposedly

minus the left leg) was soon found near the Green

River. Perhaps owners of rival caves felt that getting

rid of Floyd would lessen the competition from Crystal

Cave. Or had Dr. Thomas arranged the theft knowing

it would bring publicity to Crystal Cave?

After most of Floyd was recovered and returned, Dr.

Thomas replaced the coffin's glass lid with a regular

coffin's lid. This did not stop visitors from lifting the lid

occasionally to take a peek at Floyd.

In 1961, the National Park Service purchased Crystal

Cave and tours ended. Floyd stayed in his subterranean

repose with only occasional visits from researchers,

cavers, and park staff until he was moved to the

Mammoth Cave Babtist Church Cemetery in 1989.

Unusual experiences in Crystal Cave have caused many people to wonder if Floyd was not content just to lie around after he was put at rest in the cave.

In 1954, the Collin's Crystal Cave expedition (C-3 for short) was conducted to explore Crystal Cave's lower levels. Cavers Roy Charlton, Roger McClure, and Roger Brucker were exploring far back in the cave when they heard a voice call "Wait!" The cavers stopped, thinking someone else from the expedition might be trying to catch up with them. Several minutes passed and nothing else was heard. They laughingly attributed the voice to the little men, the imaginary little people cavers sometimes blame strange noises on. They concluded that another party must have been working in the same part of the cave. Upon returning to the base camp they checked the logbook to see if any other cavers had been in that area. The eerie feeling they had felt earlier returned when the cavers learned that no other parties had been in that part of the cave.

Other members of the C-3 expedition also heard voices in the cave. Joe Lawrence, Jr. said he and his companion waited half an hour for someone to join them when they heard talking in the distance, but nobody came. Unexplainable noises and sightings have long been a part of caving. If the little people are not at fault, mythological cave creatures called Hodags often take the blame.

According to the stories, Floyd has a wide repertoire of tricks to draw from. Some people say if Floyd has nothing to say, he will get your attention another way!

In the early 1970s, some National Park Service employees were on a trip in Crystal Cave. Most of the party went beyond Floyd's resting place to see the gypsum formations that cover Crystal's walls. Park rangers Robert and Zona Cetera stayed near the casket to photograph it. While setting off a flash, Bob heard footsteps in the gravel. Zona, who was standing by the camera across the room, heard it too. When the rest of the party returned about an hour later, they told the Ceteras that nobody had left their group. The footsteps came from the side of the room opposite the passage the party had taken, so if someone had sneaked off to play a joke, Bob and Zona would have seen them cross the room.

While taking a cave class, caver Candice Leek was moving through a rough, rocky section of Unknown-Crystal Cave when she tripped and began to fall into a five-foot-deep canyon. She knew that bones would break when she hit the hard limestone bottom. Then:

Suddenly, a strong hand grabbed me

from behind on my right upper arm. After

I regained my balance I turned and said,

"Thank you, Richard," [another caver] but

no one was there! Richard was on the

other side of the passage. I wonder if

Floyd saved me? I uttered a quick, "Thank

you, Floyd," and left the cave.

On a training trip into Crystal Cave in 1987, a party of National Park Service employees walked through a dirt passage Floyd and his brothers had excavated just beyond the casket containing Floyd's body. On the return trip through the passage, a sound like someone flipping his fingers on a drinking glass caused ranger Charles Hanion to look to see what it was. At that time he noticed an old whiskey bottle, perched on one of the sandy shelves of the passage, begin to move outward from the wall and dropped to the floor, without breaking, as he was walking. He gave an accusatory laugh directed toward the members of the group in front of him and said, "Who did that?!" But denials came from all around. Nobody ever admitted to rigging the bottle to fall.

An old whiskey bottle is not the only thing cavers have reported hearing Floyd ring. Will White tells about an experience he and fellow researcher George Deike had in Crystal Cave.

