Wednesday, June 8, 2011

For The Record (A Cave Mystery)

So a couple of years ago I was looking up some information about my hometown (Waynesboro, VA) and ran across this:

"A cave entrance beneath a section of Riverview Cemetery was uncovered in the 1950s when the hill near Ridgeview Park was landscaped. Some caskets were relocated and the opening was sealed."
--"Riverview Cemetary (sic): A Walk-Through History"

Wait... what? How could I not know this? I immediately dashed off an e-mail to my friend, Cathy, former Waynesborian and fellow cave enthusiast.

Cathy: A cave? Cool! (Although I guess not exactly good for a cemetery!)

There is a cave opening in a cliff overlooking the river just past the park, overlooking where that little island used to be. (Local family) built a house on the land above it, and eventually they put up a fence to keep us kids from going near it. It was a big entrance, but it narrowed very quickly, so there was no real exploring opportunity. I wonder how many more caves are lurking in that area?

G. W.: I did not know that and it's funny you should ask. I was looking through my copy of Descriptions of Virginia Caves (Holsinger, 1975) last night and found a couple, either of which may be the one to which you're referring. If I was TRULY obsessive I'd enter the coordinates into Google Maps and see what's what!

BYLERS CAVE: Waynesboro East quadrangle (175D), lat. 38 deg. 05' 30" N., long. 79 deg. 55' 20" W., elev. 1400. This is a small, 50-foot long cave located near a barn. (Report by P. C. Lucas)

SKYLINE CAVE: Waynesboro East quadrangle (175D), lat. 38 deg. 05' 31 N., long. 78 deg. 55' 21" W., elev. 1400. The entrance is 15 feet wide and leads to a 30-foot-long passage that averages 3 feet in height. (Report by John Tichenor)

More are listed in Caves of Virginia (Douglas, 1964), but I don't have a copy (oh, I want one SO much); that book is long out of print. Descriptions there were not duplicated in the 1975 book, so I have no details on the cave at Coyner Springs, for example. I suppose there's always interlibrary loan...

Cathy: We were forbidden to go to that cave overlooking the river, but that didn't stop my neighborhood cadre back in the day! We discovered it long before the (local family) built that house. (Well, long in terms of kid time. I'm sure it was probably a year or two max before they put up the fence.) I wonder if you could see it from the river... or if foliage has grown up to obscure it. Or maybe the (local family) (or another owner) sealed it up, a la the Coiner Springs cave. You can hardly find that anymore--so much foliage over the big concrete slab.

So... Where do you think this cave at the cemetery could be located? would it have been in the side of the hill? How could it have gone unnoticed until landscaping... the hill is not really WOODED or anything... I'm just full of questions.

G. W.: You're asking the EXACT same questions I'VE been asking. Last night I discovered that both the Virginia Historical Society and the Virginia State Library have copies of Caves of Virginia (1964) amongst* their holdings, probably also the Richmond Area Speleological Society, so I figure those are good places to start looking for further information**. I'm also thinking seriously about contacting this K. W. Stanley, who wrote the article to which I linked, and finding out where he got HIS information.

Some cave entrances get covered with dirt and rubble over time; it's entirely possible it was hidden from view until someone did some digging and happened upon it by accident. Actually, I gather this happens fairly frequently.

I am DYING to know more, especially since I LOVE a good mystery! Hot damn, a project at last!

And all this has inspired me to renew my long-lapsed membership in the National Speleological Society.

*"Amongst." Did I REALLY just type "amongst"? Who writes like that?

**I looked at U. VA's copy years ago when I lived in C'ville and meant to photocopy the Augusta Co. section but never got around to it. There were some neat entries--he talked about a small cave in Staunton's Gypsy Hill Park (there's another one outside the park described in Holsinger as "a low, muddy crawl of no significance) and mentions that children used to play there and left candles. The cave at Coyner Springs is mentioned, so it is very likely there'll be an entry for this one.

