Those Caving Croghans: Locust Grove visits Mammoth Cave

This is a very momentous year for the National Park Service–it’s the National Park Centennial! To celebrate this occasion, Locust Grove staff and volunteers took a tour of Mammoth Cave, Kentucky’s only National Park and the longest known cave system in the world. Mammoth Cave has a noteworthy connection to Locust Grove–Dr. John Croghan, the eldest son of William and Lucy Croghan, purchased Mammoth Cave in 1839 for $10,000, and retained possession of the cave until his death in January of 1849. The cave is an important part of the Croghan family history and legacy, and it was a treat to learn more about its history. Let’s retrace our steps and hit the highlights of the day!

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We found our park!

Our first stop once we reached the park was a special presentation by Ranger Chuck DeCroix. Ranger Chuck not only reminded us of the National Park Centennial, but told us that Mammoth Cave would be celebrating its 75th Anniversary as a National Park on July 1, 2016! Mammoth Cave receives roughly 4,000-5,000 visitors per day, with an annual visitation of 650,000. Locust Grove’s own Del Marie V. is a Barren County native and a member of Friends of Mammoth Cave, and she and her family have been a part of preserving Mammoth Cave’s legacy since its inception as a National Park. Guided cave tours have been conducted for 200 years!

In the early 19th century, Mammoth Cave was valued for the presence of calcium nitrate, which was essential for the production of saltpeter. An early map of the cave known as the Eye Draught Map, produced in 1809, showed the location of the niter soil so useful to making saltpeter. Original copies of this map were in the collections of Thomas Jefferson and Dr. Benjamin Rush. In addition to being a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Dr. Rush was also a prominent physician of the day, and Dr. John Croghan studied with him from 1809-1812.In fact, it has very recently been discovered that John Croghan first visited Mammoth Cave in 1815 while traveling on the Green River. Mammoth Cave researchers have just found his signature carved into the cave wall, dated February 26, 1815. Previously, the first Croghan family member to visit Mammoth Cave was thought to be Nicholas Croghan, who left a signature in candlesmoke in Gothic Avenue on May 7, 1825, barely a month before he died.

When Dr. John purchased Mammoth Cave on October 8, 1839 for $10,000, he bought the property from Franklin Gorin, an attorney who a year earlier had brought several slaves to the cave. One of these slaves was Stephen Bishop, who, according to Ranger Chuck, was one of the greatest explorers of Mammoth Cave of all time. Bishop and the other Mammoth Cave slaves were also purchased by Dr. John along with the Cave. Stephen Bishop was the first to cross the Bottomless Pit into previously unexplored parts of the cave, and served as a tour guide until his death in 1857. One of Bishop’s most notable contributions was a map of the Cave drawn from memory at Locust Grove during the winter of 1841-1842, which was the most complete map of the cave to date. His former owner Franklin Gorin said of him after his death that “his great talent was a perfect knowledge of man”, and Stephen Bishop’s legacy can still be felt at the Cave today.

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A replica of Stephen Bishop’s map can be found in Dr. John Croghan’s office at Locust Grove.

 

When Dr. John purchased Mammoth Cave in 1839, he had high hopes for the tuberculosis treatment hospital he planned to open. Patients were housed in huts, of which two are still standing deep in the cave. In November of 1839, Dr. John wrote to his brother-in-law, General Thomas Jesup, of his plans for the cave, noting that “Owing to the uniformity of temperature throughout the year […] the dryness of the atmosphere and the continual purification thereof by the constant formation of salt Petre, I have no doubt there is no where to be found a spot so desirable for persons laboring under pulmonary affections […]” Unfortunately, the ten month experiment from the fall of 1842 into 1843 was a dismal failure, as none of his 15 patients improved and several died while undergoing treatment in the Cave. Nevertheless, the Croghan stamp is all over the Cave. There is a section called Croghan Hall and another called Clark’s Avenue, named for Dr. John and George Rogers Clark, respectively. Dr. John’s nieces and nephews inherited the cave along with his other property after his death from tuberculosis in 1849, and Serena’s Arbor bears the name of his niece, Serena Croghan, while Jesup’s Domes are individually named Lucy Ann and Julia for the daughters of his sister, Ann Croghan Jesup. 

During our cave tour, we were able to see two places of especial interest to fans of Locust Grove. One of our first stops was Gothic Avenue, where scores of visitors wrote their names in candlesmoke to mark their visit. One of these signatures was that of Nicholas Croghan, who visited in 1825.We  visited on June 18, and the next day, June 19, was the 114th birthday of Nicholas and his twin brother Charles. So naturally we sang Happy Birthday to them in front of Nicholas’s signature!

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Happy Birthday, Nicholas!

We also had the chance to visit the two remaining tuberculosis huts left over from Dr. John’s experimental hospital. This was a rather grim experience, as Ranger Chuck explained that visitors to the cave while patients were in residence described them as skeletons. I tried to take a picture of the huts, but the low light in the cave meant that my picture didn’t turn out so well. (You can see better images here and here.)

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Actual photo taken by Hannah inside Mammoth Cave. Beautiful, right?

We denizens of Locust Grove spent almost two hours in Mammoth Cave, strolling down Gothic Avenue, admiring the various geological formations, and learning so much about the Cave that I’m sure I’ve forgotten something! It was incredible to think that the same Historic Entrance we used to enter and exit the Cave was used by Dr. John, Nicholas, Stephen Bishop, and thousands upon thousands of other visitors.

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Heading down into the Cave by way of the Historic Entrance.

It was also just fun to spend the day together! We hope you’ll be able to join us for one of our day trips in the future!

