Cumberland Caverns & Bluegrass Underground
I've seen a fair share of caves and caverns over the past couple years. Like this one, this one, and this one (my full explorations of Kentucky will come soon enough). Now, I get to add Cumberland Caverns to the list! And for the record — it does not disappoint among caverns. Or location. PLUS it has a very unique feature that the other caverns don't have: a priceless chandelier.
But actually, even better than that (to me), is they have the Bluegrass Underground — a "musical adventure series" performed in the cavern!
So first off. The caverns. They seem unreal. But, I can testify they are very real. The first time I went, I didn't know about Bluegrass Underground, and so I just opted to go on the cavern tour (they didn't have a Bluegrass Underground performance that day, but you are able to get a ticket (subject to availability) that will get you a tour + a show).
They take you through the lighted cavern path and point out formations, the stalagmites and stalactites, and optical illusions like a water "pond" that looked like it was a foot deep but was actually about ten feet deep or so. I'm so fascinated by stalactites too (they're the ones that hang from the ceiling). It takes one year to form an ice cube size! Just imagine in some of the pictures below how old that formation is! (Also, a good way to remember the difference between stalagmites and stalactites is you "might" trip over stalag-"mites", and stalac-"tites" hang "tight" to the ceiling.)
And that chandelier. Apparently they acquired it because Roy Daves, the owner/founder at the time, was looking for a pipe organ to put in the cavern, and while he was getting that from the Lowes Metropolitan Theater in Brooklyn New York (they were closing), he saw the chandelier. It had been hanging there from 1928 until it was then purchased by Daves in the early eighties. Daves had watched as some guys prepared to cut the chandelier down and let it shatter. So Daves asks if he can get transportation for it can he have it? They agreed and he essentially gets it for very little cost. Later, someone comes to appraise it and it's actually a priceless antique. I'm not saying that as a metaphor. There is a very small number of priceless antiques in the world, and this chandelier is one of them.
It's very impressive in person.
"She weighs approximately 1500 pounds, has 150 lights, and is composed of several thousand crystal beads. She reaches over eight feet wide and is fifteen feet long." (source)
The funnier part is that the organ only lasted a couple years or so because it became too rusty in the cave.
The other piece of information that I thought was interesting was near the end of the tour — you go into part of the cavern and they play a video. The video includes the story about the guy who discovered that part of the cabin. His light actually went out (they had gas lamps at the time) and he was in complete darkness for two or three days until some of his friends finally found him. The video also mentions how his hair was completely white as well as his skin after he got out. And then it proceeds to seemingly have a happy ending to the guy and the story and now we have this great part of the tour.
After the video was finished, I inquired of the tour guide why the guys hair became completely white after only a couple days. That's when I found out the real story.
It's rare to be trapped in 100% complete darkness. And he was. Because of that, his hair turned completely white as well as his skin, he lost most of his eyesight (can't remember actually if he lost all of it or not), and he kind of went crazy. He thought that his friends that came to rescue him were actually demons dragging him down to hell so he fought them off. Even after they took him out of the caverns, he was never quite the same, and his brown hair never came back. So... don't get stuck in the cavern without a light.
The most precious part of the tour was the friend that Janna made. He was about six years old. At one point, Janna was sitting on a bench and he just snuggled up right next to her. And then they started talking and became fast friends. By the time we were walking out of the caverns, he was holding her hand.
Although the caverns are a bit of a drive out from Nashville — approximately an hour and a half — you can make it a whole day trip and stop in places like Murfreesboro or get lunch at a really great BBQ place in McMinnville like we did (Collins River BBQ was the way to go!).
As mentioned, the unique thing about this cavern is the Bluegrass Underground. Annemarie had told me about it after we had already decided we were going on just a cavern tour the first time we went to Cumberland Caverns, but she really wanted to go. So, as part of her bachelorette party, I included it in the itinerary!
You can see who's playing and purchase a ticket here. At 333 feet underground, in a cavern, with that huge chandelier hanging above you, you can watch musical performances. I can't say I ever put "watch a band perform in a cavern" on my 100 things to do before I die list, but mostly because I didn't realize it was an option.
I loved too how aside from the chairs set-up in front of the stage, seating was pretty open. I sat on the cavern rocks at one point and got the best view. I also appreciated the dancing area where some couples got up and danced to some songs. It was really sweet.
I can't say I'm an expert at acoustics, but I felt like everything amplified well. Overall, a great fun experience.
So basically, my point is, make sure you make a visit to Cumberland Caverns!