Caves are fascinating yet dangerous: they are dark, forbidding and unstable. And while they often house geological wonders, caves are a claustrophobic's worst nightmare because they could collapse at any given time, and it would be almost impossible to pull anyone out. And that's precisely what happened in 1925 when the world was riveted by a daring cave accident and rescue.
The film "Man in Cave" details the events known as the "Tragedy at Sand Cave." On January 30, 1925, Floyd Collins got stuck 60 feet underground inside a cave he was excavating on his own. Armed with only a gas lantern, Collins had been working alone for months on a cave, chipping away by hand a path leading to a larger cave structure deeper inside. When he broke his lantern, he was inside a narrow crawl-way about 17 meters or 55 feet below ground. He desperately tried to inch his way out - on his back - in the darkness, but a 15-kilogram or 33-pound rock fell on his ankle and gravel and sand trapped him on the spot.
Sand Cave is located in the state of Kentucky and is part of the Mammoth Cave System, the largest cave system in the world. In the first quarter of the 20th century, many farmers with caves on their property opened them up to local tourists. But since caves were a dime-a-dozen, it got extremely competitive. Soon the "Kentucky Cave Wars" was in full swing, where they competed bitterly against each other with dirty tactics for tourist dollars.
Floyd Collins was a well-known local cave explorer and cave entrepreneur, and Sand Cave was to be his next big tourist attraction. After being trapped for over 24 hours, other cavers finally found him, but no one could rescue him. His brother attempted to do so, but it was extremely difficult to reach him. He could eat, drink and speak and a local journalist, William Miller, even went down to interview him. On day four, more rocks collapsed, closing the entrance to the passageway and leaving Collins trapped in the dark. It would take almost 15 more days for rescuers to finally reach his body. Collins had died from thirst, hunger, exposure and hypothermia.
The coverage of Collin's rescue was one the first ever to be transmitted around the country using broadcast radio. It was one of the first significant media events, creating such a sensation that tens of thousands of people showed up on the site. William Miller even won the Pulitzer Prize for his interview with Collins. It also led to the formal establishment of the Mammoth Cave National Park.
In the years since his death, the new owners put his body in a glass coffin and kept it inside the cave as a tourist attraction for years. When it became a national park, his body was still not released to his family. In a morbid twist of fate, Floyd Collins would only escape the cave 64 years later, in 1989.