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Monday, May 26, 2014

Cudjo Caverns is now Gap Cave
Old Photo of Cudjo Caverns (Gap Cave)

This post by Thomas Marcum, Thomas is the founder/leader of the cryptozoology and paranormal research organization known as The Crypto Crew. Over 20 years of experience with research and investigation of unexplained activity, working with video and websites. A trained wild land firefighter, a published photographer, and a poet.

Mysteries of Cudjo's Caverns

On Memorial Day 2014, I finally got to visit Cudjo's Caverns, which is now known as Gap Cave (again). Growing up I can remember our family driving by this tourist stop many times but we never did go in and take the tour. As I grew older, Cudjo's Caverns was shut down, and the road going past it was closed off and later removed, this was done because the Cumberland Gap Tunnel was completed and you no longer had to drive over this dangerous, curvy road to visit Tennessee and Virginia. Many lives have been lost crossing this mountain.

Once we heard that the Caverns were back open and that the Cumberland Gap Park Rangers were giving guided tours, we decided to make reservations.

During the tour, the park rangers (Keith and Jarrod) gave a wealth of information about how the cave was formed, the types of critters that can be found in it, and some history about the cave. To this day there are still many Civil War names from both sides of the war burnt into the cave at various spots. They would take their candles and hold them to the cave ceiling and use the soot from the burning candle to spell out their name.

The cave has had many different names over the years. It was first named Gap Cave by Dr. Thomas Walker in 1750. Commercial tours of the cave started in the late 1890s but a book by J.T. Trowbridge which was published in 1864 entitled Cudjo's Cave is where the history gets a little more interesting. The Book, Cudjo's Cave, was about a runaway slave who took refuge in the cave. The popularity of the book and the story of the slave are what prompted the owners to rename the cave, Cudjo's Cave (Later became Caverns) to attract tourists.

Trapped forever
Runaway Slave trapped forever
Now during our tour, the two park rangers told us about this runaway slave and took us to a special part of the caverns. It seems this slave really enjoyed singing and would go to a specific part of the cavern to sing because of the acoustics. He would spend hours there singing and part of the legend is that the limestone came down and covered him up. Well, in this part of the cave, there is this odd rock formation that looks like a person. You can see a head, eyes, mouth, and part of a body mingled with the rock. A bit creepy but it makes it a bit more enjoyable for folks like me. The picture to the left is a cropped version of the figure. We took 2 or 3 but due to the lighting, the photos just do not do it justice.

Now, there is somewhat of a different version of the story about the runaway slave. In some versions, the slave was killed and buried somewhere in the cave or just thrown in a hole.  Now this brings me to the next part of this little tale of the slave. It seems the spirit of this slave still haunts the cave. While researching for more information about the caverns and their history of it, I ran into a very interesting story concerning the slave story.

It seems, that at some point a man got left in the caverns overnight. I'm guessing from the story that this occurred somewhere around 1986. The man finds that the doors are chained shut and to scream for help didn't do any good because everyone had left. So according to the story, the man who was left in the cave was pretty scared, Which is understandable. All he had for light was a dimming flashlight. While trying to sleep, he is woken up by the sound of footsteps, so he hides. A voice called out "Ain't no use in hidin’, 'cause I can see you even in the dark." It turns out to be a tall black man, who ends up sitting and talking to the trapped tourist. The black man tells of being an escaped slave, then tells the tourist about his death, his family, and many other details about his life. This story has many more details than I will write here but if you are interested in reading the trapped man's full account of the events that night, then  Click Here.

While taking the tour of the caverns there is just a feeling of wonder and amazement looking at the beautiful rock formation. Then you add in all the history of Confederate and Union soldiers, and then the mystery of the escaped slave and you got yourself one good adventure. Not to even mention the importance of the Cumberland Gap itself.

Now here are some interesting facts about the Gap Cave.

* The cave has a surveyed length of 16 miles and is the 42nd longest cave in the United States and 154th in the world.
* There are six known entrances.
*  Daniel Boone passed through Cumberland Gap in 1775 and most likely saw the cave.
* In the early 1800s, and possibly before, the cave was used to mine Saltpeter and was known as Saltpeter Cave.
* In March 1920 Lincoln Memorial University bought the caverns and surrounding land from private owners.
* In 1934 the Gap cave was re-opened to the public.
* In 1947 the title was transferred to the Commonwealth of Virginia.
* From 1992 until somewhat recently cave tours were not being held.
* As of June 2013, 17.5 miles of passage have been mapped by CRF.
* Gap Cave is currently owned and operated by the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.
* This is also where the water comes from for the bottled water "Cumberland Gap" Water.

Here is a couple of photos we took on our trip to Gap Cave.

Cumberland Gap
Water was perfectly Clear
Cudjo Caverns
Awesome formation
We took more photos which can be seen on my personal Facebook page, the album is found Here.

We enjoyed ourselves and can recommend the tour to anyone who doesn't mind the 1.5 miles or so of the hike (including the cave). There is some bending and ducking that has to be done and parts of it may be a bit straining for some. There are basically 4 levels to the cave and 183 steps to climb. The complete tour lasted 2 hours or just a little longer.

If you would like to possibly book a tour then go Here.


[Source: Wikipedia, The Mountain Laurel, Guided Tours]

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