Before I tell you how I became part of Mammoth Cave history, I need to tell you how I became part of Mammoth Cave in an average sort of way.
As much as I can remember, my first experience with caves had to do with a cave of sorts in Anderson's Shadyside Park. I don't know if it were even a real cave or not, but it went into the ground and even had a mini zoo inside of it. My memories of this cave are not too clear, because it has been sealed for such a long time due to some people choosing to use it for less-than-wholesome purposes.
A cave experience that I remember a little more happened when I was four-and-a-half. I'm pretty sure that was the age that I was because the song White Silver Sands was popular that summer (1957), and it played out of jukeboxes all over--including the one inside of Lost River Cave.
During my earliest years, a part of each summer was spent south of The Mason-Dixon Line--a three-week vacation where a trip into the Deep South (Biloxi, New Orleans, and, sometimes, Florida) of about a week was surrounded on both sides by stays on my paternal grandparents' farm (shared also with Aunt Mary, Uncle Jim, and their kids) near a village called Richardsville, Kentucky that wasn't too far from Bowling Green. We also visited with Aunt Jenny, Uncle Dick, and their son and daughter both in Madison, Tennessee and when they came to visit at the farm.
It seems as if the trip into Bowling Green to visit Lost River Cave consisted of my folks, Aunt Mary, her three children (two daughters and a son, who would, in the years to come, be added to by a sister and a brother), and me.
This wasn't an elaborate cave, but it was fun for us. It was like a shelterhouse with Lost River running through it, and it served stand-type of food (e.g. hot dogs, hamburgers, pop) and had a jukebox. I remember dancing to White Silver Sands with Aunt Mary and knowing that this was something special that I'd never done before.
On the way back to Indiana after a vacation was over, my folks would often talk about how it would be nice to visit Mammoth Cave one of these times. My mom had never been there, but my dad had, and it seemed as if you got to eat fried chicken while underground. That sounded really good to me, and I wondered if it also had a jukebox and if White Silver Sands was in the record collection.
It just never seemed to be the right time, because there were always so many other activities to do each year.
I didn't sleep much, either going or coming, but I sometimes took little naps--and I wanted to be sure that I was awake in time to look at "The TeePee Motel" as we went past and to look at this interesting rotating sign showing the head and shoulders of Abraham Lincoln further up the road in Louisville. I probably would have ended up crying as if I'd lost my best friend should I miss out on getting to look at either one of those.
My first experience of being in a very large cave was when I was eight-and-a-half, but it wasn't Mammoth Cave. Instead, it was Carlsbad Caverns out in New Mexico. It didn't have any jukebox, but we did get to eat while underground--though nothing as elaborate as fried chicken. It was a really neat adventure, and I liked how we walked into this cave opening to enter it at the beginning of the tour and how we rode an elevator at the end of the tour and ended up back at the visitor center.
After that, there were various places that I went to that were like caves in a way such as under waterfalls, but no major caves until my dad was offered a good deal back in 1974 when it came to retiring early. By then, my mom (who was still working) got to have four weeks of vacation each year, and we would still take family trips together. But, with my dad and me, we were free to take off at anytime we pleased when I was out-of-school, and we took advantage of that in a big way.
Our first road-trip together was all the way down to Tennessee where we drove over to the little town where Paul and Linda McCartney, their family, and their band had been staying. By then, they were already gone, but it was still neat to be in the town where they'd had an extended stay and to talk to the different people there about what it was like having such famous guests.
We took a very personal tour of the homes of different country performers, given by the sister of a brother-sister duo who had their own cab company where their vehicles served as both taxis and tour cars.
We also visited the studio where Hee-Haw was taped. As it turns out, they weren't taping at that time, so we didn't get to meet Buck, Roy, or anyone else from that show, but I did get to sit in the well-known barber chair while one of the station employees pretended to be about to cut my hair, and our picture got taken. Chad Everett was also there, and I got to meet him and have my picture taken with him.
In the years since I first danced with Aunt Mary while Lost River flowed along beside us, my grandparents, five cousins, and Uncle Jim moved to Indiana and lived in the converted barn where I now live. As soon as the divorce was settled, Uncle Jim had primary custody of his three oldest, shared custody of his youngest daughter, and visitation with his youngest son.
