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Floyd Collins
Floyd Collins.png
Born (1887-07-20)July 20, 1887
Auburn, Kentucky United States
Died c. February 13, 1925(1925-02-13) (aged 37)
Cave City, Kentucky, United States
Resting place Mammoth Cave Baptist Church Cemetery, Mammoth Cave, Kentucky
Occupation Cave owner, cave explorer
Known for Cave exploration in Central Kentucky; being trapped in Sand Cave and dying before a rescue party could get to him

William Floyd Collins (July 20, 1887 – c. February 13, 1925), better known as Floyd Collins, was an American cave explorer, principally in a region of Central Kentucky that houses hundreds of miles of interconnected caverns within Mammoth Cave National Park, the longest cave system in the world. In the early 20th century, in an era known as the Kentucky Cave Wars, commercial cave owners and explorers in Kentucky entered into a bitter competition to exploit the bounty of caves for commercial profit from tourists, who paid to see the caves. In 1917, Collins had discovered and commercialized Crystal Cave on Flint Ridge (now part of the Mammoth Cave System but at the time an isolated cave). But the cave was remote and visitors were few. Collins had an ambition to find another cave he could open to the public closer to the main roads, and entered into an agreement with a neighbor to open up Sand Cave, a small cave on the neighbor's property. On January 30, 1925, while working to enlarge the small passage in Sand Cave, Collins became trapped in a narrow crawlway 55 feet (17 m) below ground. The rescue operation to save Collins became a national newspaper sensation and one of the first major news stories to be reported using the new technology of broadcast radio. The rescue attempt grew to become the third-biggest media event between the world wars.

After four days, during which time rescuers were able to bring water and food to Collins, a rock collapse in the cave closed the entrance passageway, stranding him in the cave, except for voice contact, for more than two weeks. Collins died of thirst and hunger compounded by exposure through hypothermia after being isolated for 14 days, just three days before a rescue shaft reached his position. Collins' body would be recovered two months later.

Although Collins was an unknown figure in his lifetime, the fame he gained from his death led to him being memorialized on his tombstone as the "Greatest Cave Explorer Ever Known".

Early life

William Floyd Collins was born in Auburn, Logan County, Kentucky, the son and third child of Leonidas Collins and Martha Jane Burnett. Collins had five brothers, James, Floyd (a brother with same name), Andy Lee, Marshall Everett and Homer Larkin, as well as two sisters, Anna and Nellie.

Crystal Cave

Sand Cave
Sand Cave, in the "Cave Country", of Central Kentucky

In the period of Kentucky history known as the "Cave Wars," the Floyd Collins family owned their own cave called Crystal Cave, a tourist show cave in the karst region of Mammoth Cave. Crystal Cave attracted a low number of tourists due to its remote location. Collins hoped to find another entrance to the Mammoth Cave or possibly an unknown cave along the road to Mammoth Cave and draw more visitors and greater profits. He made an agreement with three farmers, who owned land closer to the main highway. If he found a cave, they would form a business partnership and share in the responsibilities of operating this tourist attraction. Working alone, within three weeks, he had explored and expanded a hole that would later be called "Sand Cave" by the news media.

Later exploration

The attention over the rescue attempt of Collins created interest in the creation of Mammoth Cave National Park, of which Sand Cave is now a part. Fear and superstition kept cavers away from Sand Cave for decades. The National Park Service has sealed the entrance with a steel grate for public safety. Expeditions into Mammoth Cave showed that portions of Mammoth actually run under Sand Cave, but no connection has ever been discovered. In the 1970s, cave explorer and author Roger Brucker and a small group entered Sand Cave to conduct research for a book about Collins. The team surveyed Sand and discovered an opening in the collapsed tunnel through which a smaller caver can crawl, showing that it would have been possible to feed and heat Collins after February 4, 1925. They proceeded as far as the passage where Collins was trapped; it was choked with gravel and unsafe to excavate. In April 1983, George Crothers led an archaeological investigation that documented many 1925 artifacts in the cave. These were removed for future preservation.

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