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Thursday, August 08, 2019

Thriller Thursday - William Floyd Collins

In working on one of my lines I incidentally came across this sad story about William Floyd Collins. He is not related to any of my lines but his story was so horrifying that I had to do a little research and I couldn't quit.

William Floyd Collins was born 7/20/1887 in Auburn, Logan County, KY to Leonidas "Lee" Collins. He was the second of 7 children.


Leonidas Collins was born 5/26/1858 in Franklin County, Kentucky to Francis Marion Collins and Polly Bowles Monroe. He married Martha Jane Burnett. Martha Jane Burnett was born 2/3/1862 in Logan County, KY to James Burnett and Ann Mariah Jackson.


They had:
1) James "Jim" M. Collins (DOB 5/12/1885 in KY; DOD 7/11/1922 in Hart County, KY of typhoid fever) married Elizabeth Dennison (DOB 5/4/1874 in KY; DOD 1/22/1946 in Hart County, KY).

2) William Floyd Collins (DOB 7/20/1887 in Auburn, Logan County, KY; DOD 2/1/1925 in Barren County, KY) never married. Engaged to Alma Clark (DOB 3/1/1907 in KY; DOD 4/29/1989 in Barren County, KY). Alma married Floyd Short in 1927 and they had a daughter, Dixie Short Dennison.


3) Anna Boaz Collins (DOB 3/1890 in KY; DOD 11/16/1934 in Moline, Rock Island County, IL) married Arthur Carney (DOB 2/1898 in TN to Robert "Bob" Lee Carney and Mary Loretta "Rettie" Denton; DOD 11/16/1934 in Moline, Rock Island County, IL). Robert "Bob" Lee Carney and Mary Loretta "Rettie" Denton had Arthur, Lovel Carney (1899-1900), William Denton Carney (3/30/1903-4/26/1956, married Myrtle Clydie Davis), Lester Carney (11/27/1904-4/16/1978, married Violet Esters), John A. Carney (7/26/1910-7/17/1954, married Mary Linda Denham and they had Anna Pauline Carney, Jo Nell Carney, Brenda S. Carney). Arthur Carney and Anna Collins had Evelyn M. Carney (died as a toddler of convulsions), Raymond R. Carney (1925-2003), twins Veda Carney (1928-2009) and Vera Frances Carney (1928-1999), Betty Jean Carney (1931-?).

Annie Collins was murdered by her husband and then he killed himself.

1930 U.S. Census of 1208 6th Avenue, Moline, Rock Island County, Illinois; Page: 1B; Enumeration District: 0038; FHL microfilm: 2340287, Lines 86-90, "Arthur Carney"
Arthur Carney, Head, Rented home for $12.50, M(ale), W(hite), 34 yrs old (DOB 1896), Married at age 21 yrs old (DOM 1917), Can read and write, Born in TN, Both parents born in TN, Taxidriver for a Taxi service
Anne Carney, Wife, F, W, 37 yrs old (DOB 1893), Married at age 24 yrs old, Can read and write, Born in KY, Both parents born in KY, No occupation
Ray Carney, Son, M, W, 5 yrs old (DOB 1925), Single, Does not attend school, Born in IL, Father born in TN, Mother born in KY
Vera Carney, Daughter-T(win), F, W, 2 yrs 3/12 mos old (DOB 1928), Born in IL, Father born in TN, Mother born in KY
Veder Carney (sic, Veda), Daughter-T(win), F, W, 2 yrs 3/12 mos old (DOB 1928), Born in IL, Father born in TN, Mother born in KY

Anna Boaz Collins and Arthur Carney murder/suicide in The Owensboro Messenger, Owensboro, KY, 11/17/1934, Pg 1

The Paducah Sun Democrat, Paducah, KY, 11/18/1934, Pg 4

Interior Journal, Stanford, KY, 11/20/1934, Pg 4


The Daily Times, Davenport, IA, 11/20/1934, Pg 1



The Dispatch, Moline, IL, 11/20/1934, Pg 5



The Rock Island Argus, Rock Island, IL, 11/16/1934, Pg1




The Rock Island Argus, Rock Island, IL, 11/16/1934, Pg 8

I could not find two of the children in the 1940 U.S. Census, Ray and Veda. But I found Vera and Betty Jean in the 1940 U.S. Census.