In time, my grandparents bought some land just north of Alexandria where they built their own home. By then, only Cathy (Uncle Jim's youngest daughter) was living at home. Aunt Jenny and Uncle Dick (now empty-nesters) built a home alongside of theirs.
Mawsie's health was starting to fail her even before I'd graduated from high school in 1971, and it would be learned that she had cancer. On June 6, 1973, she passed away.
Pawsie ended up getting remarried to a widow named Lainie who was the kid sister of a teen-years sweetheart, and they lived in her little cottage in Bowling Green until they moved to senior housing in 1978.
On the way back from Nashville, we visited them for a few hours before driving on to the outskirts of Horse Cave where we stayed for the night and got up early. We would finally be touring Mammoth Cave after talking about it for all of this time!
Before we boarded the bus at the visitor center to take us to the entrance of the cave that began the half-day tour (actually, now a tour that lasted about 3 1/2 hours, though it had, at one time, lasted half of a day and, at the time my dad had gone through it, was eight hours long), one of the rangers conducting the tour warned us about some things that might make us have second thoughts about taking the tour. One of these things was having knee problems.
I turned to my dad and asked him if this meant we should turn in our tickets since I had a trick-knee, but we decided that (as my knee hadn't actually dislocated since 1967), I would probably be good to go.
To me, the entire tour seemed to be a piece-of-cake as far as mobility was concerned. It turned out that they no longer served fried chicken down in The Snowball Room, but I didn't miss it, because, instead, they served chili that tasted like something you might get at Steak'n'Shake. That, a carton of milk, a ham salad sandwich, and other delicious offerings left me with a very good taste in my mouth--as did the entire tour.
I could feel God very near down there in that cave, and that was a very good feeling, to say the least!
After we'd left the park, we went on into Cave City where I actually got to get up-close-and-personal with "The TeePee Motel" (real name: Wigwam Village), because they had some empty rooms, and we got to look inside of them.
That's when I learned that Aunt Ruby and Uncle Roy had honeymooned there, and my dad, being their best man, got to go along--but staying in a separate wigwam, of course. As they got married on December 25, I'm not sure if this was when they went on the extended honeymoon trip, but, when they took one, it was to go to Mammoth Cave. So the three of them had experienced both the cave and the wigwams together for the first time.
From that point on, I wanted to return to Mammoth Cave, and I had no plans to wait another nearly-22 years to do so. That initial tour had permanently injected it into my blood.
However, we didn't go again until 1976--this time having the trip include both of my folks, my close-as-a-brother friend, Mark, whom I'd met the summer before, and myself.
We had gone there on our way back from taking Mark to visit his aunt and grandparents in Madison, Tennessee, and we took the half-day tour before heading back to Anderson. By then, Mark was living with us and planning on going to what was then called Anderson College and is now called Anderson University. I had graduated from what was then called Indiana Central University and is now called University Of Indianapolis that year and would be starting graduate school at Ball State before long.
It wasn't long before we drove down there again to re-take the half-day tour plus a couple of other ones. After that, my folks took Mark down there to take what was then known as The Wild Cave Tour.
None of us got back down to the cave again after that until I decided to take my own vacation there late in 1981. This time, I actually stayed at Wigwam Village in Wigwam #4 for a few days and took every tour there except for The Wild Cave Tour (as I wasn't in physical shape for that one), the Trog Tour (too old for that one), and The Wheelchair Tour.
I was totally-hooked now and returned there in 1982. In 1983, I took a mother-daughter trip there. By now, it was established that Wigwam #4 was my permanent room (and would be until a few years later when I went there without making reservations and it wasn't available--however, Wigwam #13 was, and I decided that I liked it even better, so it became "my" room).
Now, there's something about Mammoth Cave so that, when you get to the stage of fandom to which I'd gotten, you want to leave your mark there. Some of the earlier tourists had erected monuments from the stones to mark their journey through these wonderful underground passageways and rooms. Others had marked on the walls (no longer permitted).
In 1985, I heard that there was something out of Vancouver, British Columbia (Canada) called the Three-Day Novel Contest where participants had only the three days making up Labor Day Weekend to write a short novel.
