Mar 29, 2017 I Brent Swancer

Into the Ghostly Gloom: Strange Tales of Haunted Caves

Caves are already inherently spooky places as it is. With their cold, rock walls, claustrophobic dark tunnels, and eerie caverns bathed in perpetual night, these are already innately scary, although also ofttimes beautiful places. Yet there are caves that have an added layer of creepiness by being plagued with hauntings and various ghostly high strangeness. Here in the impenetrable pitch black of an eternal midnight sinister history, deaths, and curses all converge to create subterranean lairs for things beyond our understanding, and truly earn them the reputation of being terrifying locations. It is perhaps not so surprising that there should be haunted caves, and their gloomy ambiance lends itself to such tales quite nicely. Here are some of the more bizarre of these cold, haunted places lying down within rocky catacombs where the sun is a stranger.

One very scary cave is located in the U.S. state of Arizona, near a place complete with ghost town called Canyon Diablo just off Interstate 40. The ghost town itself is a relic of the days when railroad men toiled away creating the tracks that would carry settlers further west, and in this case it was mostly focused on providing services and entertainment to those who were in the process of trying to build a railway bridge over the canyon. The town became notorious for being a lawless place crawling with outlaws, gamblers, and prostitutes, and was notable for its many brothels, saloons, and gambling houses. The town withered away when the railroad was complete, and in its place would later spring up the outpost of Two Guns, which catered to travelers along the infamous Route 66.

The area apparently has its own rather sinister history stretching back to when the Apache Indians inhabited these lands. According to the tales, in 1878 a band of Apache warriors descended upon a Navajo camp to mercilessly massacre the residents there, including men, women, and children, before pillaging what they could. The Navajo retaliated by sending their own warriors to track down their attackers through the bleak desert. Although at first they could find no sign of their quarry, they purportedly at one point were startled when hot air began to blast out of the ground below their feet. As it turned out, the Apache who they were tracking had hidden in a cave system underground, and the heat of their fires had swollen up from below to belch forth to give away their position.

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Canyon Diablo, Arizona

The Navajo took advantage of this discovery by gathering up whatever wood and brush they could find, which they then stuffed into any openings they could find and set on fire. The Apache were smoked out of their hiding place, emerging coughing and gagging to the surface where the Navajo awaited them with vengeance on their minds. The Apache pleaded for their lives, but were ruthlessly thrown back into the burning pit of the cave system to a fiery doom. An estimated 42 Apache met their fate that day, as well as their horses, and the cave was thereafter considered to be a dark and cursed place that few were willing to go near. When white pioneers came trickling in, the Navajo warned them about this forsaken place, but instead of heeding these warnings they built the towns of Canyon Diablo and later Two Guns.

The area was perhaps unsurprisingly long riddled with tales of hauntings. There were often moans, groans, and screams heard to emanate up from the ground, and shadowy figures were often seen skulking about town and around the cave entrance only to vanish in the blink of an eye. It was not uncommon to hear frightened witnesses describe hearing ghostly voices speaking in the Apache tongue. Disembodied footsteps were commonplace, and there were even several unsolved murders attributed to the curse, and buildings seemed to have the habit of setting themselves on fire with no discernible cause. The rumors of curses and hauntings got so bad that some people moved away, never to return. One enterprising entrepreneur actually tried to turn the “Apache Death Cave” into a tourist attraction, and was purportedly not only mauled by wild animals but later attacked and chased away by a mob. When Route 66 was built, the section which ran through Two Guns was said to have an inordinate amount of traffic accidents, also attributed to the curse that seemed to permeate the area.

The town of Two Guns is now just a withered, lifeless husk, full of abandoned ruins from the once prosperous place, but the legends of the cave remain. To this day those who approach the cave system say that voices and moans leap from the darkness, and that the whole area resonates with a certain thick sense of dread. The cave is still accessible, but apparently locals warn against going into it. Besides ghosts, those who enter the cave are said to be beset with misfortune and sickness, that is if they ever manage to make it back out at all.