1940 U.S. Census of 725 Erie South, Wichita, Sedgwick County, Kansas; Roll: m-t0627-01275; Page: 61B; Enumeration District: 107-115, Lines 76-80, "Marion Lee Collins" (The girls' great uncle and Leonidas Collins brother.)
Marion Lee Collins, Head, Rented house for $8, M(ale), W(hite), 64 yrs old (DOB 1876), Married, Attended school thru 4th grade, Born in MO, Lived in the same place in 1935, No occupation, Income $504
Louise Collins, Wife, F, W, 33 yrs old (DOB 1907), Married, Attended school thru 7th grade, Born in TX, Lived in the same place in 1935, No occupation
Vera Carney, Great niece, F, W, 12 yrs old (DOB 1928), Single, Attends school, Has attended school thru 3rd grade, Born in IL, Lived in Cave City, KY in 1935
Betty Jean Carney, Great niece, F, W, 9 yrs old (DOB 1931), Single Attends school, Has attended school thru 3rd grade, Born in IL, Lived in Rocky Hill, KY in 1935
Thomas Gordon, Stepson, M, W, 11 yrs old, Single, Attends school, Has attended school thru 5th grade, Born in TX, Lived in same place in 1935




4) Andy Lee Collins (DOB 2/9/1895 in KY; DOD 3/14/1941 in Barren County, KY of nephritis) married Mary Jane Hood (DOB 6/22/1891 in KY; DOD 8/18/1974 in Hart County, KY). They had Andy P. Collins, Herman Collins, Russell Collins, Mildred Collins, Eugene Collins.

5) Marshal Everett Collins (aka Marshall Everett Collins) (DOB 1/4/1897 in KY; DOD 9/29/1981 in Horse Cave, Hart County, KY) married Anna Johnson (DOB 10/11/1900 in KY; DOD 10/27/1982 in Hart County, KY). They had Gordon Bertram Collins, Cleona Brown Collins, Mary Elizabeth Collins.

The Courier Journal, Louisville, KY, 10/1/1981, Pg 14


6) Nellie Collins (DOB 10/12/1900 in KY; DOD 5/16/1970 in Louisville, Jefferson County, KY) married 1st Kash Crowe (maybe Cash Crowe) (DOB ? in ? ; DOD ? in ? ) and 2nd ? Leach (DOB ? in ? ; DOD ? in ? ). I was unable to place either Kash Crowe or Unknown Leach other than that they were married to Nellie. Divorced? Widowed? I have no idea.

News Democrat, Paducah, KY, 9/23/1925, Pg 2

The Courier Journal, Louisville, KY, 5/18/1970, Pg 29


7) Homer Larkin Collins (DOB 9/26/1902 in Cave City, Barren County, KY; DOD 9/16/1969 in Jefferson County, KY) married Leona K. Altmeier (DOB 1/5/1905 in Jefferson County, KY; DOD 4/15/1974 in Jefferson County, KY). They had Kenneth Homer Collins.

The Courier Journal, Louisville, KY, 9/17/1969, Pg 45


1900 U.S. Census of Horse Cave, Hart County, Kentucky; Page: 3; Enumeration District: 0056; FHL microfilm: 1240526, Lines 52-58, "Leonidas Collins"
Leonidas Collins, Head, W(hite), M(ale), Born Aug, 1856, 43 yrs old, Married 19 yrs (DOM 1881), Born in KY, Both parents born in KY, Farmer, Can read and write, Owns farm free of mortgage
Martha J. Collins, Wife, W, F, born Feb, 1863, 37 yrs old, Married 19 yrs, 6 children with 5 still living, Born in KY, Father born in KY, Mother born in VA, Can read and write
James M. Collins, Son, W, M, born May, 1864, 16 yrs old, Single, Born in KY, Both parents born in KY, Farm laborer, Can read and write
William F. Collins, Son, W, M, born July, 1887, 12 yrs old, Single, Born in KY, Both parents born in KY, Can read and write
Annie B. Collins, Daughter, W, F, Born Mch, 1890, 10 yrs old,  Born in KY, Both parents born in KY
Andy L. Collins, Son, W, M, Born Feb, 1895, 5 yrs old, Born in KY, Both parents born in KY
Marshal E. Collins, Son, W, M, born Jan, 1897, 3 yrs old, Born in KY, Both parents born in KY

I could not find Floyd Collins in the 1910 U.S. Census. He was not living with his parents.

