Mammoth Cave: Weird stories of fish, TB, mummies and more

Mammoth Cave in Kentucky is the largest known cave system in the world and one of the United States’ oldest tourist attractions. Because of its unusual geological characteristics, the cave has been a backdrop for downright odd aspects of human endeavors. Even nature has tossed in some weirdness for good measure.

The first time I visited Mammoth Cave National Park was as a child. What I remember most are the odd tales told by the tour guide. Of course, the vastness of the various chambers and the narrow squeezes of passageways between them did add a mysterious awe to my experience but the guide’s stories are what have resonated.

When I revisited Mammoth Cave as an adult years later, the weird details I remembered were still part of the tour guide’s routine. If you visit the cave, depending upon the tour you take, perhaps these details will stay with you also. Tours range from 30 minutes to more than four hours.

For 10 weird things about Mammoth Cave, keep reading.

10 Weird (or unusual )Things about Mammoth Cave

Weirdness 1: This is more unusual than weird but it is information that you can pull out at a party. If you put the second and third longest caves together, Mammoth Cave would still be the world’s longest by 100 miles.

Weirdness 2: In 1830, a preacher would gather people together for church in the cave. He would take all their lanterns, set the lanterns at the edge of the rock ledge where he stood, and preach about good and evil and the fear of God. The people couldn’t leave because he had the lanterns.

Weirdness 3:
Stephen Bishop, a 17-year-old slave, gave tours of the cave to wealthy white people until he was sold (along with the cave) to a new owner. Under his new owner, Bishop became one of the cave’s greatest explorers and, even after he gained freedom, was unable to move away from the cave’s pull despite his plans to move to Liberia. He died from unknown causes a year after he became free.

Weirdness 4: Because large portions of Mammoth Cave are dry, items left there can remain intact for years and years and years. This includes dead bats and bodies of Native Americans who lived in the area thousands of years ago. (Keep this weirdness in mind; it is connected to Weirdness 5.

Weirdness 5: The mummified bodies of the Native Americans were taken outside of the cave to be used as traveling shows.

Weirdness 6: The traveling mummy shows helped grow interest in Mammoth Cave. When the cave started its reign as a tourist site, it was considered to be exotic.

Weirdness 7: In 1843, a doctor set up a tuberculosis ward in the Main Cave near the Star Chamber where he treated 16 patients. The idea was that because the cave was dry, it would help the patients’ lungs heal. It was a decent idea that didn’t work. Because of the cave’s cool temperatures, plus the fires from cooking and heating, the patients didn’t get better. After patients started to die, the doctor gave up the idea of a cave holding a cure. He died of TB a few years later.

Weirdness 8: In the early 20th century music concerts were held in certain chambers of the cave. This included bringing in food to set up a festive atmosphere.

Weirdness 9: Because of Mammoth’s Cave popularity in the 1920s, people who owned other caves in this part of Kentucky would stop travelers on the road to tell them lies about Mammouth Cave in order to get visitors to come to their caves instead.

Weirdness 10: There is a river that flows through part of the cave. Because of its darkness, the fish that live in it don’t have eyes. Depending upon the tour of the cave you take, you can travel by boat on this river.

Bonus weirdness: Up until 1976, the remains of a Native American named “Lost John” was on display in one part of the cave at the spot where he died. In 1976, it became illegal to have dead bodies on display in national parks so he was buried near where he was found.

The blind fish, Lost John and the TB hospital are the three things I remember the most. These recollections add to my thoughts about why it’s important to travel with children.

The details of the places children visit can instill a sense of mystery, curiosity and wonder that can last for a lifetime. Those feelings can keep you traveling.

First all female African American flight crew makes history

I love good news from the aviation world – it really does bring a smile to my face amongst all the doom and gloom stories out there.

A good example of something great comes from regional carrier Atlantic Southeast Airlines. For the first time in history, a domestic US flight was staffed by an all female African American flight crew.

The 4 – Captain Rachelle Jones, First Officer Stephanie Grant, and flight attendants Diana Galloway and Robin Rogers probably did not know that they were about to make history when they boarded their flight from Atlanta to Nashville.

When the crew realized the importance of their flight, they were naturally quite excited, and captain Jones said ” this could be a first, so let’s be on our P’s and Q’s”.

ASA President Brad Holt issued the following statement: “Not only are these women gifted in their professions, but they set examples for young people across the country that with hard work, passion and determination, the sky is the limit.”

Atlantic Southeast Airlines has a special contact page, where you can leave your own message of congratulations to the crew of flight 5202.

Other tales from the skies
Amazing and insane stories from a real-life flight attendant and co-pilot

Black History Month: A look at places to visit year round.

Black History month sped by this year. In my mind, a history month merely indicates those places that should be on our radar year around. Here are several places and events we’ve covered in the past. Hopefully in your travels between now and next February, you’ll be able to head to one or two of them. As I read through the posts, the scope of African American history in the U.S. struck me. I knew that before, but it’s good to review the vastness, and how African American history is such an important part of the U.S. fabric that ties the country together in such a unique, diverse way.

To see more than one significant site, take an African-American heritage tour. This post lists several. The photo is of the painting “Neighborhood” by African American artist Jacob Lawrence who created a series of paintings on the Great Migration–the movement of African Americans to northern cities. The paintings are part of the collection at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.

Eatonville, Zora Neale Hurston’s hometown, a unique Orlando alternative

Here is a place I wish I had known about earlier. December before last my family and I were in Orlando, Florida doing the Disney World thing. If I would have known about Eatonville, writer Zora Neale Hurston’s hometown, I would have felt compelled to go and see the murals at the town’s oldest church. They tell a bit of the story of the United States’ racial fabric.

Eatonville, the first black-town to have incorporated in the United States, is six miles north of Orlando. For the most part, driving through Eatonville sounds like it would be similar to driving through many small towns in the United States–towns without any particular markings that make them unique except to the people who live there.

Eatonville’s history is what sets it apart, and the fact that it has kept its identity through the changes for the last decades. The fact that it’s so close to the mega commercial build up of this part of Florida fascinates me.

It reminds me of the hidden stories all around the world. Tourists head to tourist destinations often unaware about the depth of the surrounding areas. When I read about Eatonville in the New York Times, its story compelled me to want to know more about this town. Lately the town is becoming more used to outsiders wandering in. The Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts in January bring visitors in by the thousands.

The descriptions of the apprehension of the people in Eatonville towards people not from there visiting reminds me a bit of what my mother’s hometown in southeastern Kentucky is like. Because of the stereotypes of Appalachian culture there has been a bit of an unease at times when visitors, particularly from the north, have shown up in town for a look-see. Over the years, the suspicion has waned, but when I was a child I heard about the wariness from the people who felt wary.

Civil War bus tour in Washington, D.C.

Jeffrey recently wrote a post about the Gettysburg electric map that depicts this battle in different colored electric lights. The map may become no more, but here is a new opportunity to learn about the Civil War. In Washington, D.C., starting Memorial Day weekend, the bus tour “Civil War Washington: Soldiers and Citizens” will be taking people to several sites important to the time period.

On the list of stops:

  • Lincoln Cottage on the grounds of the U.S. Armed Forces Retirement Home. This is where Abe Lincoln went to as a summer retreat.
  • Fort Stevens which was attacked during the Civil War
  • The African American Civil War Memorial
  • Peterson House where Lincoln died. He was taken to this house from the Ford Theater where he was shot.

As with any bus tour worth the money, this tour gives insider type information like how Matthew Brady, a Civil War photographer attempted to get his shots. For information about the tour, click here.