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Local History

Marvel Cave

"For several years exploring parties have made an effort to find the lost entrance to Marvel cave, twelve miles west of here in Stone County, but it remained for William Powell, pioneer resident of the hill country, to find the passageway which leads to the second entrance. The main entrance to Marvel Cave is on the crest of Roark peak, but the conditions of the atmosphere in the cave has led explorers to contend that there must be a second entrance. Since a large portion of the cave still remains unexplored, few persons have ventured to make an extensive tour of the cavern.

"A few days ago, however, Powell, accompanied by another native of the hills, decided to follow the Lost River passage in an effort to find the second entrance to the mammoth cave, which each year is visited by thousands of tourists from all sections of the United States. The men were in the darkness of the underground regions for more than 24 hours, during which they made their way through a maze of passages which heretofore have not been explored.

"Twice the explorers lost their way. In the latter stages of their journey they were forced to use but one miners' lamp, in an effort to conserve their rapidly dwindling supply of oil.

"Powell says that after traveling five hours he came to an immense room through which surged an underground stream. He waded the stream for approximately half a mile and at last came to the brink of a large lake.

"By the dim light of the flickering miners' lamp, Powell was unable to ascertain the size of the lake or the depth of the water. However, far across the lake he noticed a faint ray of light, and as he looked closer saw what appeared to be a small opening, through which the water rushed to the outside world.

"Powell is of the opinion that Lost River terminates in what is known as Indian Springs, several miles from the main entrance, in the bottoms of White River. He believes that by making a raft and crossing the underground lake, one may reach the second entrance.

"Powell stated that after his harrowing experiences in the course of the search, he would never again attempt the trip. His story was verified by the native who accompanied him, but the native also said that one trip down Lost River canyon was sufficient to do him the remainder of his days."

Springfield Leader, August 29, 1921.

This image of Becky Petrehn standing on top of her balloon inside the cave was found while searching for a photograph to accompany this article. In 1988, she became the first person to touch the cave's ceiling at its highest point. This was not the first time a balloon was used in the cave. In 1963, Don Piccard, the first person to successfully cross the English Channel in a hot air craft, set the world's underground altitude record by keeping his balloon aloft for most of the afternoon of July fourth. In 1994, more world records were set in the cave when five single-flier hot air balloons lifted off in Marvel Cave's 20-story high cathedral room. The records were for most balloons flying underground and first underground balloon competition, which included an obstacle course and flags to be retrieved by the balloonists.

The image is from the News-Leader collection, From the Darkroom, available on the library's website.

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