1920 U.S. Census of Parker, Edmonson County, Kentucky; Roll: T625_568; Page: 9A; Enumeration District: 51, Lines 10-14, "Leondis Collins" (sic)
Leondis Collins, Head, Owns fram, M(ale), W(hite), 61 yrs old (DOB 1859), Married, Can read and write, Born in KY, Both parents born in KY, Farmer
Serilda J. Collins, Wife, F, W, 59 yrs old (DOB 1861), Married, Cannot read or write, Born in KY, Both parents born in KY
Floyd Collins, Son, M, W, 30 yrs old (DOB 1890), Single, Can read and write, Born in KY, Both parents born in KY, Farm laborer
Nellie Collins, Daughter, F, W, 19 yrs old (DOB 1901), Single, Can read and write, Born in KY, Both parents born in KY
Homer Collins, Son, M, W, 17 yrs old (DOB 1903), Single, Can read and write, Born in KY, Both parents born in KY
Andy L. Collins, Head, Rents, M, W, 24 yrs old (DOB 1896), Married, Can read and write, Born in KY, Both parents born in KY, Farm laborer
Jannie Collins, Wife, F, W, 26 yrs old (DOB 1894), Married, Can read and write, Born in KY, Both parents born in KY
Andy P. Collins, Son, M, W, 1 yr 6/12 mos old (DOB 1918), Born in KY, Both parents born in KY


Martha Jane Burnett Collins died 7/16/1915 in Horse Cave, Hart County, KY. Horse Cave is just east of Cave City (Barren County, KY). She was only 53 years old. I didn't find a death certificate or obituary but her grave is on FindAGrave.com.

Leonidas "Lee" Collins married Serilda Jane Tapscott (DOB 3/15/1858 in Barren County, KY). She had previously been married to John Thomas Buckingham (1853-1915). Lee and Serilda were married at the time of Floyd Collins' tragedy. She died almost exactly a year after the tragedy on 2/13/1926 in Hart County, KY of "organic heart disease" at the age of 67 yrs old.

Lee Collins married a third wife, Philibena "Bena" Heitlauf (DOB 9/25/1877 in Indianapolis, Marion County, IN to Jacob Heitlauf and Louisa Nutz). She had been married twice before Lee. She first married William C. Layer (1872-1941) and they divorced in 1904. She next married John Ebinger (DOB 5/20/1865 in St. Matthews, Jefferson, KY; DOD 6/16/1918 in Jefferson County, KY). Poor John Ebinger was in ill health, possibly tuberculosis. He killed himself by shooting himself in the head with a revolver at the age of 53. Philibena married a 4th time after Lee Collins died. She married Charles A. Schmidt (6/1878-8/16/1948). Bena Heitlauf died 10/16/1945 in Louisville, Jefferson County, KY.

The Courier Journal Louisville, KY, 9/26/1910, Pg 10

Messenger Inquirer, Owensboro, KY, 5/25/1926, Pg 1

The Courier Journal, Louisville, KY, 10/17/1945, Pg 20


Leonidas Collins died 3/15/1936 in Hart County, KY.

The Franklin Favorite, Franklin, KY, 2/19/1925, Pg 1

The Owensboro Messenger, Owensboro, KY, 3/17/1936, Pg 3


Now that we have set the family scene. Next let's set the physical scene.

This map shows Louisville, KY and where Mammoth Cave National Park is in relation to Louisville.

