Cave History and Memorabilia
By Land ~ Sea Discovery Group Staff
on a cave survey outing to Cima Cave, I had the opportunity to
ride "shotgun" with Bernie Szukalski of the Southern
California Grotto. During the course of our ride through the desert
towards Baker and the "Worlds Largest Thermometer,"
our conversation turned towards collecting cave memorabilia and
cave history. It occurred to me later that this subject may be
of interest to others in the grotto, and I thought I would take
you through some of my collecting experiences. Perhaps they might
provide you with a few ideas for your own searches and hobby interests.
An early Howe Caverns Brochure
had a median interest in caving since high school days growing
up in Schoharie County, New York. Nearby were Howe Caverns with
its underground river, and the wildly promoted Secret Caverns
with its 100-foot waterfall. I made the school trips along with
the rest of the kids, and longed ever since to explore the underworld
without the benefit of tour guides.
I will not go so far as to call myself a caver yet, as my experience
consists mostly of visiting commercial caves, a good number of
mines, and more "coyote holes" in the San Gabriel Mountains
then I care to remember.
doing some research on treasure legends of the southwest, I stumbled
across Kokoweef and the "underground river of gold."
This peaked my interest, and along with a good deal of research,
I was fortunate enough to visit the area and explore to my hearts
content, but that will be a story for another time.
I wanted to share with you today is some of the ways you too can
gather bits of history and memorabilia for research, collections,
or just plain old fun. It was Kokoweef that really got the cave-collecting
bug going for me. Sure the story was an interesting legend, but
as you start researching it's amazing how many twists a story
can take and you begin to wonder what really is the truth.
became a passion to find everything in print, from those early
mentions of the place in the 1930's Touring Topics, and a 1935
Westways Magazine, on through those fantastic tales in the sixties
treasure hunting magazines, I left no stone unturned. Checking
the indexes and bibliographies of any southwestern book I could
find for caves and Kokoweef, I turned up quite an interesting
list of books and magazines to chase down.
Member's Card for the Howe
Cavern's Club, dated 1950 on the reverse.
the hunt was on. Starting with local libraries I was able to find
a good number of the books I wanted, and those that were not available
could be obtained through an interlibrary loan. Finding some of
the rarer books, took me into rare and used book stores all over
southern California, a near caving expedition in itself searching
through some close quartered areas and dusty volumes too long
hidden from the light of day. "This was fun," searching
for scraps of evidence and history.
were a little tougher, but with garage "sailing," estate
sales, and swap meets you can get a good amount of material together
and usually at a reasonable price. Now I must warn you here, that
this latter experience also exposed me to other items that then
also consumed me, namely memorabilia. It was at the swap meet
that I bought my first remembrance of my childhood cave days,
a brochure from Howe Caverns. "Hey that sure was neat,"
I thought as I strode away from the vendor three dollars lighter.
Soon there was another and yet another to cross my path on more
then one occasion.
became scarcer, and it was about that time that I took to the
Internet and the information highway. There is a bottomless pit
of information on caves and caving on the Internet and you can
also communicate with the most amazing folks that have similar
interests. I was fortunate enough to find the son of one of the
original developers of the Crystal Cave Mining Co., also a volunteer
who had worked the tunnels at Kokoweef on and off for fourteen
years, and eventually the owners of the new corporation that leases
the patented land. The old timers, if you have the opportunity
to talk to them, have some of the best stories, information, and
they love to chat about the old days.
the Internet I then became aware of abebooks.com, a book search,
connecting thousands of bookstores and their inventory. For those
of you who love books, and stop at those desert museums, this
is the place to visit on those nights of reruns on the discovery
channel. It was here that I found Bill Halliday's book Adventure
is Underground in very fine condition for only $12.50. I was a
that time, I discovered the worlds greatest shopping playground
for just about anything you can imagine, Ebay.com. Now since becoming
involved with Ebay, I have had to limit the caving items I collect,
to Howe Caverns, and interesting turn of the century articles
about caves and caving, because of the large volume of the cave
and caving items that are available. It is real easy to get caught
up in the swell, so treat it like entering a cave for the first
time, slow and easy. Now, the nice part about Ebay, is that it
doesn't cost to look. You can look to your hearts content, as
most dealers provide scans of what an item looks like along with
descriptions. You can certainly fill up your curio cabinet rather
quickly if you are so inclined.
Howe Cavern vintage license
Howe Caverns collection has since grown to include, a score of
different brochures, three turn of the century souvenir plates,
souvenir ashtrays, license plate frame from the twenties, coins,
postcards, books, maps, matchbooks, pen knife, banners, and an
1870's print of the original entrance and more.
to say, I have had my fun along the way collecting this subject
as well as others. It's usually an interesting addition to any
sport or hobby. If anyone would like any help with a collection,
or getting started on one, don't hesitate to ask, as I'll be happy
to assist. As for me, my curio case is filled as far as Howe Caverns
goes, but I am still looking for any scrap of information on Kokoweef,
be it story, photo, or something in print to add to my collection.
If you have anything you would care to share, please contact Land-Sea
Discovery Group on the home page of this website.