Monday, September 09, 2013

Today in History: The Longest Cave, Mary Queen of Scots, and California Becomes a State

A few notable events have their anniversaries today. Some are historical in nature.

For example, Mary Stuart, the Queen of Scots, was crowned on this day in 1543 at the age of nine months. She had actually become queen at the age of six days at the death of her father, King James V of Scotland, setting her on the path that would ultimately see her executed by her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I of England, as a threat to the English throne on February 8, 1587.

In US history, in 1776 on this day the Continental Congress named the new union the United States. In 1791, the newly established federal city of the United States on the banks of the Potomac River, was named Washington after the first president of the union, giving Washington, DC its name. In 1850, California became the 31st state of the union on this date. In 1942, during World War II, a Japanese floatplane dropped two incendiary bombs on Oregon with the objective of starting a forest fire. It was the first attack by an enemy plane on the continental United States, but it was singularly unsuccessful, with little damage caused.

In slightly more frivolous events, the National Broadcasting Company - NBC - was formed on this day in 1926, while on this day in 1956 Elvis Presley made his first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.

While all of these events hold some interest, more or less, the thing that makes September 9 notable for me is the fact that it is the day in 1972 when the connection between Mammoth Cave System and the Flint Ridge Cave System on an adjoining ridge in Kentucky were shown to be connected, making it the longest cave in the world. The connection was made by a six-person expedition as the culmination of an effort to show a connection of the two cave systems that had begun in 1954. At the time of connection, there were 144.4 miles (232.4 km) of surveyed cave passages in the linked system, enough to make it the world's longest cave. Further explorations and surveys in the system have extended that length to around 400 miles (640 km) of surveyed passages. This cave system is more than twice as long as the second-longest cave system in the world, located in Mexico.

Here is a bit of a documentary that talks about the connection, with interviews with some of the cavers who were on the connection trip. Some of the caving scenes are recreations, but this clip carries the flavor of what it must have been like to be on that trip:

For all that I've only ever been in two caves in my life, Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico and Florida Caverns, near Marianna, Florida, I love caves and am fascinated by them. Because I am fascinated by them, when I discovered a book called "The Longest Cave", by Roger Brucker and Richard Watson, on the new books shelf in the library back in 1976, I picked it up immediately and thus found my favorite book in the world. The book tells the story of those years of exploration between 1954 and 1972, written by two of the men who took part in those long years of exploration. Neither one of them were along on the connection trip in 1972, but they tell the full story, including the eventful connection trip. The books make clear that all the explorers over all those years were as much family as colleagues and friends, out not just to find the connection that so many of them believed existed but just to have a good time with friends who shared the same passion for the caves as they did.

"The Longest Cave" is a really good book. If you have any interest at all in caves, in adventure, in exploration, or just in the idea that there is value in doing something because it is enjoyable and joyful and might or might not lead to bigger things, you need to read this book. In fact, I think I need to read it again, because it is just as good after all the times I've read it as it was the first time. It's kind of like going to visit old friends.

No comments: