Caves and cave systems hold a unique fascination for humans, most of whom have spent their entire lives on the earth’s sunny surface. Beneath it, of course, is a world nearly as alien to diurnal creatures as outer space, one characterized by stillness, dark water, close air, and endless night. And for a cave enthusiast, no string of visits to the world’s subterranean passageways would be complete without Mammoth Cave.

Parts of Mammoth Cave, the longest cave system in the world, are protected and preserved as Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. The Historic Entrance is a natural one, leading into the long passages of the cave system. Landmarks along the hundreds of miles of passageways include Frozen Niagara, whose name says it all, Mammoth Cave’s underground river Styx, even the old site of a particularly unfortunate medical experiment involving tuberculosis patients and the (supposedly) salutary properties of cave air.

Before the area was a national park, it was a community, traces of which still remain in historic churches and cemeteries. One of the most significant is the Old Guide’s Cemetery. Here, a cave guide whose importance to the park would be difficult to overstate lies buried. Stephen Bishop was an enslaved African-American man who explored the cave and guided tours both before and after he gained his freedom. Stories of his long tenure in Mammoth Cave are still told today. Buried in the same cemetery are three tuberculosis patients who did not survive the cave treatment.

Worth Checking Out

  • Historic Entrance
  • Frozen Niagara
  • River Styx
  • Old Guide’s Cemetery

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