Sometimes known as “The Greatest Cave Explorer Ever Known,” Floyd Collins was a pioneer cave explorer and news sensation. The Collins family were owners of Crystal Cave- a lesser known, and more isolated section of the Mammoth Cave system. In a stroke of marketing genius, Floyd Collins decided he would begin searching for a new entrance which would tie Crystal Cave more closely to Mammoth Cave, thereby increasing tourists to the often ignored Crystal Cave. However, cave exploration in the early 1900s was not quite as safe or easy as it may seem today.
On January 30, 1925, Collins became trapped in a small passage on his way out of the cave, a mere 150 feet from the entrance. Friends found him the next day and worked quickly to bring hot food and light. He survived for over a week while efforts to rescue him were made. On February 17, rescuers found Floyd Collins dead from exposure and starvation. Deciding it was too dangerous to remove the body, they left it where it lay and hastily filled the shaft with debris. A doctor later estimated he had died three or four days previously, February 13, being the most likely.
A Publicity Frenzy
Newspaper reporter William Burke “Skeets” Miller from the Louisville Courier-Journal reported extensively on Floyd Collins’ attempted rescue and subsequent death, for which he received a Pulitzer Prize for Reporting in 1926. Skeets’ reports were published in newspapers and via telegraph across the United States, including coverage by the fairly new broadcast radio media. The publicity brought droves of tourists to Sand Cave (as it was called by the media), at one point numbering in the tens of thousands. Vendors set up to sell food and souvenirs, contributing to a circus-like atmosphere. The Sand Cave rescue quickly grew into one of the biggest media events of its time. Though Collins himself was unsuccessful in discovering a new entrance, his death achieved his goal of bringing tourism to the Crystal Cave system; the media attention helped fuel interest in the creation of Mammoth Cave National Park, of which Sand Cave became a part.