Cathy: Let me know what you find out... I'm trying to recall anyplace that smacked of sealed up cave up there. We used to play up there a fair amount, it being nearby and everyone having a penchant for being creeped out and scared... I would think it would on or near the slope of the hill, but there were no graves ON the slope. If I recall, there is concrete surrounding or near that brick caretakers building--I wonder if that could have anything to do with it. Damn... why did I not know this as a kid. I would have been SO into exploring! Looking for alternate entrances and such. I'm sure one lies beneath the skeery Withrow monument...

G. W.: This occurred to me: what if the reporter or his source got the facts wrong or just plain misremembered? The cemetery behind The Purple Foot/Centre For Shopping rests on similar terrain. Yeah, I've got to look into this more (ahem!) deeply.

And funny you should mention alternate entrances. I've often wondered if there are any to the Coyner Springs cave, so why not the Riverview? And what if the cave you mentioned (which I also want to know more about) and Ridgeview CONNECTED? Okay, that's not likely, but it's a GREAT fantasy.



Bought a copy of Caves of Virginia (1964) via Amazon for $50 and received it yesterday; did a lot of cross-referencing with Descriptions of Virginia Caves (1975) and Google Maps Satellite View*. Bottom line: there are a couple of recorded caves northeast of Coiner Springs near the railroad tracks and not too far from where my parents lived on Nicholson Dr. (that whole Stratford Commons housing development), Bylers and Skyline (see previous e-mail), but nothing listed east of there. This doesn't mean the Ridgeview and the other cave aren't known; it just means they weren't listed in these two surveys. Many more caves have been described since then**(1700 by 2002, bringing Virginia's total to 4000), but the current feeling amongst NSS/VSS members is never again will precise locations be available to the general public. This makes things a little difficult for me to research.

On the other hand, we may yet be on to something--these caves (if the Riverview one exists) may not be known.

I'm particularly interested in tracking down the Baugher cave entrance and getting its GPS coordinates (guess I'll be buying one of those handheld thingies soon) at the very least, so I may soon combine a visit to Mom with a little hiking and exploring.

By the way, here's the Coiner Spring cave description:
lat. 38-03-12; long. 78-55-56 "The cave is 3 mi. SW of Waynesboro at Waynesboro City spring (Coiner Spring) and is about 125 ft. long."

And Gypsy Hill Park:
lat. 38-09-47; long. 79-05-00 "It consists of 2 small rooms filled with candles brought in by children. Very warm and dry."

*Which is just a DANGEROUS thing to play with, given its timesucking potential.

See also the "Our History" link at the Virginia Speleological Survey webpage.

Cathy: Cool!

Here's the thing with the cave (if they haven't closed it off, which they well might have. It really was the very definition of attractive nuisance, even if it was too narrow to get into)--remember where that island was in the river right near where the park ended and the (local family's) property began? Before there was a fence (and before the house was built--and I think that was probably around '67 or so), there were some bushes blocking the way. So we'd wade in the shallow water between the island and the riverbank to get around. Maybe the reason the cave isn't noted anywhere is that you could not go into it, as it just narrowed down to a very tiny crack very quickly. There was enough room for one (maybe two) kids to sit in the mouth of it, though, shallow as it was. We used to sneak in after they put up the fence too, but once they built that little tram skycar to the ill-fated house they built for the daughter and her husband across the river (the house was destroyed by either the Camille or Agnes flood--can't recall which now--not sure of the fate of the skycar), we didn't make the attempt anymore.

The upshot being... approach the site from the shallows of the river in that spot. The (local family's) home is on a cliff that looms above where the island was (or, maybe another has formed there since they dredged it out decades ago?), and the cave mouth is in the cliff, about halfway up, IIRC.

I don't remember the Gypsy Hill Cave as a kid, although I read about it later--maybe when I was in high school. Is it sealed now? I think so.

And of course, the Coiner Spring cave, the concrete seal of which is so overgrown now it's hard to locate it--at least that was the case the last time I was there a couple of years ago. I remember being SO insulted and angry when we went there on our 1st grade school picnic to find it sealed up... but I swear the concrete block moved aslant between the time we discovered it was sealed and the time we packed up to head for home. Creeped me out! But it was probably just my overactive imagination... again.

Maybe some ridge-walking is in order along the crest of that cemetery hill there!