Mammoth Cave National Park is located primarily in Edmonson County. It preserves the cave system and a part of the Green River valley and hilly country of south central Kentucky. The park encompasses about 80 square miles. This is the world's longest known cave system, with more than 400 miles explored. No one knows how big the cave system is as new caves are continuing to be discovered. Two layers of stone underlie Mammoth's hilly woodlands. Mammoth Cave developed in thick Mississippian-aged limestone strata capped by a layer of sandstone, which has made the system remarkably stable. A sandstone and shale cap, as thick as 50 feet in places, acts as an umbrella over limestone ridges. The umbrella leaks at places called sinkholes, from which surface water makes its way underground, eroding the limestone into a honeycomb of caverns. Several sets of Native American remains have been recovered from Mammoth Cave, or other nearby caves in the region, in both the 19th and 20th centuries. The mummies were intentionally buried. They found "Lost John", a pre-Columbian miner who was found under a large boulder that had rolled on him accidentally. Legend has it that the first European to visit Mammoth Cave was either John Houchin or Francis Houchin who were brothers, in 1797. While hunting, Houchin pursued a wounded bear to the cave's large entrance opening near the Green River. Francis Houchin had a cave entrance on his land very near the bend in the Green River known as the Turnhole, which is less than a mile from the main entrance of Mammoth Cave. The land containing this historic entrance was first surveyed and registered in 1798 under the name of Valentine Simons. Simons began exploiting Mammoth Cave for its saltpeter reserves. Soon the cave was being mined for calcium nitrate on an industrial scale, utilizing a labor force of 70 slaves to build and operate the soil leaching apparatus, as well as to haul the raw soil from deep in the cave to the central processing site. In the spring of 1838, the cave was sold by the owners to Franklin Gorin, who intended to operate Mammoth Cave purely as a tourist attraction. His slaves were tour guides. In 1839, John Croghan of Louisville bought the Mammoth Cave Estate and briefly ran an ill-fated tuberculosis hospital in the cave, the vapors of which he believed would cure his patients. In the later 19th century, railroads made the area more accessible. In 1906 Mammoth Cave became accessible by steamboat. The difficulties of farming life in the hardscrabble, poor soil of the cave country influenced local farmers to look for their own caves to open to the public and make money through tourism especially given the success of Mammoth Cave as a tourist attraction. The "Kentucky Cave Wars" were a period of bitter competition between local cave owners for tourist money.


Growing up in the area, Floyd started exploring caves when he was a youngster. His father, Lee Collins, said he also explored caves as a young man. So at a very young age, Floyd, would help his father pick up rocks in the Mammoth Cave system and take them to the local hotels to sell to tourists. He left school at just 10 years old so he could look for Native American relics in the caves to sell. Bones, arrowheads, beads, tomahawks, even a moccasin were found by Floyd.

"In 1910, when Collins was 14, a geologist from New York paid the young explorer $2 a day to be guided around this labyrinth. For two years, the farm boy taught the geologist the rudiments of caving as the geologist taught the farm boy the rudiments of geology. Those lessons later convinced Collins that all the caves in the region were connected." - MentalFloss.com, "The 1925 Cave Rescue That Captivated the Nation", By Lucas Reilly, 7/13/2018, excellent article

Floyd Collins found a cave near his family's farm and named it Crystal Cave because it had a “flower garden” of white, orange, and brown gypsum formations. They opened it to the public. It is part of the Mammoth Cave system but it was too remote from the main stream of tourists to the Mammoth Cave entrance. Floyd purchased a taxicab to take visitors on the jolting ride to his Crystal Cave. But he was a terrible driver. Due to competition, other cave owners tried to run off tourists and even beat Floyd one time to try and force him to hand over the lease on the cave. His youngest brother, Homer, ran them off with a shotgun.




The entrance to Collins' Crystal Cave. It has been closed and has an iron door. There is a large fine if someone breaks open that door and trespasses.



Since Floyd Collins and his family weren't making much money from Crystal Cave, he continued to look for other caves hoping to find one to rival Mammoth Cave or at least another entrance to Mammoth Cave closer to town in order to siphon the tourists away from it's current entrance. He knew of a cave entrance on a neighbor's farm. He made an agreement with the cave’s owner, Beesly "Bee" Doyel, to share one half of the profits if the cave proved worthy of show.

The Courier Journal, Louisville, KY, 2/1/1942, Pg 63


Floyd Collins began working in the cave and exploring it with a lantern.





We have set the scene, let's see what happened to William Floyd Collins.