I decided that I was going to participate in this--and, furthermore, I was going to stay in The Snowball Room for the entire period of time.
Early on July 16, I left for Mammoth Cave. I had plans to be home that night, so I didn't pack a suitcase. When I got there, I asked around and, eventually, found out that the person to which I needed to talk wouldn't be there until the next day.
No problem! I took a couple of cave tours and went back into Cave City where I was lucky to find that Wigwam #4 was vacant. I had plenty of linens and soap for taking showers (though no shampoo). Fortunately, I had a toothbrush and toothpaste in my purse. I didn't have any deodorant, but I didn't bother to buy any because I could stay fresh enough by simply taking a final shower before checking out the next day.
I removed every stitch of clothing on my body in order to keep it absolutely fresh for the next day and relaxed in my birthday suit--an outfit that suited me just fine, whether I was showering, watching TV, or sleeping.
The next day, I went to see Superintendent Lewis Cutliff and discussed my plans with him.
No, he told me, I wouldn't be able to spend the entire time in the cave, but I could write part of my novel in Wigwam #4 and could spend from early morning until late afternoon down in The Snowball Room. I would be picked up by different rangers after coming to the visitor center and taken down to The Snowball Room by the elevator used for handicapped tours, transporting food down there, etc. The return trip would be the morning trip in reverse.
So, the arrangements were made--both reserving my wigwam and going over the particulars--on July 17, 1985.
I asked if anyone had ever done something like this before and was told not to his knowledge--and certainly not in the period of time after Mammoth Cave had been taken over by The National Park Service.
This was really exciting!
I would be--should I win the competition--both the first woman and the first person outside of Canada to do so. And, even if I didn't win the competition, I would be the first person known to write part of a novel while 267 feet underground in The Snowball Room!
Before I left, I wanted to see one of the park rangers whom I referred to as Little Joe. I had met him in 1981 and had always missed out on seeing him in the years since then because he wouldn't be working.
This day he was--however, he was on a tour and wouldn't be back for 45 minutes.
We had just gotten a new minister at our church, and he had started a new program. I wanted to show support with my presence, and I knew that I could at least make it home in time for part of the program if I left then, so I decided to leave.
But I was on the road home when I realized that there would be plenty of times to participate in Dennis' new project but that the timing was just right for seeing Little Joe again. By the time I returned in September, he would be back to teaching school again. I turned around and went back to the park.
Just as I had gotten parked, the bus from the Frozen Niagara Tour pulled up, and Little Joe stepped off. We talked for awhile, and I told him that I wanted to take his picture, so he posed for that.
"How about taking MY picture, TOO?" a male voice addressed me. I really didn't have that many pictures left on the roll and had wanted to use them elsewhere, but how could I resist this stranger's dramaticaly-spoken next line, "You DO want to take a picture of a ranger wounded in the line of duty, don't you?"
I found out a lot about Marshall Mitchell in the following few minutes.
On July 10, a gust of wind had slammed the door that was nearest to the Frozen Niagara part of the cave shut, severing the tip of the middle finger on this right hand.
His hand and wrist were now wrapped in a cloth bandage with the majority of it being around his middle finger, and he'd posed for his picture by tipping his hat with that hand.
I also found out that he was from Franklin, Indiana and had gotten his Master's Degree from my alma mater back in 1974.
It certainly was a small world!
Marshall was a seasonal ranger who spent time in several national parks each year, and I knew that he'd be interesting subject matter for at least one human interest story. We made arrangements for my conducting an interview with him when I returned to the park to write the novel.
There was a slight change in our plans for that, but that's another story.
I had called my folks the night before so that they wouldn't worry about me, but I didn't tell them what my purpose in going to Mammoth Cave on the spur-of-the-moment was, and I would have so much to tell them when I returned!
As I neared Indianapolis, I was getting this message to drive to Castleton and stop at the White Castle there, because my folks, Uncle Finley, and Aunt Marce would be there. Sure enough! When I pulled into the parking lot, I saw my folks there. It turns out that it was only my dad and my uncle, because they had dropped off my mom and aunt at Taco Bell, as the latter was no fan of White Castle. They said I could drive over there and surprise them and could be the one to bring them back over to the car after they'd finished eating.