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We’re about to head down into the Cave! Can you spot George Rogers Clark in this photo?

All of us at Locust Grove are especially excited because it’s almost time for our favorite holiday–Independence Day! As is our tradition, admission to Locust Grove will be FREE on July 4 from 10-4:30pm, and will feature readings of the Declaration of Independence, period demonstrations, concessions by Sweet and Savory, and lots of 1816 celebratory flair! Come celebrate American Independence in 2016 by traveling back to 1816!

Yours in historical spelunking,

Hannah

P.S. To receive updates on all the goings-on at Locust Grove, why not join our e-mailing list? Sign-up HERE to receive monthly updates! Or if you foresee numerous visits to Locust Grove in your future, why not become a member? Friends of Locust Grove receive free admission, invitations to members-only events, a 10% discount in the Museum Store, a copy of our quarterly newsletter, The Grove Gazette and much, much more! More information can be found HERE.

You can also follow Locust Grove on the web by subscribing to the blog on the right, and following us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. (We’re everywhere!)

Sources:

This blog post is indebted to a presentation at Mammoth Cave to Locust Grove staff and volunteers by Ranger Chuck DeCroix on June 18, 2016.

Ashley Bowen-Murphy, “The Nation’s First Tuberculosis Hospital Was Built Inside a Cave.” Atlas Obscura, June 7, 2016. http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/the-nations-first-tuberculosis-hospital-was-built-inside-a-cave

Stacy Conradt, “John Croghan, the Man Who Built a TB Ward in a Cave.” Mental Floss, April 17, 2015. http://mentalfloss.com/article/62631/john-croghan-man-who-built-tb-ward-cave.

Edward Forrest Frank, “Tuberculosis Hospital Remains in Mammoth Cave.” Black Guides of Mammoth Cave, October 22, 2013. https://blackguidesofmammothcave.wordpress.com/2013/10/22/tuberculosis-hospital-remains-in-mammoth-cave/

National Parks Service, “Physician, Heal Thyself.” https://www.nps.gov/maca/learn/historyculture/physicianhealthyself.htm

National Parks Traveler, “Mammoth Cave National Park Harbors More Than A Few Ghost Stories.” October 30, 2009. http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2009/10/mammoth-cave-national-park-harbors-more-few-ghost-stories4820

Gwynne Tuell Potts and Samuel W. Thomas. George Rogers Clark and Locust Grove. Louisville: Historic Locust Grove, Inc, 2006. 

 

Volunteer Spotlight: Carol B. as Mrs. Elizabeth Ferguson

Here at Locust Grove, we are blessed with a number of wonderful volunteers, who contribute over 10,000 hours of service a year to our tours, programs, and events. It’s time they got their moment in the sun! This week, we’re showcasing Carol B. Carol B. has been a volunteer and a member of Locust Grove’s Costumed Interpreters for a year, and portrays Mrs. Elizabeth Ferguson. Read on to learn more about her time at Locust Grove!

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Carol B. in character as Mrs. Elizabeth Ferguson. Photo courtesy of Fox and Rose Photography.

How did you become a volunteer? 
Last spring, I took Carol Ely’s museum theatre class as part of my graduate work at U of L. I didn’t have any previous theatre experience, but I loved it! Such a creative and engaging way to share history with people. Carol brought our class to Locust Grove one evening and we were able to engage with the CI’s, both in and out of character. I was so impressed I decided to audition!
What is your favorite part of volunteering at Locust Grove? 
Teaming up with the other CI’s to really create an experience for guests is so much fun. When we can get the guests to really engage with us and they are clearly having a good time (and hopefully learning!), that’s a great feeling!
What else would you like people to know about you? 
I work for the WaterWorks Museum at Louisville Water Tower Park (come visit! It’s awesome!).

Here’s what other have to say about Carol’s contributions to Locust Grove!

Amy Liebert: Carol is in her second year with the cast. She is also in her last semester of a MA in public history from U of L. She portrays Mrs. Richard Ferguson, wife of Dr. Richard Ferguson, famed for removing GRC’s leg. We actually found Carol because she was a student in Dr. Carol Ely’s class on theater in museums at U of L.

She has been a real pleasure in the cast. She is proactive and supportive of her fellow cast members, and bring a professional and scholarly perspective to the program. From her first day in our program it was always very clear that she took this seriously, and each time she would come in last year you could see she had focused on another way to improve and up her game, from her costuming to her character research.

Brian Cushing: She was thorough, professional, and excited about the project right of the gate. Her demeanor is relaxed, unassuming, and helpful, putting both fellow interpreters and visitors to Locust Grove at ease and making the strange circumstance of coming upon a person from 200 years in the past not intimidating at all.

Look for Carol throughout the year whenever the Costumed Interpreters are on the grounds! Carol, thank you for all that you do!

For more information on volunteering at Locust Grove, why not go here? And if you’re interested in being featured or nominating someone for the volunteer spotlight, go ahead and fill out this form. And to all of our volunteers–we couldn’t run Locust Grove without you!

Regards,

Hannah

P.S. To receive updates on all the goings-on at Locust Grove, why not join our e-mailing list? Sign-up HERE to receive monthly updates! Or if you foresee numerous visits to Locust Grove in your future, why not become a member? Friends of Locust Grove receive free admission, invitations to members-only events, a 10% discount in the Museum Store, a copy of our quarterly newsletter, The Grove Gazette and much, much more! More information can be found HERE.

You can also follow Locust Grove on the web by subscribing to the blog on the right, and following us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. (We’re everywhere!)