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Abandoned trading post at Two Guns, Arizona

The restless spirits of Native Americans are at the center of the hauntings at other supposedly haunted caves as well. In Lincoln, Nebraska, is located a vast sandstone cave system once called Pahuk Bluff, which was a sacred and revered place among the region’s native Pawnee tribe. The Pawnee used the caves as a place to contact the spirit world, and practiced traditional healing techniques and methods for attaining powers from animals there. The white settlers started coming in and, as you can probably guess, this did not turn out well for the Natives. The Pawnee were basically kicked out, and the site would become the location of the future capital of the state. Even after they were gone, settlers who ventured to Pahuk Bluff claimed that they could hear Native American chanting and the sound of drums even when no one was there, and one section of the cave system would gain particular notoriety as a haunted place.

Connected to the cave system is one section now called Robber’s Cave, which has gathered quite a spooky reputation for strange phenomena, and this may be in part because of its rather colorful history. The cave was once used as a sort of hiding place and rest stop for escaped slaves traveling the Underground Railroad, and was later converted into a storage facility for beer in 1869. When the brewery folded in 1873, the cave was used by all manner of unsavory characters such as outlaws, escaped prisoners, gamblers, and, well, robbers. According to the lore, the famous outlaw Jesse James even used the cave as a hideout, and its passages were also rumored to be connected to both a prison and an insane asylum. There are numerous stories of people being killed within the cave, as well as tales of stashes of money or treasure sequestered away within its depths.

With so much dark history it is perhaps not surprising that Robber’s cave is said to be intensely haunted. Those who have ventured within its murky confines often come back with stories of hearing chanting, moaning, screaming, laughing, and voices speaking in the Pawnee language as well chattering in creepy gibberish down there in the gloom. The beating of Native drums can also allegedly be heard at times. At one point along the cave there was once said to have been a wall that was supposedly used to seal the passage leading to the old penitentiary, and that from beyond this wall could be heard ghostly shouting and something banging or scratching at the other side as if trying to get through. Interestingly, a brewery once again sits atop the entrance to this mysterious cave, The Blue Blood Brewery, which occasionally offers tours of Robber’s Cave.

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Robber's Cave

There are plenty more supposedly haunted caves to be found. Perhaps one of the largest and infamous of these caves is the Mammoth Cave, in Kentucky. The cave itself is a marvel of nature, twisting through an impressive network that covers some 400 miles, with much of it unexplored, and descends deep within the bowels of the earth, to the point that it is considered to be one of the longest cave systems in the world. Despite being an amazing feature of natural splendor, the Mammoth Cave is also home to some rather dark history.

Prehistoric people’s once used the cave as a burial site before abruptly abandoning the cave for unknown reasons after 2,000 years of being there. In later years, after the War of 1812, the cave was mined for saltpeter for use in the creation of gunpowder, and during this time many of the slaves who toiled within the murk under often hazardous conditions are said to have died down in the darkness. When prehistoric mummies of the early Native Americans who utilized the caves and caverns were later found entombed within the dank darkness, the cave became somewhat of a tourist attraction, and it was often speculated that the ancient corpses were from some lost civilization. Even at this time the cave was rumored to be haunted by the ghosts of slaves who had died in its depths excavating passages, and there were numerous sightings of apparitions lurking within its corridors.

In 1839, a doctor named Frank Gorin turned the area into a medical village for victims of tuberculosis, which he kept down within the cave because he believed that the air there would help to cure the fatal disease. Unfortunately, it didn’t actually work, and many patients purportedly died down there, with their restless spirits said to haunt the location ever since. The cave attracted so much spooky lore that the author H.P. Lovecraft used the Mammoth Cave as the setting of his story The Beast in the Cave, in which one of the tourists gets separated from the group to find themselves stalked by a vicious humanoid creature.

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Mammoth Cave

Slaves, and long dead tuberculosis victims are not the only ghosts said to reside here. Despite the spooky stories surrounding the area, during the 1920s, the Mammoth Cave was a popular tourist destination, with many of the separate caves within the system privately owned by enterprising individuals who all competed for the dollars of the wealthy people who came flocking in to see them. One of these sections was owned by a man named Floyd Collins, who called his cave the “Crystal Cave,” but the enterprise had been losing money, mostly due to its relative inaccessibility compared to some of the other caves of his competitors. In order to fix this, he went about digging out a new entrance, and while doing so became pinned when a boulder was dislodged and fell on him. When Collin’s was found the next day no one was able to move the boulder to free him, and his predicament became a bit of a media frenzy at the time, with tourists gathering about to gawk at him, so in a way his bid for attention had sort of worked in a morbid way.

