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.

Continental Airlines reduces flights to Mexico

In response to the swine flu outbreak in Mexico, Continental Airlines is cutting the number of fights to Mexico by 40% and reducing the size of the planes making the trips. Because the demand for Mexico travel has gone way, way, way down, the airlines is taking these cost cutting measures.

The cuts are in effect starting Monday and are expected to be only temporary. Also, for folks who already have tickets, the airline is letting people change their itineraries until the end of the month.

Depending on demand, more adjustments could be made. Hopefully, people’s places of employment will be understanding and let people adjust vacation days, otherwise insult could be added to injury. What good is the ability to change an itinerary if the rest of life doesn’t make an adjustment? [El Paso Times]

Lariam Dreams (which pills do you pop?)

If you’ve traveled to a tropical country, you’ve probably heard of Mefloquine. It is the most popular prophylactic against malaria, and is often sold under its trade name, Lariam. Lariam can have some serious side effects such as depression, anxiety, paranoia, nightmares and insomnia. You might say, “having nightmares is better than catching malaria and ending up in a hospital or worse.” I’m sure everyone would agree with that.

But when you wake up in a strange foreign land after a Lariam-induced nightmare…and you aren’t quite sure if you are really awake or if your waking state is just another extension of your dream, it can be pretty unnerving.

After such an experience, you might ask yourself if it is really necessary to ingest Mefloquine every time you enter a tropical region. I’ve known people who pop the little pills once a week when they are in Hong Kong or Singapore where the chance of catching malaria is akin to the chance that you will win the lottery. I guess some travelers choose to err on the side of caution when they enter any unfamiliar place.I haven’t even mentioned the host of shots and other pills that some guidebooks and doctors say you might want to consider. Typhoid is a big one. Cholera is another. Neither of these have vaccines that are 100% effective and they can bring about particularly nasty side effects. That doesn’t stop doctors from recommending them and people from getting the shots.

So what do you really need when you are traveling in a developing, tropical country? I guess it depends on how apprehensive you are. For me, Lariam and obscure vaccines are out unless I find that I am entering an area where a particular disease is truly a threat (see the WHO web site if you want to research a country you plan to visit). I also keep up to date on basic immunizations like tetanus and Hep B. And keep in mind, no matter how Lariam happy you get, there are diseases like SARS and H5N1 out there to remind us that health concerns are always going to be a scary part of traveling. And so I ask you, Gadling readers: what do you consider a necessary part of your travel-sized medicine cabinet?

World AIDS Day

AIDS ribbonDecember 1st is recognized as World AIDS Day and as a traveler of this great big planet I saw it fit to post a short something on the deadly epidemic which has killed 25 million people to date according to the United Nations. Yahoo News has an article that summarizes the very basics on areas with high HIV numbers, how you can lend a in helping eliminate AIDS or find a cure. Fighting the battle against HIV/AIDS doesn’t have to involve a coach class flight into Africa to help and teach orphans or teens about the disease, you can start right here, right now, where ever you are. I think many Americans are starting to discover AIDS is hitting a lot closer to home than they previously thought. Wake up and be smart folks. That’s my word and now I’m off to the Red Hot & Riot show at Brooklyn Academy of Music.

GADLING’S TAKE FIVE: Week of October 8

Gadling LogoHappy Friday the 13th all! Time for a little weekly deja vu… Nothing to be scared or panicked about, just relax and review.

5. Dying to Travel:

If avian flu and pandemic disease worry you dare not look at this plug on the interactive risk maps based off the Maplecroft Avian Influenza Risk Index. They might just reveal that avian flu is closer to you than you think. Or you could just be paranoid.

4. Miracle Camping Tub:

Not going to lie – I want one of these. While trying to help his own friend’s overcome some of their camping woes like showering and staying clean, he points us to a spectacular $6,000 gear piece called the Dutchtub and helps all and anyone out that has $6,000 bucks to spend on the equipment. Until that day arrives for me, bird baths it is!

3. Hidden Gems: Crazy Horse:
The Crazy Horse Memorial found in South Dakota’s Black Hills isn’t the most hidden of gems and I’m sure you may have heard of it at some point in your life, but have you been? If your answer is no then my question is what on Earth are you waiting for? Check out this Native American great in this Hidden Gems review.

2. Slum Tourism:
Some of us avoid slums by all means while others are out with video cam in tow. Could touring someone’s poverty stricken life be the latest in tourist trends or a insensitive means of dropping in and getting out when things get too real, too terrible, and too poor? Check out the story Erik directs us to and see what side of the picket-fence you’re on.

1. French Say NON! to Smoking in Public Places:

I think this one says it all! Cheers to good health prevailing! But, oh, yes, there is that part of French culture you have to worry about as Erik mentions in his blurb, that one must think about and hope isn’t necessarily ruined by the no smoking in public places rule. I think it’s marvelous and the French, they’ll be okay.