Floyd Collins
April 27, 2007 2:55 AM   Subscribe

Floyd Collins was a caver who became trapped in Sand Cave on January 30th, 1925 50m from the entrance by a 26 1/2 pound rock. He was found and provided with food and media attention until February 4 when a further collapse cut him off, leading to frantic tunneling attempts, but he was found dead on the 17th of February.
His body was recovered some time later, and displayed in a pay per view coffin. After his leg was stolen his coffin was removed from public display and in 1989 he received another burial under a tombstone reading "Greatest Cave Explorer Ever Known"
posted by scodger (28 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Great post. There is something about a bave that totally freaks me out. I won't go near a bave, when I think about it, I can't even say the letter b. Trapped inside of one? Forget about it. But I guess I'm not alone - trapped miners always seem to get sensational press boverage - so it must strike fear into a lot of people.
posted by three blind mice at 3:21 AM on April 27, 2007

This is peculiar:

COLLINS in his death agony had turned over on his back and the tips of the fingers of his left hand were clenched between the teeth. This was characteristic of the posture of the mummy of the little white girl, which was found in Salts Cave in 1875 by a party of explorers, and was typical as the final act of a human who met death in a subterranean prison. from this page

Can anyone shed some light on this?
posted by strawberryviagra at 3:28 AM on April 27, 2007

Greatest Bave Explorer Ever Known? (yeah, me too, tbm) I don't think if he were the greatest a 26 lb. rock would have done him in. So I guess I have a different opinion.

It's interesting to read about it, though..... if only because I can better appreciate *not* being in a bave right now. Baves creep me out.
posted by Doohickie at 3:42 AM on April 27, 2007

That dread many of us feel about baves is what makes this so good.
posted by Doohickie at 3:43 AM on April 27, 2007

strawberryviagra - a paper (Jstor, needs institutional access) describes the mummy -

...this individual, known widely as "Little Alice," was found by two local men in "Mummy Valley" of Salts Cave in 1875.

The Xray and photos in the paper show the left hand is indeed in the mouth, but no mention is made of this fact explicitly. Maybe it was common folklore during the 20s, or a carried away reported.
posted by scodger at 3:51 AM on April 27, 2007

I guess it's as good a time as any to start chewing your nails.
posted by strawberryviagra at 4:16 AM on April 27, 2007

posted by Gungho at 4:20 AM on April 27, 2007

Also, the musical.
posted by thomas j wise at 5:25 AM on April 27, 2007

The history of caving in that region is long and fascinating. Crystal Cave, which was the Collins family's commercial enterprise is now part of the Mammoth cave system, having been connected in some time in the early 70's. Roger Brucker is a caver who has also written some fantastic books on Floyd and the exploration of that area. Trapped! is probably the definitive work on the Collins rescue debacle, and The Longest Cave details the exploration that linked three systems together in the 60's & 70's, along with some more general history of the Mammoth system.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:25 AM on April 27, 2007

Neat post, thanks.

Also, the musical.

And the 1951 Billy Wilder film, Ace in the Hole (aka The Big Carnival). I recently read a review that calls it "one of the angriest and most bitter films ever to come out of the Hollywood studio system." Kirk Douglas plays a sleazy reporter riding the media frenzy around a trapped caver. Apparently, it was too darkly honest for audiences at the time. Wilder bitches about the reception here:

Now, I looked up the Floyd Collins story. They composed a song, they were selling hot dogs, there was a circus up there, literally a circus, people came. I was attacked by every paper because of that movie. They loathed it. It was cynical, they said. Cynical, my ass. I tell you, you read about a plane crash somewhere nearby and you want to check out the scene, you can't get to it because ten thousand people are already there: they're picking up little scraps, ghoulish souvenir hunters.

