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The caverns were opened to the public for a year in 1931 and then closed because of the Depression.
As young boys, W.E. “Bill” Vananda and Harry Myers of Townsend played near the entrance to the caverns and frequently ventured into them. While students at Maryville College in 1949, they got to talking about the feasibility of opening the cave to the public.
When Associated Press Pulitzer Prize Winning columnist Hal Boyle interviewed them about 1960, Myers recalled “We played Tom Sawyer in the main passage as kids. We explored it for three-quarters of a mile, sometimes wriggling on our bellies, and lighting our way with homemade lamps – pop bottles filled with kerosene.”
And over a cup of coffee they decided they would try to turn the cavers into a tourist attraction. Nobody would lend them money. Both were married and had two children. They went to Alaska and labored on construction jobs to raise funds.
How Formations Develop
Cave formations are commonly known as “cave onyx.” It is a form of calcium carbonate which is the same material of which limestone is made. Its only value is the beauty it adds to the cave.
It is brittle and will break like glass. The acid from the touch of one’s hand to cave onyx will destroy the gloss on it and make it dull and unattractive.
Cave onyx is formed by surface water which combines with carbon dioxide which is given off by plants, and forms a mild carbonic acid. The acid dissolves limestone rock (calcium carbonate) and forms calcium bicarbonate which is soluable in water. This solution seeps down into the cave.
The limestone will stay in bicarbonate form only as long as the carbon dioxide is present. Since carbon dioxide is normally a gas, it takes pressure and low temperature to keep it in the solution.
Surveyor Aaron Higgenbotham discovered Higgenbotham Cave (now a national landmark) in 1810. Venturing into the cave alone, he was trapped for three days on a high ledge when his torch went out. According to local legend, his hair had turned white by the time a rescue party found him. Aaron Higgenbotham did not penetrate very far underground, but shortly after the close of the Civil War, someone explored for over a mile in Higgenbotham Cave and discovered a huge avenue–60 ft. wide, 10 ft. high, and 2000 ft. long–the “Ten Acre Room.” The name “Shelah Waters” and the date “1869″ are inscribed on the walls in candle smoke or scratched into the rock in many rather remote areas. This is the oldest name and date in the cave. Higgenbotham Cave is mentioned in old histories of Warren County as a local attraction, and Thomas L. Bailey in “Resources of Tennessee” first described it in print for 1918.
During the Civil War, Grassy Cove's caves were an invaluable source of saltpeter, which was used in the manufacture of gunpowder. According to a local legend, the body of a Confederate soldier (in full uniform) was found in a petrified state in one of the caves shortly after the war. When no one claimed the body, it was buried in the Grassy Cove Methodist Cemetery. Several residents claimed to have seen the soldier's ghost in the church, however, and when church attendance began to drop as a result, the soldier's body was disinterred and reburied in an undisclosed location
I hadn't heard about the petrified soldier. What could petrify the body so quickly? Is it something in caves that can cause it or is it part of the mystery to the story?
originally posted by: esteay812
a reply to: TNMockingbird
White Nose Syndrome, haha. That sounds like something out of a Pablo Escobar documentary.
I've noticed "keep-out" signs around a lot of the bat caves. I think it's mostly so people don't disturb the bats, but I wonder if it has anything to do with white-nose syndrome?
originally posted by: Sillyolme
a reply to: esteay812
There is one in Virginia not far from Tennessee's border that has a cavern so large they held balls in it once upon a time. A formation near the opening of the cavern looks like a ticket taker at the theater. I think they called it the general.