The date was July 22, 1961. That much

is certain because it was recorded in my

field notebook. George Deike and I were

on our way to Lost Passage, me to collect

data on breakdown and George to collect

data for his dissertation. We were just be-

ginning to descend into Grand Canyon

when there came a ringing sound. I looked

at George to see if he had maybe banged

his carbide lamp against the steel handrail

of the tourist trail. He was looking at me

puzzled, wondering the same thing. Then

the ringing sound came again, definitely

from the darkness at the bottom of the can-

yon. It was one of those moments. We had

to know what it was and we both started run-

ning down the trail toward the sound. A few

moments later we were standing between

the coffin and the telephone box nearby. The

ringing sound came a third time. We were

immensely relieved to find that the sound

came from the telephone and not from the

coffin.

I picked up the phone. It was the old

army type with a butterfly switch to talk.

What I heard in the receiver was what you

hear when someone you've called lays down

the phone to go get something but there are

other people in the room. You hear noises

from the room and scraps of background

conversation, but generally can't make out

what is being said. So I clicked the switch

and said, "Hello, is someone trying to call

Crystal Cave?" Then there was a sound like

someone had picked up the receiver on the

other end. So I said again, "Hello, is some-

one trying to call Crystal Cave?" There was a

startled gasp and the line went dead.

There was no further response from the

telephone (or the coffin), so we continued

on to Lost Passage to do our fieldwork.

Several hours later we returned, walking

down Dyer Avenue, approaching the coffin

with some trepidation. All was silent....

On the way out of the cave we traced

the phone wires back to the entrance and

up the hill toward the old ticket office. Near

the ticket office the cut ends of the line

were dangling from a pole with no further

connection to anything.

One account makes it appear that Floyd has not limited his activities to inside the caves. George Wood and a companion were checking springs as part of a ground water study in June, 1976. The last on their list was Pike Spring near Crystal Cave. While sitting and enjoying the quiet of the evening in a truck awaiting his partner's return from the spring, George had an experience worth telling:

My reverie was broken by a man shou-

ting in the distance. At first I thought it

was Bill calling for help, but the voice

wasn't pitched low enough. The sound was

so faint that I had to listen carefully in or-

der to understand what was being said.

Whoever it was cried, "Help! Help me,

I'm trapped. Johnnie help me!" over and

over again.

That shook me!

George's partner soon returned.

As we were driving home I asked him

if he had heard any shouting. He replied

that he hadn't. I then told him what had

happened. He asked me if I had known

that Floyd's body was in Crystal Cave just

down the hill from where we parked. I

hadn't. We were both a little spooked then

and Bill entertained me the rest of the way

with Floyd Collins stories.

A few months later, a co-worker heard

the story and decided to do some checking

on "Johnnie." We expected him to find sev-

eral Johnnies that Floyd had known. He

found only one, John "Johnnie" Gerald, a

good friend of Floyd's, one of many peo-

ple who tried to rescue Collins from Sand

Cave, and one of the last to talk with him

before a ceiling collapse sealed him off

from any rescue attempts. Floyd Collins

died shortly after the collapse, alone in the

dark and the cold. Did I hear Floyd's ghost

crying out, or was it my imagination? I

don't know, I can only wonder.

Of course, knowing you are sharing your underground space with a dead man can get the old imagination going and cause you to hear or see things that in a less spooky place you would dismiss as nothing. Most people (including those mentioned in these stories) who have entered Crystal Cave since the 1960s are people seriously interested in caves who are not looking for scary or weird things to occur. But, unusual things can happen even when your mind is on other business.

