A SHORT LESSON IN GEOLOGY AND CHEMISTRY
MANY hurry to and through and away from Mammoth Cave; but let us go in a more leisurely manner. Suppose we begin by a stroll amid the rounded hills that environ Cincinnati. We find their flanks full of corals, shells, crinoids, and other marine objects by myriads. These are fossils, yet perfect as if freshly cast up from the sea. But we observe that the limestone lies in thin, level layers, with no signs of volcanic or earthquake action. They were gently cut down by an undermining process that left no caverns, because the strata are so thin that they can not hold together. This is the same Lower Silurian formation that elsewhere made the famous "bluegrass region," causing Central Kentucky to be the fairest bit of the globe's surface known.
Go by steamboat down the Ohio to Madison, Indiana, and the scenery changes with the geology. Near the river are still seen the thin blue limestone strata that we saw at Cincinnati, but capped by the marble heights of the Upper Silurian. Cascades from the cliffs wash out the thinner, softer material, making wide, shallow grottoes, each being, as a rule, at the head of a ravine, which is a cave in ruins.
At the charming city of Louisville we encounter another geological change, and meet a striking proof that the region was once flooded by the ocean, namely, the grand old coral reef over which tumble the Falls of the Ohio. It used to bristle with branching corals like stag-horns and was strewn with tens of thousands of more delicate varieties, car-loads of which have since been carried away; but enough remain to show that all this country was uplifted by continental forces from a primeval sea. Probably its altitude was once above the present level, to which it has been reduced by causes some of which are still at work.
Rambling through the valleys and examining their rocky beds, we find fissures no doubt caused by that continental uplifting to which we have referred. These cracks, or "joints," are visible over large areas, wherever the country rock is exposed. Usually they run at nearly right angles with one another, north and south lines crossing those from east to west. The joint-walls may closely fit, or have been parted to make channels by which falling rain might be drained.
You have noticed that soda-water roughens and eats away the marble slab on which the soda-fountain rests. On asking the reason you are told that it is due to the carbonic acid gas (carbon dioxide) with which the water is charged. In nature this same gas is formed by the decay of animal and vegetable matter. Rainwater absorbs it from the atmosphere and while sinking through the loam and soil, it also takes up humous acids, which aid in the work of corrasion effected on reaching the limestone. Mechanical energy assists chemical action in slowly dissolving and removing the limestone particles,
All limestone caves, great and small, were carved by this slow yet irresistible process. The downward flow follows the joints till a lateral "bedding-plane," or something else, turns the stream horizontally, when there results a widening of the passageway. Should the roof collapse there would be "a tumble-down" within and perhaps a "sink-hole" without. Should the cave cut through from one bedding-plane to another, a series of galleries would result; the upper ones dry as tinder and the lower ones wet with water that finally reaches the drainage level, whence it emerges into some open valley.
Occasionally the whirling water bores straight down through all galleries, making what is termed a pit, or a dome, according to the point of view. Standing pools deposit nitrous earth and various other mineral substances. Water trickling through the roof evaporates, each drop laying down its load of the bicarbonate of lime to create a stalactite; or a stalagmite if it first falls on the floor. A general and convenient term is "dripstone," masses of which are found at almost any crossing of the joint-planes. Should "fixed air" (carbon dioxide), which is fifteen times as heavy as the atmosphere, settle into the lower parts of any cave, it would make visiting dangerous or fatal. But air currents and other causes make every part of Mammoth Cave free from any except the sweetest, purest air ever inhaled.
APPROACHING MAMMOTH CAVE
According to an authentic article in the Louisville Courier-Journal for September 29, 1901, the managers of Mammoth Cave, having occasion to examine the records at Bowling Green, found that cave designated as a corner of a section of land in 1797; which antedates by some years the threadbare legend of Houchins and the wounded bear.
During the saltpeter times, 1812-1816, elsewhere described, men came and went in carts or on horseback. Seventy years ago Dr. Davidson told the Transylvania University about visiting the "Green River country," so called in honor of General Nathaniel Green, the hero of Eutaw Springsnot for its emerald tint. He hired a barouche at Henderson and traversed a dozen counties to Mammoth Cave, which Dr. John Croghan had just purchased for $10,000, intending to "clear out the avenues and make them accessible for an omnibus to the distance of three or four miles, and erect a sort of hotel in the Temple" (the old name of the Chief City).
Charmingly did Julius Benedict, sixty years ago, narrate the adventures of Jenny Lind and her party, as they went "by the very worst road in the United States, but amid most delightful forest scenery," from Nashville to Bowling Green, and thence to Bell's Tavern, that famous old hostelry. The rest of their journey lay along the edge of "jagged, abrupt glens, along sweeping meadows and budding woodlands," to the queer old building where "Dr. Croghan did the honors of his subterranean dominions in the most agreeable manner."
As recently as my own early visits a line of stage coaches ran from Cave City, owned by Andy McCoy and managed by Henry C. Ganter, who still entertains willing listeners at the Cave hotel by his racy stories of pioneer days. How grandly the bugle-flourish used to herald the coming stage-coach, and how everybody used to rush to greet the passengers, and how eagerly the negro servants cared for the luggage! Guests still come by carriage, on horseback, or by automobile; and many avail themselves of the steamboats plying on Green River, where a system of locks and dams has made it practicable to land within half a mile of the Cave entrance. No more delightful river-ride than this can be found in the Middle West, or more diversified by frowning cliffs, wild forests, opening amphitheatres that smile in summer with rustling fields of corn, with here and there attractive villages and flourishing cities.
