Cemeteries. Every city has one. They are mysterious, historic, haunting and, to me, fascinating. I developed a fondness for cemeteries as a boy.
Now whenever I’m out of town, I always make it a point to visit a cemetery. To me, they are better than any mountain range, skyline or other popular tourist attraction. They are hidden treasures containing a wealth of information about communities and the people who lived there.
Chances are you have visited a cemetery at some time in your life to pay your respects to a family member or friend, and perhaps you too appreciate the stories represented among the tombstones and monuments.
My travels take me to all over the South and Midwest, sometimes
further North, and sometimes around the world! So I have decided to start documenting my cemetery visits with a series of photos in a Sunday feature.
This week’s column is a look at the 86 cemeteries inside Mammoth Cave National Park in Mammoth Cave, KY.
First , let me give an overview of Mammoth Cave for those who’ve never had the opportunity to visit the famous landmark.
Established in July 1941, it’s a U.S. national park in central Kentucky and is the longest underground cave system in the world. It encompasses 52,830 acres and is located in Edmonson, Hart and Barren counties. For those keeping count, it’s over twice as long as the second-longest cave system which is Mexico’s Sac Actun underwater cave. Mammoth Cave attracts nearly 600,000 visits annually.
Long before the park was established, communities were located throughout the forested area. And as a result, burial grounds were created along the roads and trails.
When a movement began in 1926 to establish Mammoth Cave as a national park, donated funds were used to buyout some of the farmsteads. In other cases, eminent domain (yep, it existed back then too!) was used, forcing thousands of people to relocate. As you can imagine, the process left a bitterness in the region.
Within 10 years, the Mammoth Cave National Park Association had acquired around 27,400 acres, which it gave to the Secretary of the Interior, bringing the total to over 45,000 acres. On July 1, 1941, the area was declared a national park.
Six years ago, park researchers began surveying, photographing and recording 15 burial sites for preservation purposes. The cemeteries in the project included: Adwell, Brooks, Davis, Good Spring, Joppa, Holton, Little Hope, Little Jordan, Locust Grove, Mammoth Cave, Old Guide, Poplar Springs, Sand Spring, Temple Hill and Wilkins. I’m glad the park is documenting the rich cultural heritage of this region before the park came into existence. Mammoth Cave’s online cemetery database is posted at http://www.nps.gov/maca/historyculture/cemeterydp.htm
Recently, I had the opportunity to visit three of the cemeteries within the Mammoth Cave borders — Little Hope, Adwell and Mammoth Cave. The cemetery at Mammoth Cave Baptist Church was my favorite because it highlighted some of the more well-known residents along Flint Ridge Road: William Floyd Collins’ family discovered and operated Great Crystal Cave, where he would meet his untimely death while exploring. O.P. and Margaret Shackelford, were familiar faces on the road where the church and cemetery are located. He was a clerk at the church and spent time as a teacher helping children read and write. And Monnie Esters not only farmed but cut cross-ties in the winter and picked up jobs at Great Onyx Cave as a carpenter to support his wife and eight children.
During my visit, I noticed many headstones in disrepair and a large number of burial sites off the beaten path in dense forests. This won’t be my last trip to Mammoth Cave but I do hope park researchers are able to locate all of the final resting places for everyone to enjoy.
For more information on Mammoth Cave National Park, including tours, log onto http://www.nps.gov/maca/index.htm. If you do visit and take a tour (reservations are highly recommended), may I suggest one of the lantern tours offered during the summer months. The only source of light during these specialized tours is from visitor-carried lanterns!
Until next time….