The blocked cave entrance at Coyner Springs

Oh, by the way... Don't know if you have heard about the new passages and rather amazing formations discovered rather recently (within the last decade, at least) in Grand Caverns...

I found these photos when I was researching for the novel, and I used them as reference for Grace and Stuart's private off trail adventure (unfortunately, there is now a very obnoxious popup that looms there... but some of the speleothems are cool--an anthodite too, which puts the kybosh on Skyline Cavern's claims...)

So, of course, I had to track down the cave by the river and take some pics:

Cathy: Wow! I never realized there were THREE openings (maybe four, given the looks of the base of the cliff). We used to climb up to the biggest opening (the one on the top right) and sit in it on hot days. Only one or two of us could fit there, as you can see. There was a "beach" at the base of the cliff--it was right across from the island, and the river was VERY shallow. Maybe the opening at the cliff bottom was covered up by the sand and pebbles. They REALLY dredged that island away, huh??

The other openings must have been hidden by vines and such--there was a lot of vegetation on the cliff. And I remember the rock being much redder. Hmmm. So much for accurate memories!

That is so cool!

But DAMN! That cave. I know that the  big opening constricts severely a foot or so into the bluff, so there is no way to squeeze through that. I expect the other openings are similar. But that one at the bottom... now that could have possibilities. Wouldn't it be cool if there were beautifully decorated "rooms" beneath the park? Odds are that there are no big chambers, but still... A girl can hope, can't she?

But the question remained, is there a connection between the cave openings by the river and the cave in the cemetery? I posed this question on Facebook and got this response from a local:

Cavern under the cemetery
allright dude... my aunt shirley told me when she was a little girl, granddad and her went to the west side of the park and up the river. about where the cable car is (was) they found a small cave there that had a draw. granddaddy built a fire in front of the cave and said there had to be an outlet somewhere so they headed back to their house (on linden before any other houses or road even were built just a dirt road) on the way back they saw smoke coming out on top of the hill (cemetery). they walked to find the smoke was coming out the middle of a clump of cedar trees right out the middle of them. the trees are still there i dont get it but thats what i was told. ive seen the cave by the river before in the 80s. she is 70yrs old now so when they were there she was 8yrs old or younger so were talking in the late 1940s so there you go man hope you enjoyed this.

So the bottom line is this: there's a possibly undocumented cave system running from Riverview Cemetery to the banks of the South River, a decent distance, in Waynesboro, VA. It may or may not be explorable, but it's there.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Happy Birthday To Me!

Yeah, I had a birthday a couple of days ago. No big deal--56 going on 16 if you're really interested--and not a particularly eventful day, though I did get a couple of unexpected birthday cards, one from my aunt in Albuquerque (where you're supposed to turn left) and one from my Uncle John in Hagerstown, MD (Uncle John is the "Porter" in those Lionel-Porter chemistry sets so popular amongst budding mad scientists in the early '60s).

My mother, unfortunately, is in no state to remember my birthday (due to "advancing senile dementia of the Alzheimer's type"), so the one person who was most likely to send me a card or gift is no longer capable of doing so. That's okay, though; I got lots of birthday wishes via Facebook and one singular present from me to me:

That's a Smith & Wesson* H. R. T. (for "Hostage Rescue Team") out-the-front spring-assisted knife (not a switchblade, technically speaking) with 3" blade.**

I have no earthly reason for owning one; in fact, since I wouldn't dare carry it outside the house, its primary purpose is as a glorified letter/package opener...

A letter opener that looks way-cool and goes "shhhhh-CHING!" with a little, slightly awkward, manipulation.

But it's great fun to play with, though the cat becomes a little concerned when I stalk around the living room with the day's mail saying, "Why? So? SERIOUS?"

Hey, I'm an easily amused 16-yr.-old trapped in a middle-aged body.

*It's actually manufactured by Taylor Brands LLC; they merely licensed the S & W name.

**Interesting note: in Virginia, where I live, it is not technically illegal to own a switchblade; however, it is illegal to sell, trade, or barter one and, in a classic example of Catch-22, possession is considered to be prima facie evidence of intent to sell.