It was really neat telling everybody what I would be doing over Labor Day Weekend and about the interesting ranger who shared so many ties with me.
Before I knew it, Labor Day Weekend had arrived, and I was ready to go down into the cave for the first time.
I had been up the night before getting my novel started after midnight arrived bringing in the period when I could begin writing. Each time, a different ranger provided transportation, and we would talk about a number of things along the way--one of our subjects of discussion being Marshall. He had gone home to Franklin a few weeks before after becoming sick and not knowing what was wrong with him.
He was now on his way to getting better and wanted me to let everybody know that he was doing okay, so I would show them a Polaroid picture I'd taken of him when we'd met to visit for awhile when I was on my way down to Kentucky.
I sat at a picnic table near the back of The Snowball Room. During the time that there was a lull, I spend time writing on my novel. When people came through, I both wrote on my novel and talked to various ones of them.
One little girl came down on the elevator because she was in a wheelchair. When she was there, I put the novel aside and walked along with her, her family, and the ranger who was giving the tour. She was simply thrilled by what she saw down there. I wonder what she's doing now. At this time, she would be in her early thirties.
My longtime ranger buddy, Red Langley, came down with one of his tours and told me that he would be retiring after the weekend--though he might decide to work in The Smoky Mountains. I would later find out that Red wasn't retiring for a change-of-scenery. He didn't want me to feel sad, so he had kept from me that he was retiring because he'd just found out that he had cancer. He ended up passing away the same day that Marshall turned 50: January 24, 1986.
Another ranger, Ken Yeso, came down there with a group of people. Ken and I had met in July when I was asking around about how to pull this thing off. He seemed almost as thrilled as I was that I was actually doing this.
I finished the novel on Monday in plenty of time for all of it to have been written within the time period. I'd actually had until that night at midnight to get the job done.
Carl Sanders, a clerk at the Mammoth Cave Hotel signed a piece of paper saying that he had witnessed this and that I had written this novel within the time limits.
After being up constantly all weekend, I was ready to sleep for awhile, and, so, I returned to Wigwam #4 and made up for lost time. The next day, I took my manuscript over to the Western Kentucky University library and made photocopies of it. Then, I mailed the manuscript off from a grocery in one of the small communities that had its own post office that had full window service until closing time for the entire business.
Everything was now on its way to Vancouver. After another night's good rest, I checked out of Wigwam #4, took a final cave tour, and returned home.
I didn't win the contest--and I'm not even sure where the manuscript is at this time. Since then, people from outside of Canada have won the contest, and I can also never be the first woman to win the contest, because that has been done already, too.
However, I will always be the first person of either gender known to write part of a novel while 267 feet underground in Mammoth Cave's Snowball Room, and nobody can take that away from me!
Since this time, I've gone through different parts of this cave a number of times, though, at this time, I'm no longer physically able to continue. Hopefully, I'll be returning there and going down in the elevator again to take the handicapped tour--at the very least.
These days, or so I've been told, they no longer serve any kind of meals down in The Snowball Room, though those who take The Wild Cave Tour (which, I believe, is called by a different name these days) do still eat down there.
Some of the tours have been given different names, and new routes have been created.
What people will be experiencing these days isn't the same as what I experienced when I was a more frequent visitor there, but that isn't necessarily bad. What I experienced wasn't what my dad, aunt, and uncle had experienced back in 1940, but it was, obviously, very memorable for me.
One thing that isn't automatically mentioned anymore (due to all of this political correctness nonsense) is how you can see the face of Jesus and an angel at an area known as The Methodist Church (where church was actually held during the first part of the 20th Century--it was said that people would come to tour the cave, and the minister would collect all of their lanterns so that they couldn't decide to leave and would then preach at them for hours).
If you request that you would like to be shown the face of Jesus and the angel, the greatest majority of the park rangers are more than happy to show them to you. One of them even thanked me for asking so that she could point them out.
Even after not having been down into the cave for several years, I can still remember it and do so fondly. Mammoth Cave is definitely still in my blood! If you're in the area, I hope that you'll visit this glorious world wonder, too, and see if it, somehow, doesn't become a part of you!
One final word...
I would like to thank fellow Judy's Book writer, Susan Pettrone, for lighting a fire under me to write this!