1869 Cave tour led by Mat Bransford (and a solar eclipse)

A friend, Gross Magee, forwarded a link to this account of the cave to the other day.  It was an OCR text and I have corrected it using my best guesses at the limited number of errors present.  These may not be perfect, but the gist of the text is not affected otherwise.  The story begins with a trip to the cave starting in Louisville, a trip through the cave led by Mat Bransford, and end with an account of a solar eclipse viewed from the Mammoth Cave Hotel.

The Times-Picayune,22 August 1869 › Page 12, OCR Text

The Times-Picayune MONDAY morning, Aug. 22, 1869:  KENTUCKY SUNSHINE. THE MAMMOTH CAVE, ETC.

Having: heard hat Louisville could boast of the great hotel in the world, and that astronomers by calculation had  designated the Galt House as the particular spot from which the darkest part of the eclipse could be seen, we made way – for Louisville, and arriving there some days in advance of the time set for the eclipse, gave us ample time to be perfectly satisfied that Louisville could well boast, for there is certainly nothing left undone by the architect, the builder, upholsterer and manager to make one feel at home. To a person familiar with the St. Charles Hotel in years past, he would, on entering the Galt House, find many departments tilled by men of experience who were in the St. Charles when it was the best hotel in the world. Capt. St. Clair Thomasson, who is unknown only to those who have settled on the Mississippi River, between Memphis and New Orleans within the last ten years, appears to be second in command of that institution; but the ladies; claim him not only as first, but the only one in command for letters and dispatches are daily received by him, saying ” I am coming.” “I want my room.” etc. So that he can tell you that such an omnibus will be here in ten minutes, with the exact number of ladies, their names, etc. Thus we found out from the Captain – that on the day of the eclipse the Galt House would be nearly full. Ladies from all quarters had requested of him front seats to see the great show from the western side of the Galt House, and we knew the Captain would accommodate the ladies at all hazards; and not – wishing to be crowded, we left with the gayest party of thirty ladies and gentlemen from Lexington, Kentucky, on an excursion to the great Mammoth Cave.

The proprietors, Messrs. L. J. Proctor & Son, having determined that the traveling public should have every facility of reaching the Cave, have purchased the Glasgow Junction Hotel (formerly Bell’s Tavern), and are prepared with vehicles to transport any number that may arrive. This point was severely tested for our party arrived at Glasgow Junction at 10 P. M;  at 5 A. M. a party of twenty- four by the New Orleans train, and still another by the Nashville train, all wishing to go at once. Major Proctor called on his stage manager, a Mr. V. Wetzel, who claims to be of the German persuasion, and brags of being an exempt member of Volunteer Fire Company No. 1., who he says, were never beaten in anything they undertook; hence his confidence of success in his undertaking. Wetzel ordered out his vehicles, saying that he would transport all to the Cave, in time for the long route, if they were even double the number. The Tennessee party, not having great confidence in Wetzel, crowded some eighteen of their party in the first vehicle, and got the start of the Lexington party; but Wetzel had made correct calculations, and had fully eighty-four ladies and gentlemen comfortably on their way, when the first vehicle was seen returning with a broken axle, leaving the Tennessee party at the roadside, where we passed them with many jokes at their expense. Wetzel was not to be outdone; getting another vehicle, he sent the party through in time to join us in our journey through the Cave.

Arriving at the Mammoth Cave Hotel, we found over three hundred persons already there, and as the proprietors advertise accommodation for three hundred we thought of more trouble, but were kindly received by Mr. Proctor, Senior, at the door, and Mr. Proctor, Junior, in the office. They appeared very glad to see us, and silently wished we had not all come at once: however, the crowd were comfortably taken care of, proving that a hotel, properly managed, is somewhat like an omnibus never full. After dusting, drinking, water of course, the Lexington party were in ‘charge of very jovial, clever D. D., who took water, and the party did as he did.

Donning our cave suits, which brings Mardi Gras day, in New Orleans, very forcibly to our recollection, we proceeded to the Cave. It fell to our lot to have the colored guide Mat. Nothing peculiar about Mat only that he favors the picture of Robinson Crusoe, but as we are governed and represented by negroes, believing that Mat had received his appointment as guide from the President or Congress, we were about taking off our hat, when Mat politely told us to keep it on, for he was formerly a negro, and a negro still. Although he was a guide in the Cave, he did not think he or any of his color were fit subjects to guide the white race. We found Mat truly what he professed. Has speeches and descriptions were instructive as well as amusing, in fact he was a great favorite of our party, which was a very large one, composed of Lexington and Tennessee parties numbering fifty-one. . We know there were fifty-one, for at Mat’s request a party by the name of Johnson counted them on ascending and descending the steps leading to the Gorin’s Dome, and where Mat is careful to know that he returns with the same number.