The Owensboro Messenger, Owensboro, KY, 2/17/1925, Pg 1


The Tennessean, Nashville, TN, 2/6/2000, Pg 49




















The Owensboro Messenger Owensboro, KY, 1/12/1925, Pg 2


Floyd Collins removed rock day after day, to clear a path. He managed to squeeze through the chimney-like tunnel until he reached a large room that dropped about 60 feet. But his lamp began to die so he decided to start back. He pulled himself back up to the ledge he came out on and squeezed back into the tunnel. He got to an elbow and twisted to his back, put his hands down by his sides, and tried to push through like a snake. But a stone fell on his foot, trapping his foot. The more he tried to work out, the more sand and loose fill fell in and cemented him even tighter. His lamp went out and for 25 hours he was in the complete dark, stuck and not knowing if anyone would find him.

The next morning, the family rounded up friends and neighbors to go look for him. A teenager named Jewell Estes heard Floyd calling out for help from Sand Cave. He squeezed down far enough to hear Floyd distinctly. He wouldn't go any further but got out and ran for a rescue party.

The first men who tried, failed to reach him and came out in a sweat of fear. Collins' youngest brother, Homer, had arrived from Louisville when he heard about what had happened. He didn't even bother to change his new suit but ran to the site. He went past the "rescuers" and into the cave. He removed his clothes in order to squeeze into the tunnel and he reached Floyd.


Others brought Homer coffee and sandwiches to feed Floyd. Then he began to try to remove rock. Hours later Homer came up for a break. He was shivering and his hands were shredded. He went back down and worked 8 hours with a crowbar. Meanwhile the men gathered around the cave entrance and drank moonshine. Coming up with one idea or another and having to discard the same as too dangerous. The tunnel was lined with sharp daggers of rock and they were even afraid to try to pull him out by rope. Afraid his foot would be jerked off, he would bleed to death and his body shredded by the rocks.

The Courier Journal, Louisville, KY, 2/7/1925, Pg 3


Homer did finally try to pull him with a leather harness and rope. He fed him and gave him a sedative and then they tried. Floyd began screaming and Homer couldn't stand it and finally stopped. The team backed out of the cave. They were so shaken by the experience that most had to be carried away.

On Homer's breaks he paid men and teenagers to take Floyd food and drink but they would only go so far and get so afraid they would stuff the items in cracks and crawl back out saying they had done it. They lied.

The Courier Journal, Louisville, KY, 2/8/1925, Pg 47




The Courier Journal Louisville, KY, 2/8/1925 Pg 47



Finally, a young, small reporter named William B. Miller showed up. He was called "Skeets" because he was small and wiry like a mosquito. Skeets came up to Homer and introduced himself. Homer looked him up and down and told him, "There's the hole." I.e. get your own information from Floyd by going down the tunnel. Years later, Homer would remember how rude he was to the young man. Skeets removed his fancy suit and grabbed a flashlight and headed down the tunnel. He managed to make it to Floyd but Floyd was incoherent by then. He made his way back up and proved to Homer he could be useful.

Other rescuers also came but it took time to know who to trust, come up with an idea and then begin working on it. Meanwhile Homer and Skeets were the liaison in the tunnel with Floyd. Floyd's boyhood friend, Johnnie Gerald, joined the rescuers. Like the Collins family, he had a lot of experience with the caves. He snuck into the cave and was disgusted by what he saw. All the stuff that had been stuffed into cracks by the cowardly men who had turned tail. Gerald was bigger built but he still had more success in getting rock off of Floyd. When Gerald got so far but was too big to go any further, Skeets took over and managed to get the rock and fill out to Floyd's foot. They tried to use a crowbar or jack to lift the rock enough to pull his foot out. Due to the tight space it was unbearably hard to work the jack. He tried again and again until he collapsed in exhaustion. He crawled out for a break.

Unfortunately, the efforts of rescue began to destabilize the rock. Two men were sent down to assess and they heard rumbles. One man turned back, but the other continued on despite the sound. Collins begged him to come to him. He made it to him and tried to ladle some coffee for Floyd. But voices from above shouted for him to get out while he still could. He began his way back and looked back once to see the sagging ceiling closing. A cave in separated the men from Collins and they could hear him sobbing.

