|Tourists to Floyd Collins' coffin in Crystal Cave (via TSGS)|
Back on January 30, 1925, he was searching for an entrance to Mammoth Cave in Sand Cave in Kentucky. The caves in the region were divided at that time into small tourist destinations, with Collins' family running the beautiful, but poorly visited, Crystal Cave, which Collins had found in 1917. It was a little too off the beaten path for many visitors, and the sprawling Mammoth Cave was already getting all the attention.
Collins' struggle for survival became one of the biggest national media sensations between the two world wars, with a sort of carnivalesque atmosphere on the surface above where he remained underground, with vendors and gawkers gathering each day, along with the journalists. Collins could actually be reached through the cave and brought food and water, and one journalist, William Burke Miller, squeezed his way down several times to interview Collins, the stories later earning him a Pulitzer.
|Postcard of the Floyd Collins Monument, reading on the opposite side: "He lived for an ideal - in search of earthly beauty - this he found in his discovery of Crystal Cave. He died for an ideal - the ideal of service before self. (via Kentucky Digital Library)|
Despite now resting in the Mammoth Cave Baptist Church Cemetery, the memory of Collins lingers. There's a Floyd Collins Museum that exhibits mementos of his time as both a media and macabre spectacle, and some say the spirit of the intrepid explorer even roams the caves. According to to Mammoth Cave tour guide Colleen Olson, one person was "caving near part of the cave where Floyd, when he was alive, would go caving, and she tripped and she started to fall, and then she felt somebody grab her and pull her back, and of course she thought it was her caving partner. So she was about to say, ‘Thanks, Richard,' thanking her pal, but he was way on the other side. So then, when she realized it wasn't Richard, she said, ‘Thanks, Floyd.'"
However, in the case of Floyd Collins, even a cave ghost is no match for the strange truth of his wandering corpse and its glass-topped coffin.