Netflix doesn't have it, sadly, but this post makes me want to see it even more.
posted by mediareport at 5:30 AM on April 27, 2007

Yay: Just saw that Ace in the Hole is gonna be released by Criterion Collection this summer!
posted by mediareport at 5:35 AM on April 27, 2007

Way down in the state of Georgia
Through the swamps and the everglades
There's a big hole in Tiger Mountain
God help the man who gets lost in Miller's Cave
I had a girl in Waycross Georgia
But she had unfaithful ways
She made me feel like I wasn't wanted
Like the bats and the bears in Miller's Cave
I caught her out one Sunday morning
With a man they call big Dave
He's the meanest man in the state of Georgia
I'd rather fight a mountain lion in Miller's Cave
I said you'll pay both you and David
I'm gonna see you in your grave
They laughed at me and then I shot 'em
I took their cheating, scheming bones to Miller's Cave
Well that woman made me feel unwanted
But I showed her I was brave
Most wanted man in the state of Georgia
They'll never find me 'cause I'm lost in Miller's Cave

--Hank Snow
posted by Rangeboy at 5:42 AM on April 27, 2007

One of my grade school teachers (Mrs. Hastings FWIW) had a week long lesson on caves, part of it included Floyd and how he died while exploring one. Neat to see the whole story gathered up.
posted by buzzman at 5:45 AM on April 27, 2007

Sounds like a strange thing to write a musical about (well, yea), but the music for Floyd Collins is gorgeous.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:59 AM on April 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

You had Mrs. Hastings too? Which one? The Hot Mrs. Hastings or the Old Mrs. Hastings?
posted by Doohickie at 6:00 AM on April 27, 2007

posted by Floydd at 6:24 AM on April 27, 2007

Similar, but more recent.
Mitchell died of exposure on Feb. 13, 1965 while hanging from his harness above a cavern, 10 gallons of icy water coursing over his head every minute. After his body was lowered, workers dynamited the cave, sealed it with rocks and placed a memorial headstone above it.
(Except for the date, all of the details above have been disputed at one time or another.)

Google Schroeder's Pants Cave for lots more.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:40 AM on April 27, 2007

Caving is fun, but it seems like it'd be easy to get in trouble. It's dark, but not like the darkness of nighttime where your eyes will eventually adjust to the point where you can at least make out vague shapes -- it's absolutely dark. Without your flashlight, you're utterly blind. You could be just 100 feet from the entrance and never find your way out. I spent the night in one (somewhere in western Tennessee), and it occurred to me as I was falling asleep that if I didn't keep my (now turned off) flashlight within arm's reach, I'd be pretty much fucked in the "morning".

That's the other thing: time sorta loses meaning without any lift of the blackness. I'm going to Vegas tomorrow for the first time, where I'm told the opposite effect is in action.

Also, I learned that cave ceilings are really, really solid, and that 6'4" dudes probably don't belong in caves. (ow, my head!)
posted by LordSludge at 7:54 AM on April 27, 2007

Good God, thanks for this post! I read Trapped! as a middle schooler and it scared the living hell out of me for years. At the time I thought it was one of the most exhilarating stories I'd ever read, too: I wanted to be a caver, but also not, y'know? It was just terrifying enough. I felt so sorry for the man. I bought the book at a gift shop, I wanna say, at the Mammoth Caves somewhere. I'd forgotten all about it.

I was drawn to the Zork games by the same fear/curiosity/strange wanderlust that drew me to Floyd's story; not for nothing, Zork's precursor Adventure was originally an augmented map of a real-life cave system as I recall. His story is important in a number of ways, not least as a description of an ancestor of media frenzies like the 'Baby Jessica' scare in the 80's. The fact that they set up basically a carnival around Sand Cave while Floyd was trapped down there...in a way that's the scariest aspect of the story.

The epilogue got me too: some modern-day cavers went down and found a small passageway that might've been used to keep Floyd fed and watered while rescue attempts continued. What a way to go.
posted by waxbanks at 8:35 AM on April 27, 2007

About 10 years ago, I got trapped/lost in a cave system on an ill-equipped exploring mission with some friends. All told, we spent 24 hours down there, but the worst was watching everyone's flashlights die out one by one. I had my dad's huge raccoon spotting light with a big 12V battery pack slung to my hip. By the time we found the mouth of the cave, it was a dim flicker and the only light that made it.

