Davis Nolan Underground: Mammoth Cave

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Mammoth Cave, Ky. (WKRN) – Mammoth Cave is one of the most well known and highly visited caves in the country.  You likely have visited the cave yourself.

Molly Schroer, Management Assistant at Mammoth Cave National Park explained how it turned into one of the “must-see” caves in the country:

“The first uses were for saltpeter mining, which you can see evidence of through the first sections of the cave, Schroer related.  Once that petered out, if you will, then it switched to cave tours.  And they kind of took a gamble, thinking ‘is anybody actually going to pay  money to see this dark hole in the ground?’  And sure enough, over the last two hundred years, we’ve been guiding people through the cave”.  

But here’s an interesting story that you may not know about Mammoth Cave:

Dr. Joe Douglas from Volunteer State University in Gallatin, TN has been studying Civil War signatures in the back of the cave for the last several years.

Dr. Joe Douglas from Volunteer State University

“Volunteer State encourages its faculty members to engage in local history research”, Dr. Douglas explained.  “So I approached the park and said I was interested in the Civil War names that might be here.  And the park worked very well with us to do that”.  

“We knew there were some soldier names, but we just had to find ‘where were they?’  So we just began to scour the walls on the left and the right side”.

He was able to show us several of the names written by Union soldiers:
“So on the ceiling, you can see John Pearson, 1862”, Dr. Douglas related with his flashlight in hand,  “and it says John 39 Reg.  That’s John Pearson of the 39th Indiana Regiment”.

Civil War soldier’s markings

“Here we have James M. Kay, 1862, March 13th, so he even tells you what day.  Now pull back here, right in front of your face.  James McNair, Team Master, USA, March 13th 1862.  Above it, hard to read, Frank P. Gross 9th Regiment, Indiana Volunteers.  A. T. Lick Hooper was also a soldier.  Most of these are Indiana soldiers.  But there are others, as well,” as Dr. Douglas points out two more, “W. W. Hayes, Quarter Master, 82nd Regiment, Indiana Volunteers.  November 2nd, 1862. Samuel J. Moore, also 82nd Regiment, Indiana Volunteers”.

Signature of Civil War soldier

And Dr. Douglas has bone back through old census archives and genealogy records to learn more about these soldiers. He has brought students and other faculty members from Vol State to share in his research.

So, why was putting signatures on the wall or ceiling of the cave important to people in those times?  “People wrote their names in caves for a number of reasons, Douglas explained.  “Firstly, it was just to establish that they were here.  ‘Here I am’.  And it marked, ‘I made an accomplishment.  I made it this far’.  In this cave, the oldest ones I have seen are about 1812”.

So besides the incredible sights you will see here at mammoth cave, history has left its mark as well…LITERALLY!

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