When Homer, Gerald and Skeets came back, Skeets went back down, and he was horrified to see the cave in. He tried to remove some of the stones. When he came back up his nose was bleeding and he told the rescuers not to let Homer back down. Homer and Gerald were arguing with the other rescuers about how to handle the cave in. Gerald would continue to go back in, remove rock and shore up. On 2/4/1925, at 10:30pm, Gerald entered for the last time. His plan was to feed Floyd and use a grease gun to coat Floyd's leg with Vaseline. But as he went back in, he was shocked to find another cave in had occurred. He began yelling for Floyd and he heard him groan and say something. He began clawing at the rocks but one large one fell on his back. He had to return to the surface and refused to go back in.


The Courier Journal, Louisville, KY, 2/12/1925, Pg 4



The Courier Journal, Louisville, KY, 2/13/1925, Pg 15



On 2/5/1925, rescuers decided to try and drill a shaft down and then across to Collins. Miners and Engineers had assembled, plans made, a geologist came to tell them where to dig, and equipment was delivered. But the heavy equipment ended up being useless after all. So they dug the shaft with picks and shovels.

Above the cave, crowds in the thousands had assembled to await word. These people had to eat, so some saw the opportunity to sell hamburgers, food and drink. Moonshine was sold making the atmosphere even more like a carnival. Souvenirs were sold. People were having picnics as they awaited word. Reporters were hanging around to try to get any stories. Religious people came to pray for Collins and the rescuers, preachers came to evangelize. One preacher preached to 5,000 people. One newspaper article claimed that Floyd Collins had found faith while in the tunnel. I can only hope it was true and that he is in Heaven with nightmarish ordeal a faraway memory!

The Courier Journal, Louisville, KY, 2/8/1925, Pg 47



It was slow going at the shaft and then, on 2/11/1925, rain turned into snow and the temperatures dropped. On 2/14/1925 the shaft was far enough down and they began to burrow sideways. On 2/16/1925, rescuer Ed Brenner eased into Sand Cave and found the body of Floyd Collins. He called out, "DEAD". Floyd Collins had been 12 days without food or water and in freezing temperatures. So it was no surprise. But later the coroner would claim that Collins had only been dead about 3 days. He had been alone, without food or water, for most of those 12 days.

Messenger Inquirer, Owensboro, KY, 2/17/1925 Pg 1

The Courier Journal, Louisville, KY, 2/17/1925, Pg 1


It was deemed too dangerous to recover the body. His father, Lee Collins, allowed the body to remain in Sand Cave. They held his funeral at the top of the shaft. They filled the shaft and everyone went home.

Messenger Inquirer, Owensboro, KY, 2/17/1925, Pg 1


The Owensboro, Messenger Owensboro, KY, 2/17/1925, Pg 1

The Paducah Sun-Democrat, Paducah, KY, 2/17/1925, Pg 1


William "Skeets" Miller won the Pulitzer Prize for reporting for his coverage of the Collins tragedy.


Homer Collins toured vaudeville stages for 8 months talking about Floyd Collins and the tragedy. He did it to make enough money to retrieve his brother's body and bury it. On 4/17/1925, seven miners opened the shaft back up. They were able to retrieve his body and the stone that pinned his leg. On 4/26/1925, he was buried in his family's cemetery with a stalagmite headstone. It cost Homer $4,500 to bury his brother (he even had to purchase an iron vault for his coffin).

The Courier Journal, Louisville, KY, 5/28/1965, Pg 6



The Advocate Messenger, Danville, KY, 3/4/1925, Pg 3


Leonidas "Lee" Collins was old and struggling to make a living on his farm. He sold Crystal Cave to a dentist, Dr. Harry B. Thomas. He evidently agreed to allow Dr. Thomas to exhume his son's body to be displayed in Collins' Crystal Cave. Lee got $10,000. The rest of the family were horrified. Tourists came to Crystal Cave to see Collins' corpse as the "Greatest Cave Explorer Ever Known". His coffin, with a glass window, and a headstone, were displayed in the "Grand Canyon" of Crystal Cave.

Messenger Inquirer, Owensboro, KY, 6/23/1927, Pg 4

The Owensboro Messenger, Owensboro, KY, 6/17/1927, Pg 1



Lee Collins also went on the vaudeville circuit with "relics" to tell his son's story. But he did it to enrich himself. When his sons tried to talk him out of doing his "shows" he said Homer was just jealous at the money he was making.