It's no picnic when you try to reverse track and find five entrances into the chamber and no one can remember which one you entered through. Let alone the entrances in the preceding five chambers. Never stepped into another cave again. Don't plan to.
posted by quite unimportant at 10:13 AM on April 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

mediareport writes 'And the 1951 Billy Wilder film, Ace in the Hole (aka The Big Carnival).'

For years and years I've been trying to recall what that Simpson's episode where Bart gets trapped down a well reminded me of.

It's an homage to Ace in the Hole. It was a great film, mediareport. Well worth keeping an eye out for.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:44 AM on April 27, 2007

Yes, cave ceilings are hard. That's one reason cavers wear helmets. It also gives them a place to hang their main light source, and protects them from falling things. Their two backup light sources may also be on the helmet.

Collins broke one of the cardinal rules today's cavers follow by exploring alone. If he'd had others with him, the carnival could have got started much sooner.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:53 AM on April 27, 2007

Yes, cave ceilings are hard. That's one reason cavers wear helmets. It also gives them a place to hang their main light source, and protects them from falling things. Their two backup light sources may also be on the helmet.

If you think things through, you'll move a couple of those light sources off your helmet, actually. When I cave, I've got my main light on the helmet, a maglight flashlight strapped to the side of it, another flashlight & spare batteries in my caving pack, and a small 1-LED light around my neck on a lanyard. My thinking: what happens if I lose my helmet? What happens if I lose my helmet and my pack?

Never cave in groups of less than three (If someone's incapacitated, one can stay with the victim, while one goes for help) and always let someone who's not going aware of your plans and estimated time of return.

As to getting lost -- if it's a known cave, go with someone who knows it the first time. If it's a virgin cave, you're surveying, right? I've been on several hundred caving trips, and I've yet to get lost, or run out of light, because I follow simple safety procedures. Not to say that it won't happen, but the chances are diminished to almost nil. Overall, someone did a study of accidents/fatalities, and compared it to sports which had also been quantified. Statistically, caving (organized caving) is a little more dangerous than golf, and a little less dangerous than soccer.
posted by Devils Rancher at 12:22 PM on April 27, 2007

When I cave, I've got my main light on the helmet, a maglight flashlight strapped to the side of it, another flashlight & spare batteries in my caving pack ... etc.

Pretty much the same here. I have seen more & more people whose helmets look like a full-dress Harley, though. Maybe they have lighter-than-air batteries in those lights, or something.

Caving is pretty safe. Except for cave diving, which seems to be insanely dangerous, based on the fatality rates, and on how often certified cave-diving instructors die.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:20 PM on April 27, 2007

I agree on the cave diving, for sure. For me, the cave stops where the water comes up to the ceiling. Something like a 1/100 chance of dying per year, more or less.
posted by Devils Rancher at 1:29 PM on April 27, 2007

Totally off-topic, but we seem to be winding down, here -- Keith - have you ever seen one of these Stenlights? I borrowed one on my last trip, and it was FANTASTIC.
posted by Devils Rancher at 1:31 PM on April 27, 2007

Nice post, close to my not so distant heart. Used to do quite a bit of caving and have done so in mammoth Cave as well. I have spent a bit of time quietly reflecting at the entrance of Sand Cave where this all took place.

Here's a link to the aforementioned book Trapped! by Roger Brucker

That area of Kentucky is pretty much the limestone motherlode of the planet. Mammoth Cave is the longest cave (in miles of passages) by far.
posted by redivider at 2:12 PM on April 27, 2007

I haven't met a Stenlight, but have seen them widely recommended. Unfortunately, I spent my state-of-the-art lighting budget on one of the early HDS Action Lights several years ago. It's good, but heavy. The newer LEDs make it seem kind of retro.

There are a lot of caves in KY, but Americans who live to cave all seem to wind up in TAG. Also, China is thick with them, even in the North. Here's a link to some show caves in Beijing. There are some gigantic ones in the Southwest.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:56 PM on April 27, 2007

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