Of Books and Caves and Spending More Time at Home

GOOD NEWS UPDATE: Tours at Mammoth Cave National Park are now open. But you can get ready for a great adventure by reading these books recommended by our staff member Natalie. Don’t forget the above-ground trails at Mammoth Cave and all of the other fascinating caves in the area. We highly recommend that you make reservations in advance for your Mammoth Cave tours. See you soon!

By Natalie Lund

A lot of Kentuckians don’t visit Mammoth Cave National Park very often. And for a long time that was true of me even though I live in one of the three counties in which this amazing entity is situated. Sure, I’d take visiting out-of-staters to the park for a quick cave tour now and then, but somehow I never got in the habit of experiencing MCNP as an integral part of my life.

That changed a few years back when I started working in the national park’s visitor center as a local tourism rep (employed by a county tourism commission rather than the park itself). I got to know some of the park rangers and other staffers, did brisk walks around the Heritage Trail before starting my workday, and began showing up for occasional special events and evening amphitheater programs. I began to think of Mammoth Cave National Park as MY park. 

Right now, of course, I’m “social distancing” with the rest of the country, hoping MCNP will be able to re-open in the Not-too-distant future. Meanwhile, I’m spending time at the park vicariously, revisiting some of my favorite books about Mammoth Cave.

At the top of everyone’s favorite cave booklist, I expect, is “Trapped! The Story of Floyd Collins” by Robert K. Murray and Roger W. Brucker. In amazingly thorough detail, this non-fiction wonder of a book tells all there is to know about Floyd’s entrapment in Sand Cave. The book covers geology, explorations, motives, the cast of characters, rescue efforts, hype and conspiracy, etc., etc. – all aspect of this local event that dominated nation news for weeks and weeks in 1925.

Floyd Collins, we came to know, was a local farmer and amateur explorer who longed to discover a tourist-appropriate cavern en route to Mammoth Cave, a venture he hoped could distract travelers into stopping and spending money at an alternate site before reaching their intended destination.

Another book I’ve been re-visiting this week is “Ultima Thule,” and award-winning collection of poems by former MCNP cave guide and Hart County native Davis McCombs. Drawing on his own in-cave experience in creating this work, McCombs presents many of the book’s pieces in the “voice” of Stephen Bishop, a 19thcentury enslaved cave guide credited with exploring and mapping miles and miles of underground passages.

This year, incidentally, marks the 20th anniversary of “ultima Thule’s” publication. And as I’ve become slowly but surely more familiar with all things Mammoth Cave, the book’s nuances and references speak to me in an ever more meaningful way.

As a final cave-related book recommendation of the moment, I can’t think of a more appropriate choice than “Menace at Mammoth Cave” by Mary Casanova. This adventure story for young readers features a protagonist who visits Kentucky relatives during the time communities in our part of the state were undergoing changes in preparation for the creation of the soon-to-be-formed Mammoth Cave National Park.

A well-researched novel from the American Girl series, this smooth-reading paperback includes rural lifestyle information, an introduction to Civil Conservation Corps work, and even a small mystery thrown in for good measure. All in all, not a bad option for students sheltering in pace due to the coronavirus, perhaps.

So if you find any of the above-noted books beckoning to you, your library or local bookstore may be currently offering delivery by mail or pickup at curbside. And some readers, I’m told, have even been known to find good reads via the Internet.