A trip on the Mammoth Cave Railroad wasn't comfortable, and it wasn't posh. It was a means to an end, a destination most of its passengers anticipated with a mixture of excitement and foreboding — the caves.
They came by the thousands, beckoned by the same lure that drew the first Native explorer 4,000 years earlier: The Unknown. They had read of the fabled wonders of the underworld from the hype of the caves' owners — even Mammoth Cave was once privately owned and shown, as Diamond Caverns still is — and thrilled to its supposed terrors in the awed accounts of past travelers.
A visit to the caves of central Kentucky became a generational affair. Those who marveled at the caves as children remembered, and returned with their own children to share that experience. Their children then brought their own, and many made their voyage on the train.
This tradition continued long after the rails fell silent, and families still return today on a pilgrimage handed, like a family heirloom, down the line.
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Diamond Caverns, one of the oldest show caves in the region, was operated at the time of the Mammoth Cave Railroad by Larkin Procter — who was related by marriage to the family that operated Mammoth Cave. His brother George Procter ran the
famous Bell's Tavern to the south.
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The entrance portal to Diamond Caverns, still in use today. Diamond Caverns features a denser display of cave formations than Mammoth Cave. A visit to one of the region's "show caves" makes a good complement to a visit to Mammoth's vast dry passages.
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The original entrance building, seen above at right.
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An advertisement for both Mammoth and Diamond.