In 1925 the geological connection between Flint Ridge and Mammoth Cave was proved when dye placed in a Flint Ridge spring showed up in Echo River at Mammoth Cave.
That tantalizing swirl of dye confirmed speculations that wereto tempt more than 650cavers over half a century with the thrill of being the first to make human passage of the cave connection. Roger Brucker and Richard Watson tell not only of their own twenty-year effort to complete the link but the stories of many others who worked their way through mud-choked crawlways less than a foot high only to find impenetrable blockages.
Floyd Collins died a grisly death in nearby Sand Cave in1925, after being trapped there for 15 days. The wide press coverage of the rescue efforts stirred the imagination of the public and his body was on macabre display in a glass-topped coffin in Crystal Cave into the 1940s. Agents of a rival cave owner once even stole his corpse, which was recovered and still is in a coffin in the cave. Modern cavers still have a word with Floyd as they start their downward treks.
Brucker and Watson joined the parade of cavers who propelled themselves by wiggling kneecaps, elbows, and toes through quarter-mile long crawlways, clinging by fingertips and boot toes across mud-slick walls, over bottomless pits, into gurgling streams beneath stone ceilings that descend to water level, down crumbling crevices and up mountainous rockfalls, into wondrous domed halls, and straight ahead into a blackness intensified rather than dispelled by the carbide lamps on their helmets.
Over two decades they explored the passages with others who sought the final connection as vigorously as themselves. Pat Crowther, a young mother of two, joined them and because of her thinness became the member of the crew to go first into places no human had ever gone before. In that role, in July 1972, she wiggled her way through the Tight Spot and found the route that would link the Flint Ridge and Mammoth Cave systems into one cave extending 144.4 miles through the Kentucky limestone.
In a new afterword to this edition the authors summarize the subsequent explorations that have more than doubled the established length of the cave system. Based upon geological evidence, the authors predict that new discoveries will add another 200 miles to the length of the world’s longest cave, making it over 500 miles long.
About the Author
Roger W. Brucker is president of Odiorne Industrial Advertising. Inc., in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Past president of the CaveResearch Foundation, he is an Honorary Life Fellow of the National Speleological Society. Hehas written adventure and technical articles related to caves and is the co-author of two other books on caving: The Caves Beyond (with Joe Lawrence) and Trapped!The Story of Floyd Collins (with Robert K. Murray).
Richard A. Watson is Professor of Philosophy at Washington University, St. Louis. He is past president of the Cave Research Foundation, a Fellow of the National Speleological Society, editor of Cave Books, and has published a novel on caving: Under Plowman’s Floor. He has participated as a geologist on paleoclimatological and archaeological expeditions in Kentucky, New Mexico, Iran, Turkey, and the Yukon.
“The Longest Cave makes the reader get down on hands and knees, to crawl through the tight spots and the false leads and the boulder slides. But somewhere in the rocks and mud under central Kentucky, the reader becomes self-reliant, begins crawling around the next twist of cave, begins to care. . . This spare and underwritten book is a primer in self-reliance and self-worth.”—The New York Times