New book explores Mammoth Cave

Looks at history and mysteries

LEXINGTON, Ky. (March 16, 2017) — University Press of Kentucky has released the book, “Mammoth Cave Curiosities: A Guide to Rockphobia, Dating, Saber-toothed Cats, and Other Subterranean Marvels.”

image004Written by Colleen O’Connor Olson, the book takes readers on a tour through mysteries, the science, the strange history and the even stranger natural wonders of the park. She draws on more than 20 year experience as a National Park Service guide to explore some of the lesser known facts and scientific wonders of the world’s longest cave system.

Mammoth Cave is a natural wonder, and Olson explores the geology that created the vast system of interconnected caves as well the formations that can be found there. She explains the science behind dating the age of the formations and artifacts that have been found underground, many of which belonged to now-extinct animals like prehistoric horses, saber-toothed cats, and mastodons.

Not all of the interesting creatures, however, are gone. Among the most striking residents are the blind fish of the cave’s underground rivers. These pale fish use their senses of smell and touch to navigate their dark, subterranean world, which puts them at an advantage over their surface-dwelling relatives, which are occasionally washed into the cave. Olson even ventures above ground to explain the park’s program to restore the prehistoric prairie that used to exist in the area.

Mammoth Cave also boasts a rich and varied history, and Olson outlines the many purposes it served over the years from its early uses as a gypsum mine, through its use as a sanatorium in the 1840s, to its establishment as a national park in 1941. Some of its intended uses were practical, such as saltpeter mining during the War of 1812, and some were never fully implemented, such as a plan in the early 1960s to use the caves as a nuclear-fallout shelter.

Though never called into service for a nuclear war, the cave’s popularity as a tourist site in the early twentieth century led to a war of another sort—a cave war. Solicitors, sometimes called “cappers,” competed for tourist attention along the highway and tried to draw business to one of the many cave tours in the region, which resulted in a lot disgruntled tourists and some very ambiguous road signs.