Springfield Caverns Inspire Tall Tales…
By Joe Clayton
"True or false?
"Springfield is precariously situated over a huge underground lake. The homes of local folk are only a few feet above a monstrous cavern. Adventurers who enter the small cave at Doling Park can hear the sounds of traffic on the Public Square. All of those opinions, often expressed around the city, aren't as frightening as they seem. They're just so much folklore.
"But Springfield does have an interesting underground world. Springs, streams and small caverns dot the Ozarks countryside more generously than they do any other given spot in America, and Springfield has its share of atomic bomb shelters, built by nature. Sadly, the fellow who could probably tell us most about the wonders of the city's unseen underworld, Dr. Edward M. Shepard, is gone. We can only glean some of his geological findings from a book he compiled in the last century.
"According to his reports it might be possible, though improbable, for a letter you accidentally dropped on Commercial Street to be found floating in the Gulf of Mexico. The Ozarks watershed is sharply divided, Shepard explained, and its boundary line goes smack down Commercial Street. Rain falling on the avenue's north side flows into gutters carrying it into the Sac, Osage and Missouri rivers. Water gushing into drains on the south side of Commercial eventually blends into Wilson Creek, the James, White and Mississippi rivers.
"Since such a route is devious and slow, it wouldn't be advisable to post your letters that way and expect them to reach your Aunt Jane in New Orleans before the Forth of July. The U.S. mail is faster and drier. This abruptness in north-south water flow is equally sharp east of Springfield. Roughly, the watershed peak follows the Frisco railroad eastward, and between Strafford and Northview rain falls off to the headwaters of the Pomme de Terre and Sac on the north and the James tributaries on the south.
"Vanishing streams are an interesting but fairly common phenomenon in these parts, also, Shepard reports. Wilson's Creek loses itself underground at several points and the south fork of the Dry Sac at one spot. At Devil's Den Sink, a place as fascinating in name as scenery, old-timers claim that logs tossed in to the water vanish via an underground stream.
"Inside Springfield, Shepard investigated a spring, formerly at Cherry and Dollison, a channel beneath the Square and another under the Gillioz Theater, connecting with the Jordan -- a creek which wends its way across east-west Springfield and is roofed by buildings and pavement along most of its course. More springs are mentioned by Clara Barry in a booklet called 'Off the square,' including Fulbright Mill Springs near Cherry and Kimbrough, a walled spring in the 1000 block South Pickwick, and a spring under a building at Robberson and Commercial. The latter structure once had two basements with the lower level used as a beer-cooling vault. That spring supposedly wandered on to the north and issued from the mouth of Doling Cave, formerly known as Giboney [Cave].
"Dr. Edward L. Clark of Rolla, state geologist, recalls that when he was a student here he explored Doling Cave for half a mile and decided the rumor that the cavern travels southward to the Square was unfounded. It is impossible geologically due to the rock formations, he explained. As for the traffic sound reportedly heard in the cave, he attributes them to tricky noises caused by something within the cavern and amplified by the rock walls.
"Another rumor persistently pops up with each dynamite blast at a quarry near Galloway. Springfieldians who hear and feel the reverberation have long claimed the sound is carried through an underground fissure between Galloway and Springfield. Clark says the jarring is probably carried by the rock strata under the earth's surface, just as sound travels along connected wires.
"Some Ozarks towns are fortunate enough to have several caverns beneath them—caves from which the cool air is pumped to air-condition business firms cheaply. Since Springfield has none, its theaters and other establishments must depend upon deep wells to furnish large amounts of water for their air-conditioning plants.
"Doctor Clark's office keeps a list of wells drilled in the city, a log which includes 100 to 150 in Springfield area which are 750 to 1200 feet deep. Some can be found near Kresge's, the Landers, Fox and Gillioz theaters. There are a score within four or five blocks of the Square.
"Although some of Springfield's underground streams are connected, there is probably little truth to an old report that someone once tried to pump out a natural well on Water Street and it sucked water from wells all over the city. The aforementioned Mrs. Barry who passes along that report, also tells of a well and cave under the Square and of Springfield's first white child. Mary Frances Campbell, born just a few feet from it on Jan. 29, 1931.
"Sink holes are fairly common around Springfield, and often are caused by the cave in of a cavern roof. Some have been found under Commercial and the collapse of a quarter of a mile of the entrance of Fantastic Cave many years ago left a valley of that length. Shepard delved deeply into caves in the Springfield vicinity exploring Fantastic (formerly known as Percy, River, Ku Klux Klan, and Knox) seven miles northwest of the city and discovered in 1866; Smallin, formerly Fountain, known in 1818; Mason, near Ash Grove; Lapham in Cass Township; Jones Spring Cave; Woody, north of Ozark; Little Yosemite; Wild Cat, near Bailey Spring; the bluff cave at Pierson Creek, where mines formerly were operated; Robberson and McGuire on the Brighton-Pleasant Hope road.
"A cave now almost forgotten but once the feature of a park area is Fisher at Galloway, opening in a low bluff on the east side of a valley through which the Chadwick railroad branch passed. The entrance, 8 feet high and 30 feet, leads into a room [illegible] feet wide and 25 feet high. The intrepid explorers, equipped with a boat, found a waterfall just inside the entrance and by paddling up the east fork of a stream would find another water fall six feet high. The spring was used by settlers as early as [1840?]. Ozarks caverns, used by some of the earliest forms of mankind and then by the Indians, have pretty well been abandoned today except for pleasure trips. But there may come a year when modernists again become cave-dwellers seeking shelter from death bombs. It's an unsavory thought but at least we'll be better off than those citizens without a cave to turn to.
"Scientists assure us that the atom bomb war is a long way off yet, so don't head underground the next time they blast at Galloway."
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