Throwback Thursday: Lost River Cave legends and lore

Continuing our October tradition of haunts and spooks, we visit Bowling Green’s Lost River
Cave this week. There’s something chilling about caves. It’s easy to see how these underground
wonders could play host to mysterious or ominous experiences, these homes of ancient origin
taking thousands of years to carve as natural catacombs. Since the known beginnings of
mankind, caves have been sacred places, symbols of birth and death.

When one meanders through the blue hole trails leading to the mouth of Lost River Cave, it’s
easy to feel the cave’s chilling presence. Once home to a tourist motor court and one of the best
stops on the dixie highway, cave tour guides have been sharing legends and lore for decades.
Today we visit a few of those tales that tug at your bones.

Shanks mill was supposedly somewhere at Lost River Cave around the 1790s when Bowling
Green was founded. Did Shanks really bury a wooden box full of money? He died so quickly
that no one ever found it. Or if they did, they certainly didn’t tell anyone.

During the Civil War, Lost River Cave was used as a campground by both Union and
Confederate soldiers. Tour guides throughout the past century have shared stories of soldiers
having drowned in the blue holes as they explored what was later believed by Ripley’s to be the
world’s shortest and deepest river at 437 feet below ground. The flow of the water could easily
be confused for length and depth. What became of the soldiers who died? Was the cave used
as a morgue, a sort of burying ground without the graves?

Dissecting bodies for medical research was frowned upon in the years of early modern
medicine. It’s said that doctors used to sneak a bottle of whiskey to men on death row in
exchange for using their bodies for science afterward, and that local doctors would take the
bodies to the cave for research, as no one would dare venture there to catch them in the act.
Fast forward to the 1930s and 40s when the Cavern Nite Club was the coolest swing club in
Bowling Green. The underground club’s original dancefloor is still used at the cave mouth today,
where weddings and special events are held throughout the year. Some of the biggest names in
jazz bands and orchestras performed on that dancefloor, like Dinah Shore and Francis Craig.
Between the weddings, club nights, and special events throughout the past century hosted at
the cave, there’s been all kinds of unusual sights reported by cave staff. Some say that in the late
hours of night, after weddings and events are cleaned up, that figures have been seen
gliding across the dark, empty dance floor. One was a woman in a long white dress.

When Lost River Cave first re-opened for public tours and events in the late 1990s, after it had
been cleaned up from the garbage dump it had unintentionally morphed into during the 1970s
and 80s, one of the cave’s annual fundraisers was a Halloween-themed spooky affair. We found
advertisements for the cave’s annual Witchcraft Ball in 1996 and its Goblin Gala of 1999 in the
WKU Kentucky Museum and Library Special Collections archive. Gala goers could dance the
night away until midnight. But what happens after midnight, one can only speculate.

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Antea Morbioli

Hola soy Antea Morbioli Periodista con 2 años de experiencia en diferentes medios. Ha cubierto noticias de entretenimiento, películas, programas de televisión, celebridades, deportes, así como todo tipo de eventos culturales para MarcaHora.xyz desde 2023.

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