Mammoth Cave is the longest known cave system in the world with over 360 miles of explored and documented area. What visitors of the cave might not be aware of is that Mammoth Cave is also a highly haunted site. Over 150 sightings have been reported. Ghosts and ghostly apparitions have been reported by tourists, guides, explorers and psychics within the cave. Some are of well known individuals, such as early guide Stephen Bishop or caver Floyd Collins, but others are more mysterious, some having yet to be identified.
The most commonly seen ghost is that of Stephen Bishop, the most famous guide of Mammoth Cave. Born around 1820, Bishop began exploring the cave in 1838. In the spring of that year his master, Franklin Gorin had purchased the cave from its previous owner.
Wearing a chocolate-colored slouch hat, green jacket and striped pants, Bishop guided visitors through the cave, showing off its natural beauty and grandeur. When not guiding tours through the cave Bishop was exploring new areas of the cave, and began the naming tradition that the park still holds so dearly to this day.
A lover of the cave, Bishop would remain a part of it until his death in 1857. According to author Nathaniel Parker Willis, Bishop was planning to purchase his and his wife’s freedom and move to Liberia, an African nation built by freedmen from the United States. This plan would never materialize, however, although he would be freed shortly before his death in accordance with Franklin Gorin’s will.
Bishop was buried on a hill to the south of the cave entrance, in what is now known as the Old Guides’ Cemetery. It is today a part of the park grounds.
Today Stephen Bishop has been seen numerous times wandering the caves. Most often he appears as a fully formed phantom, wearing a dark shirt, white pants and Panama hat. Reportedly he will on occasion join a tour group for a short time, saying nothing but allowing himself to be seen.
On occasion he has also been known to blow out the flames of candles and torches used during tours. He has also been seen with the ghosts of a woman and two children. Who these people might be is still unknown.
Next to Bishop the most commonly sighted ghost is that of a woman known as Melissa. Her story is an interesting one, and comes to us solely through a letter written to the Knickerbocker in 1858.
The author of the letter, who identified herself only as Melissa, claimed to have lived near Mammoth Cave 15 years earlier, in 1843. According to her story she had fallen in love with her tutor, a man she identified as “Mr. Beverleigh.”
Her love was not reciprocated, and Beverleigh instead fell in love with Melissa’s neighbor. In jealous anger Melissa led the man she loved into Mammoth Cave, to a spot along the Echo River that is known today as Purgatory. Once deep within the cave, she slipped away from Beverleigh, leaving him alone in the darkness. Unable to find his way out he died in the cave.
Diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1858 and little time left to live, the guilt-ridden Melissa wrote her letter to the Knickerbocker confessing all. According to those who have witnessed her spirit in the caverns of Mammoth Cave, her spirit still lies restless, wandering the halls and calling for her lost tutor, “Beverleigh.”
Although no sightings have ever been reported, it is also believed by many ghosthunters that the spirit of this lost tutor also travels the cave. Some have theorized that an as yet unidentified ghost, haunting the area now known as “Chief City,” might actually be Beverleigh, although its distance from Echo River where he was stranded as left some doubts.
The most spectacular story surrounding Mammoth Cave actually occurred in Sand Cave, originally several miles away from Mammoth Cave but now incorporated into the park. It is the story of the death of Floyd Collins.
Floyd Collins was a caver and adventurer in central Kentucky, the same area as Mammoth Cave. On January 18th, 1917 Collins would make his biggest discovery: Crystal Cave, several miles away from Mammoth Cave.
Upon discovery, Collins attempted to turn Crystal Cave into a popular tourist attraction, just as Mammoth Cave was. Unfortunately due to bad location and smaller size, he was unable to achieve his goals. He never stopped searching the hills of central Kentucky for new caves, however.
In January of 1925 Collins was exploring Sand Cave, located close to his own Crystal Cave. He wanted to find a new entrance into the caves, one that was more accessible and make his property more appealing to tourists. On January 30th, he became trapped beneath a rock that fell from the ceiling, pinning his leg.
Although trapped, Collins could see the light of day. His friends and associates fed him for several days while trying to figure out a way to retrieve him. It became a national news spectacle, reaching all of the major newspapers. Reporter “Skeets” Miller interviewed him while he was trapped in the cave and received a Pulitzer prize for his work. Constant updates were also being made on the then new media of radio.
Unfortunately, however, Floyd Collins was never to leave Sand Cave. According to some accounts, his last conversation was with his best friend John Gerald. Shortly after another cave-in separated him from his would-be rescuers. He died hours later. It would take several more days before his body was finally found again.
Because of the location of the body and the entrance that the rescuers made to retrieve him, they were unable to gain access to the body immediately. It would take eighty days before the body would finally be retrieved, once and for all. His body was buried near Crystal Cave, which was renamed Floyd Collins Crystal Cave.
After a couple of years Floyd’s father, Lee, who had gain possession of the cave after his son’s death, sold the cave to new owners. These new owners, realizing how popular the whole story had made the cave, exhumed the body from where it was buried, put it into a glass-top coffin and made it a prominent display within Crystal Cave.
The new owners scheme worked in drawing in visitors, and a group of men from another competing cave became jealous. They sneaked into Crystal Cave and stole the body. That night they stayed up late drinking at a local bar and confessed to the whole thing. The body was later recovered but with a leg missing from the theft. It was put back on display, although in a more secluded part of the cave and under chains.
There it would remain for the next six decades. In 1961 Crystal Cave was purchased by Mammoth Cave, now a National Park, and closed to the public. However the body was not removed from the cave until 1989, when it was finally interred in Flint Ridge Cemetery. Floyd Collins’s body was finally laid to rest.
Not so for the spirit of Floyd Collins, however, according to ghost enthusiasts. It is said that his ghost still haunts the area of Crystal Cave, calling for his best friend “Johnny, Johnny.” He also reportedly throws whiskey bottles and steals tools from geologists exploring the cave.
Whether or not these stories of ghosts and the paranormal are true, they are an intimate part of the intricate fabric that makes up the rich history of Mammoth Cave. A natural wonder of the world, it has stood the test of time, as have ghosts that might make it their home.