Geologists Art and Peg Palmer have spent many years doing research and exploring caves throughout the world. Usually they return to the surface with the information they expected to find. Crystal is the one cave that has also given them the unexpected. Here Art Palmer tells of two unusual experiences:

The two of us were in the upper (southern)

end of the Lost Passage on a lengthy photo

trip. I was setting up for a sensuous por-

trayal of chert nodules, when I became

aware of a rhythmic pounding from down

the passage. It was intense, but muffled,

as though someone were beating vigorously

with a hammer on a slab of rock about 500

feet away. Eventually Peg looked up and

asked, "What's that noise?" Naturally I

played dumb and said, "What noise?" and

then, "Oh that? It's just the reverberation

of our heartbeats in this domed part of the

ceiling...."

Nice try! The noise was as regular as the

beat of a metronome, with individual

strokes about a second apart, and clearly

coming from down the passage. This was

not the random noise produced by rocks

shifting, bats fluttering, or other natural

causes of "ghostly" phenomena. How about

dripping water? Not only is this section of

passage perfectly dry, but drips produce

high-frequency sounds that dissipate rapidly

over short distances. They certainly could

not produce the low, doom-laden tones that

filled the air. (Sorry, I'm getting carried away

with the spirit of the thing....although that

might not be the proper word to use.) We de-

cided it was time to shift our activities to a

different part of the cave. Ironically, that

meant heading toward the sound. But as we

drew near the apparent source, the sound

faded away.

The overlaying land is uninhabited and

there are no roads. There is no machinery

in the area, and no one else had access to

the cave that week. Few people knew how

to get to that part of the cave, and none of

them were within 100 miles of the cave

that day. In unrelated seismic studies we've

found that intense sledgehammer blows

and truck traffic over 6-inch barriers at the

surface cannot be detected in underlying

caves without sensitive instruments, even

as shallow as a few meters. So what caused

the noise?

Years later it dawned on us that the

sound appeared to emanate from the very

spot where Floyd Collins had set up a

small camp and occasionally paused to eat,

and where he would flatten his bean cans

with a rock. (An insidious grin spreads

across my face....)

Here is Art's second story:

In 1969 three of us witnessed a bizarre

event in Collins Avenue. Peg and I were

taking photos near the cave entrance while

an off-duty ranger descended into the

Grand Canyon to photograph Floyd's

tomb (again note the photographic asso-

ciation.) Suddenly the ranger came huffing

up and gasped, "Did you hear that noise?"

No, we hadn't. So we all headed to the

Grand Canyon and were transfixed by the

loud beating of wings traveling back and

forth along the length of the room near

ceiling level. Evidently a large bird had

entered the cave and was seeking a way

out.

The noise was loud and intense, as

though we were standing beneath a bridge

with a train passing over it (well, not quite

that loud), and with distinct powerful

wing-beats. This was one big bird -maybe

a huge owl or wild turkey. A bat, you say?

Not a chance. Even the largest bats make

only faint fluttering noises reminiscent of a

butterfly on steroids. Strangely, with our

carbide and electric lamps going full blast

we could see nothing, even where the

sound seemed to be less than twenty feet

overhead. Another oddity is that the sound

moved rather slowly, about the speed of a

fast walk. We listened to it come and go

about ten times, then continued on deeper

into the cave. We did not hear it on our

way out a couple of hours later....

As time went on, the improbability

factor began to creep in. The hole in the

entrance gate at that time was barely large

enough to admit a hand, and although a

pigeon could be stuffed into it, the large

bird in question would be unable (and

probably unwilling) to squeeze through.

Moreover, our geologic surveying has

brought us over every part of the Grand

Canyon and many more miles of the

Mammoth Cave System, and we have

never found the slightest evidence for a

bird -no droppings, feathers, or bones....

Art Palmer reflects the feelings of many others that hear and see the unexplained in Crystal and the rest of the Mammoth Cave System.

Have we renounced science and be-

come ghost hunters? Naw. There must be

a rational explanation for these sounds....

What perks us up is that these, and

many other strange phenomena in the

Mammoth Cave System, are still unex-

plained. We may never know what caused

them, and in some ways I hope we do

not....

Added some line spacing to make it a little easier to read.

Edited by TalonRider

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