But the majority avail themselves of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, connecting with the Mammoth Cave Short-line, whose terminus is near the Cave hotel. One enjoys the comforts of modern travel while passing by a magnificent panorama of hill, valley, and undulating plain. "Knobs" several hundred feet high, capped by the Chester sandstone, above the solid St. Louis limestone, appear as cones or pyramids, whose strata remain horizontal from base to apex. Amid the Knobs run stream-swept valleys. In level regions are fertile farms, though frequently the soil is iron-stained a fiery red. One could hardly find anywhere a more charming trip by rail than from Louisville to Glasgow Junction, or one more unique than from the latter station to Mammoth Cave.
Oval depressions abound, styled "sink-holes," because through them the surface water sinks out of sight. So numerous are they that one might traverse the cave-region on horseback all day long and not cross an open stream; all the rain water being drained through them to underground gathering-beds, to re-appear in such cave-fed streams as Green River. The Short-line Railway from Glasgow Junction to Mammoth Cave passes a number of remarkably large sink-holes, one of the widest being "Eden Valley," covering two thousand acres, with no inlet or outlet except through pits that are conjectured to lead to the Colossal and the Mammoth caves.
On the authority of the late Professor Shaler it is said that there are four thousand sink-holes and five hundred known caverns in Edmondson County alone. In this little hand-book we can not be expected to give a list of them. In the vicinity of Mammoth Cave are several that have celebrity, and would amply reward the attention of a visitor. Among them may be mentioned Ganter, Diamond, Procter, Salt, and White caves. The last two belong to the Mammoth Cave estate, and are occasionally visited by tourists. The Salt Cave is remarkable for prehistoric relics, and the White Cave for its stalactites. Dixon Cave also is noteworthy as having probably been the original mouth of Mammoth Cave. It is an immense chamber, fifteen hundred feet long, from sixty to eighty feet wide, and from eighty to one hundred and twenty-five feet high, and was once worked for saltpeter. The Colossal Cavern, belonging to the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, is but a mile and a half distant, and is noted for its magnificence.
Thus far the woodman's axe has spared the grand old forest trees on the estate, except as needed for firewood, and many delightful rambles are to be had among them. Game used to abound, and still rewards the skillful hunter, and Green River abounds in fish.
OWNERSHIP OF THE CAVE
Mr. McLean bought the Cave and two hundred acres around it, in 1811, for forty dollars, and soon sold it to Mr. Gatewood, who in turn sold it to Messrs. Gratz and Wilkins, who sent Mr. Archibald Miller from Philadelphia to manage saltpeter works for them during the War of 1812, at a time when an embargo cut off foreign sources of supply. The Cave estate, with sixteen hundred acres of land, passed into the hands of Mr. James Moore, a Philadelphia merchant, in 1816, and when he was ruined by the Burr and Blennerhasset fiasco, Gatewood took it again and made it a "show-cave." Mr. Frank Gorin bought the property in 1837, and made Miller and Moore his agents, with Stephen Bishop and Matt Bransford as guides. Discoveries fo1lowed so fast as to draw public attention at home and abroad.
The fame of this natural wonder reached a young physician of Louisville, Dr. John Croghan, while traveling in Europe, and on his return he became so charmed with the Cave that he bought it from Mr. Gorin for $10,000, and also purchased two thousand acres about it, in order to control any other possible entrances than the main one. To the original miner's cabin, Mr. James Miller, his agent, added in 1835 the long row of log cabins still used by guests; since joined by wide porches and modernized by frame additions and all conveniences. Among the agents who have exhibited the Cave or run the hotel, or both, are Messrs. Archibald, James, William, and W. Scott Miller, Larkin J. Procter, Mr. Owsley, D. L. Graves, Francis Klett, W. C. Comstock, Henry C. Ganter, and L. F. Charlet.
The will of Dr. Croghan, probated February 5, 1849, left the entire Mammoth Cave estate in the hands of trustees for the benefit of his nine nephews and nieces, namely, the sons and daughters of Colonel George Croghan and General T. S. Jesup; with the proviso that, when they should all have died, the trustees should sell the estate at public auction. Unless some of the heirs should buy it, a desirable purchaser might be the Louisville and Nashville Railroad Company; or the entire group of caverns in the vicinity might be converted into a State or national park. Meanwhile we are content that it should remain under the excellent management of the present trustees.
No guides are employed but those who are trustworthy. Stephen Bishop and Matt Bransford have passed away; so have Nicholas Bransford and William Garvin, Tom Lee, my first guide, and John M. Nelson, with whom I have made many an underground trip, are not now in service. Those whom one is likely to meet at present are Edward Bishop, William Bransford, Robert Lively, and Joshua Wilson, with several other capable guides at hand for emergencies. All are heroes of many adventures, and their strong arms have rescued many a visitor from disaster. Their word is law, and no one is allowed to enter without a guide. Hence accidents are of rare occurrence.
The fact so widely heralded that, in the spring of 1909, a party of "Shriners" got lost in the Cave for eight hours, was wholly due to their refusing to obey the guides, and breaking away from their comrades under the voluntary and unauthorized leadership of one of their own number. As soon as possible guides were dispatched to their rescue, who brought them safely out to the open air.
For the convenience of visitors, as well as with reasonable consideration for the guides themselves, certain hours and routes are fixed, from which it is not customary to depart, unless by special arrangement with the management. Four routes are mapped out, the uniform charge for each being two dollars. For terms for the season, or for large parties, etc., as well as for information as to hotel rates, and indeed for anything special, visitors should apply to the Mammoth Cave manager. Cave suits are to let, and proper methods of illumination are provided by the guides. Even a few hours of wandering below ground will be worth while; but those who can remain amid these wonderful scenes for a longer period will be amply repaid by incessantly varying sights and experiences.
Last Updated: 22-Dec-2011