The trapped Collins became quite the attraction, with souvenir stands and food stalls popping up around him as rescuers struggled to try and free him. At some point there was another cave-in, which blocked him off from everyone else and prevented anyone from reaching him. Floyd Collins would eventually die of exposure alone there in the dark, where his corpse would remain for several years until it was finally removed and put in his family’s cemetery. In a rather macabre twist, Collins’ father later sold the cave, now called "Sand Cave," and actually gave permission for his son’s body to be exhumed and put on display in a glass case by the new owner as a twisted exhibition.

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An entrance at Mammoth Cave

The gruesome display drew in throngs of people looking for a peek at the macabre, and later the body was stolen, only to be found several days later in a field with a leg missing for some reason. The body would nevertheless be put back on display until the National Park System bought the cave in 1961. Ever since then, the ghost of Floyd Collins has been said to haunt the Sand Cave, and witnesses report that they can hear his voice calling out to them from the blackness begging for help. The spirit is also said to throw rocks and push visitors, showing that he is perhaps not happy about his situation. The Mammoth Cave to this day remains a popular tourist attraction, and visitors can still tour the abandoned tuberculosis village and take in the breathtaking scenery of Mammoth Cave National Park, as well as the impressive sight of the caves for themselves.

Other mysterious caves are said to be haunted by actual witches. Perhaps the most well-known of these is the Bell Witch Cave, in Adams, Tennessee. According to the lore, in 1804 a farmer by the name of John Bell and his family moved to a secluded area along the Red River in northern Robertson County, which was also near a rather large cave, already rather creepy as it was said to be the site of a Native burial ground. This land purchase did not go over well with his neighbor, an eccentric, cranky old lady by the name of Kate Batts, who thought that she had been cheated by the Bells and made it very clear that she loathed them. She hated them so much, in fact, that it is said that as she lie on her deathbed in 1817 she swore to haunt them, cursing them with her last dying breath.

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The Bell Witch Cave

So far, so scary, but Batts apparently made good on her word. Not long after her death strange things began to happen around the Bell house. There could often be heard knocking and scratching noises on the doors and walls at night, as well as disembodied footsteps wandering about. This quickly escalated to more ominous noises, like the sound of something heavy being dragged, cackling laughter, and the sounds of choking or gnawing. Not long after this, the family’s youngest daughter, Betsy, began to be the target of violent phantom attacks, such as hair pulling, bites, scratches, being choked, and spontaneous bruises. The father, John Bell, also complained of having mysterious choking fits during which he claimed he could feel hands around his throat. These attacks and strange phenomena lasted until 1820, when John Bell died, apparently satisfying what had come to be called “The Bell Witch.”

The Bell house and its neighboring cave became rather well-known, and many visitors came to see them, among these future president Andrew Jackson, who after spending a night at the farm once said “I would rather face the entire British Army than to spend another night with the Bell Witch.” Although the family was spared any more hauntings after John Bell’s death, and the house itself was eventually torn down in the late 1800s, the cave has supposedly remained haunted to this day. Among the many bizarre phenomena reported from here are the sounds of laughing, moaning, and the voice of an old woman whispering from the darkness. There are also sinister tales of being choked or having hair pulled within the cave, apparently a trademark of the Bell Witch. Anyone who is feeling brave enough can take a tour of either the cave itself or a replica of the original Bell cabin, which is furnished with some of the items originally owned by the Bells.

Another haunted witch’s cave is Swallow Cave, near the small seaside town of Nahant, Massachusetts. The cave itself is not particularly large or imposing, just about 24 yards deep, but its size is belied by its dark history. Supposedly, in 1675, which was during the King Philips War, a group of 40 Native American warriors attacked Lynn, Massachusetts and were driven back. They managed to escape and hide in Swallow Cave. Their pursuers spent weeks trying to find the Natives to no avail, and finally turned in desperation to a fortune teller from Salem called Witch Wonderful for help in tracking the raiding party down.

