Before Mammoth Cave became a national park, there was an entirely different carnival in operation. In 1917, Floyd Collins discovered Crystal Cave on his family’s farm and was able to commercialize it into a show cave. It was too far from the main road, and in 1925, he entered into an agreement with his neighbors to explore and develop what would later become known as Sand Cave (and his first grave site). The Kentucky Cave Wars were in full swing. Floyd became trapped and perished in Sand Cave in February 1925.

There is so much about this place and this time. A series of interviews were conducted by William Burke “Skeets” Miller, a Louisville Courier-Journal reporter who interviewed the trapped Collins and helped with the rescue operations, and was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the tragedy.

Last known words: Finally, almost sullenly, Collins answered: “No, I am not free.”

Sand Cave

This trail is easy to find off the main road into Mammoth Cave National Park. There is nothing that strikes me as particularly spooky or really even interesting about the area surrounding Sand Cave. It felt like nothing to me. Just another walk in the woods, despite knowing Floyd died right there.

The Floyd Collins homesite and the trail and entrance into Crystal Cave are an entirely different story. There is a lot of weirdness around this location in my experience. It is not an area that is marked by signage from the road. We asked a ranger at the back country permit booth how to find the homesite and he replied: “I don’t think we have that here.” (We would later find it, hours later, within 2-3 miles of where the ranger’s booth was, and of course, it is fully inside the park). Inside the Visitor Center, there are maps but the homesite and Crystal Cave are not marked locations on the map.

The instructions I received from the guide inside the Visitor Center were to get back onto Flint Ridge Road and to park at the Mammoth Cave Baptist Church on my left. Then, I would access the first gate on my left to find the homesite. These were wrong instructions. By this point, I am under the impression that the park guides are under direct instructions to deter visitors from finding the homesite and Crystal Cave. The REAL INSTRUCTIONS ARE: Leave the Visitor Center and get onto Flint Ridge Road. Drive past the Mammoth Cave Baptist Church, and drive past the first gated trail on the left. When you arrive at the second gated trail, there is a place to park and this is the correct trail to access the homesite. The walk is maybe 20-30 minutes from the gate.

We walked long enough that I almost turned around because I thought it was the wrong trail. Suddenly, we crested a hill and the light became different. Fuzzy. And then we were there, looking at the homesite. Anyone who reads anything about the lore of the area will know what I am talking about. How sometimes time is fuzzy in Mammoth Cave. Thinner.

Between the homesite and the ticket booth, there is a path to Crystal Cave. It is downright eerie, but beautiful. You can still see the old posts all along the trail down.

I had been reading Stephen King’s Dark Tower books all summer, and maybe I was just more sensitive than usual to doors. Maybe. Yet a few quotes summed up the sensation of place perfectly: “I will see you in the clearing at the end of the path,” and “Go then. There are other worlds than these.”

Door into Crystal Cave

There is much mystery about Crystal Cave and the homesite. Troy Taylor recounts several tales of hauntings in Crystal Cave in “Down in the Darkness.” These are from former Geologists and Scientists at the park! One tale that sticks out involves a ringing phone coming from a disconnected phone line. Trust the science. I later found out that Floyd’s body was on display in a glass coffin inside Crystal Cave until 1989! So yeah, long story short, some people think he’s still around and this whole area is super strange.

One almost leaves with the sense that the National Park Service gave us Mammoth Cave so we would forget about Crystal Cave.

YouTube is a wealth of knowledge:

Mammoth Cave Baptist Church

Maybe one day they will run tours again in Crystal Cave.