We will not undertake to describe the curiosities of the Cave, but the air is remarkably pure. One does not feel the fatigue of the long walk required to visit the Cave. Of this large party not one gave out. On arriving at Lake Purity a few of the Lexington party appeared to lag and show some anxiety that their D. D. and the ladies should be helped to water first and sent on their way. Seeing one of the lagging party with a mysterious package in his hand, we became suspicions and lagged also. The tired gentleman opened the package and disclosed a square bottle “Everybody takes it. Brady’s family bitters.” We partook of that which everybody takes, and found no more fatigue. This gentleman was called Brady’s Bitters during the excursion. Many times the question was asked, are you tired I go to Brady’s bitters. On our return, nearing the mouth of the Cave, we noticed a young lady, of the Lexington party who had been sick while at the Galt House, and made the trip thus far, began to show signs of fatigue, and was, we thought, near falling. We were about offering our services when Brady Bitters stepped up and took the lady under his special care. We saw that mysterious package again unfolded; could not Qo the lady take it, for Brady Bitters stood before us. But we do Know, that the young lady did not show any more signs of fatigue. She was the loveliest of the ball-room that night. – Went through the long route (requiring’ fourteen hours to walk eighteen .miles to see this) next day. Again in the ball-room at night, and went through Proctor’s Cave the following day, and left for Louisville to see the sun in the dark.



The astronomers had, I suppose, informed the, parties at the Cave that Louisville was the only place to see the eclipse; therefore the most of the guests of the Cave Hotel left for Louisville; but I am sure that those in Louisville or any other place-did not have as fine a view as the remaining guests at Cave Hotel, who, at the time appointed, were ready with smoked glass and looking at the sun. “There is a notch in it,” says one. “Yes I see.” says another, and the sun became gradually and beautifully less. The trees cast shadows upon the ‘ walls and galleries of the hotel, showing the size and reversed form of the sun. The chickens and birds began to act strangely and went to roost, the bats made their appearance, many white men left their work in the field and came home alarmed, some believing the prophecy of the sleeping girl of Hickman, who said the ” sun would never shine as bright again” of others believing it was the end of the world . When the sun was fully eclipsed, it seemed to us that there was a black body of its size immediately but many miles in front of it, for you could see the rays of the sun around the outer form of the black body, and we thought it remained so fully one minute. When it began, the reappearance by a blazing star from the bottom of the black body, and enlarged with such rapidity that there was a .general exclamation of alarm from the guests of the hotel, which was quieted by an English gentleman remarking that it was regular and in the bills of the show. To our mind, we had as beautiful a sun-shine the evening after the eclipse as we ever had before. Messrs. Proctor & son, believing it their duty to amuse as well to feed their guests, provide them with billiard-room and ball, free of expense, both being well patronized, as usual, immediately after the eclipse. This place should certainly be a great summer resort; the air is cool and pure, the scenery beautiful, ridge roads on the mountains for buggy riding, good hunting, and Green River, in color as well as name, affording good fishing. Mr. Proctor is still exploring the new cave, and adding daily to the already greatest curiosity in the world. The surroundings outside of Mammoth Cave afford a summer’s study to the curious mind. Truly, this place needs only to be seen to be appreciated.  Belle.


Eclipse of August 7, 1869


Edward Forrest Frank

About Edward Forrest Frank

My name is Edward Frank. By training I am a geologist with published research on caves found in the United States, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. I am the webmaster, BBS administrator, and run the Facebook Page for the Native Tree Society and am involved with tree research with the group. I am the author, or coauthor, of a number of tree related articles and publications available for download from the NTS website and NTS BBS. I edit the monthly magazine for the group - eNTS Magazine. I write science fiction and fantasy stories reflecting a lifelong love of the genres. Most recently I published a fantasy role playing game Knarf 4, available through Amazon Kindle. I have an extensive science fiction and fantasy library and have long enjoyed table top role-playing games. Not satisfied with commercially available games, I started creating my own game variations in the mid 1980's. Knarf 4 is latest version best version of those games. I also write non-fiction. I currently am working on a book on "The Old-Growth Forests of Cook Forest State Park, PA" targeting older children and teens. I am suave, sophisticated, funny, kind, considerate, thoughtful, brilliant, devilishly handsome, and above all modest.
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