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Swallow Cave. (photo by Scott Fisher)

The witch told the men where the warriors were hiding, and the men went to Swallow Cave to confront them. Yet just as the heavily armed, very angry men were about to massacre the Indians, the witch is said to have appeared and pleaded with them to spare the Natives. Luckily for the Indians, an agreement was made and they were allowed to go. Witch Wonderful would continue to work for peace between the settlers and the Natives until her death, which she had predicted herself, and even after that her spirit is said to lurk near the cave, where it can purportedly seen loitering about the cave entrance or sitting atop a hill which overlooks it.

If witches aren’t your thing, how about the ghosts of gangsters? One incredibly unique haunted cave is called the Wabasha Street Caves, in Saint Paul, Minnesota. At first glance this place does not look like a cave at all, and on approach one can only notice a normal looking building. However, this building is situated over the entrance to sandstone caves and caverns that were once used as a silica mine before becoming notorious as a hideout for gangsters and a speakeasy in the 1930s, which is why the building was erected as a disguise over the cave entrance. Supposedly, 3 gangsters were ruthlessly gunned down in the caves and their ghosts have been seen in the caves ever since. Additionally, there are the ghosts of a woman in 1930s clothing and a man wearing a panama hat who supposedly appear sitting together at a bar in the cafe that adjoins the cave.

Also rather unique is the haunted Cave Hotel at the Grand Canyon Caverns. The caverns themselves are located in Northern Arizona along Route 66, and are the largest dry caverns in the United States, stretching down up to 300 feet below ground. Within the caverns is an actual fully functional hotel, which in addition to having a unique aesthetic and full services and amenities, also seems to have its share of ghosts. Two of the ghosts that allegedly haunt the premises are said to be those of two dead brothers who were found in the caverns in 1927 by a Walter Peck, apparently having died of the flu. Interestingly, Peck himself is said to haunt the area as well, with this particular ghost said to enjoy riding on the elevator.

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A stage at the Grand Canyon Caverns Hotel

Other ghosts here are purportedly that of former hotel manager Gary Ringsgy, who in the 1970s hung himself in an area of the hotel called the bunk house, where his spectral body is sometimes seen still hanging by its noose, as well as an undetermined number of Native Americans whose ghostly chanting can be heard echoing through the caves and caverns. Other strange phenomena reported from the hotel are doors opening and closing by themselves, objects moving on their own, strange sudden bursts of light similar to camera flashes, apparitions of Native Americans in full traditional regalia, electronic equipment turning on and off for no reason, the elevator operating on its own, EVP phenomena, and various voices and whispers, among others. The bunk house, restaurant, curio shop, and elevator seem to be particularly haunted locations here.

Some haunted caves are seemingly haunted by more than just the ghosts of humans. The Moaning Cavern in Vallecito, California, so named for the spooky noise the wind makes as it blows through, has specters both human and otherwise. In addition to harboring the spirits of gold miners who died here, which reportedly like to bang on the rocks with their hammers, there are also apparently small, gnome-like creatures spotted here and also the purported ghost of a saber tooth tiger of all things. According to the tales, the prehistoric big cat is thought to have fallen in and died here in ancient times, and its apparition is sometimes seen skulking about in the caves to this day. Some of the reports mention details such as that it appears to have a chipped tooth, no doubt from its ancient fatal fall. Whether this very unique tale is true or not, a spectral saber toothed tiger is surely something you don't hear about too often.

If there is any truth to any of these stories then it appears that there are some truly frightening things to be found in the deep dark of caves, propelling some of them beyond their already sometimes unnerving atmosphere. What lies there within the darkness? Is this all just folklore and tall tales? Is it just overactive imaginations and the creepy locales working on our perceptions? Or are there really phantoms and things from beyond our understanding prowling these tunnel and caverns? We may never know, but for the brave amongst you most of these caves offer tours if you are looking to find out for yourself and possibly bring back your own tales to tell.

Brent Swancer
Brent Swancer is an author and crypto expert living in Japan. Biology, nature, and cryptozoology still remain Brent Swancer’s first intellectual loves. He's written articles for MU and Daily Grail and has been a guest on Coast to Coast AM and Binnal of America.

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