While the obvious attraction of Mammoth Cave National Park is, well, the cave, spend a little time above ground and, if you're a history buff, you'll be equally impressed by what you can find.
Back in 1999 when I was working on America's National Parks for Dummies I spent a good day exploring the surface side of the park, and found myself drawn to old homesteads and old cemeteries. Before the cave was established in 1941, there were quite a few communities dotting the landscape's river bottoms and mountain hollows. In fact, there once were about 700 small farms and 30 distinct communities in the area now claimed by the park.
Of course, time has erased many of the communities and homesteads, but among the evidence that they existed are cemeteries. Within Mammoth Cave National Park today you can actually find about 70 cemeteries. Some are small family plots, others are more formal and well-tended cemeteries.
I raise this point because next weekend the park will offer genealogy and cemetery workshops. On Friday the 13th a genealogical seminar will be held from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at the Presbyterian Church Community Building in Smiths Grove, Kentucky. The forum will be led by Mark Lowe, a professional genealogist. His topics will be Early Kentucky and Tennessee Settlement Patterns, and
Tracing the Land: Finding the Records and Marking the Bounds.
On Saturday, October 14th, there will be a cemetery workshop from 8:30 a.m. to noon at the church's community building. This program will be led by Phil DiBlasi, a University of Louisville archaeologist. Preregistration is required for this program, as attendance will be limited to 30. To register, call the park at 270-758-2417.
Both events are cosponsored by Mammoth Cave National Park and the Smiths Grove Women's Club.
If you don't have time right now to attend either seminar but are interested in visiting the cemeteries sometime in the future, here are my suggestions:
The Old Guides Cemetery: This is found along the Heritage Trail by the Mammoth Cave Hotel. Buried here is Stephen Bishop, a slave who explored much of the cave and led tours when it first opened for business in 1816. His gravestone carries the message, "Stephen Bishop, First Guide and Explorer of Mammoth Cave."
The Joppa Cemetery: This one is located along the West Entrance Road about five miles from the main visitor center. Interred here is Shorty Coats, a member of the Civil Conservation Corps that built some of the trails inside the cave in the 1930s. He later went on to become a guide.
The Locust Grove Cemetery: Along the South Entrance Road, this cemetery holds plots marked by simple stones and others denoted by more elaborate gravestones. Some graves contain the remains of people who died at the end of long lives, but others point to untimely deaths of children, some who died during childbirth or soon thereafter from disease or accident.
The Little Hope Cemetery: Along the East Entrance Road, this possibly is the park's oldest cemetery. Among the graves are those of James Adair and James Robinson, who both were veterans of the War of 1812.