The Owensboro Messenger, Owensboro, KY, 9/1/1925, Pg 4

Messenger Inquirer, Owensboro, KY, 5/25/1926, Pg 1


Messenger Inquirer, Owensboro, KY, 6/23/1927, Pg 4


The family then tried to have him released as the executor of Floyd's estate as "incompetent". I don't know if they ever forgave him for selling Crystal Cave and their brother's body.

The Owensboro Messenger Owensboro, KY, 2/26/1925, Pg 1

The Courier Journal, Louisville, KY, 2/27/1925, Pg 2



The family sued an author for writing a pamphlet about their family and using their photos without permission.



In 1965, Nellie Collins Leach sued the American Legion and it's monthly magazine for publishing an article on the death of Floyd. She sued for $1.5 million and received $15,000. Homer and Marshal also filed suits. The reason? The article said it was the family who exhumed Floyd's body and placed it on display in Crystal Cave to "bolster the tourist business" and that the family toured the shows with the body in order to make money. Since they had NOT been involved in the exploitation, they would naturally take umbrage at the article.

The Courier Journal, Louisville, KY, 5/26/1965, Pg23

The Courier Journal, Louisville, KY, 6/12/1965, Pg 1



In 1929, unknown persons stole Floyd's body. Fortunately, the police bloodhounds followed the trail and they found the body although missing the lower leg and foot that had been trapped. Dr. Thomas returned the body to the coffin and chained it. In 1961, the federal government purchased the Mammoth Cave site for $285,000 to make it into a national park. They had purchased all of Mammoth Cave including Crystal Cave and Sand Cave (which still has not been proven to be connected to Mammoth Cave) and the body of Floyd Collins. With pressure from the family, the U.S. government had his body interred in a nearby Baptist cemetery. Sand Cave has been sealed shut.

The Owensboro Messenger, Owensboro, KY, 3/20/1929, Pg 1

News Democrat, Paducah, KY, 3/20/1929, Pg 10



Floyd Collins, was an American cave explorer...
On January 30, 1925, while trying to find a new entrance cave, Collins became trapped in a narrow crawlway, 55 feet below ground. The rescue operation to save Collins became a national newspaper sensation and one of the first major news stories to be reported using the new technology of broadcast radio. The rescue attempt grew to become the third-biggest media event between the world wars. After four days, during which time rescuers were able to bring water and food to Collins, a rock collapse in the cave closed the entrance passageway, stranding him in the cave, except for voice contact, for more than two weeks. Collins died of thirst and hunger compounded by exposure through hypothermia after being isolated for 14 days, just three days before a rescue shaft reached his position. Collins' body would be recovered two months later.
Floyd Collins discovered Crystal Cave in 1917. Crystal Cave is now part of the Flint Ridge Cave System of the Mammoth Cave National Park. Although Collins was an unknown figure in his lifetime, the fame he gained from his death led to him being memorialized on his tombstone as the "Greatest Cave Explorer Ever Known".
The Floyd Collins family owned their own cave called Crystal Cave, a tourist show cave in the karst region of Mammoth Cave. Crystal Cave attracted a low number of tourists due to its remote location. He made an agreement with three farmers, who owned land closer to the main highway. If he found a cave, they would form a business partnership and share in the responsibilities of operating this tourist attraction. Working alone, within three weeks, he had explored and expanded a hole that would later be called "Sand Cave" by the news media. he claimed he had discovered a large, grotto chamber, though this was never verified. Because his lamp was dying, he had to leave quickly before losing all light to the chamber, but became trapped in a small passage on his way out. Collins accidentally knocked over his lamp, putting out the light, and was caught by a rock from the cave ceiling, pinning his left leg. The falling rock weighed only 16 pounds, but because of its position, obstructed rescuers in completing the removal...
Rescue leaders, led by Henry St. George Tucker Carmichael, determined the cave impassable and too dangerous and began to dig a shaft to reach the chamber behind Collins. The 55-foot shaft and subsequent lateral tunnel intersected the cave just above Collins, but when he was finally reached on February 17, he was already dead from exposure. Because he could not be reached from behind, the rescuers could not free his leg. They left his body in place and filled the shaft with debris. A doctor estimated he had died three or four days before he was reached, with February 13 the most likely date...
With Collins's body remaining in the cave, funeral services were held on the surface. Homer Collins was not pleased with Sand Cave as his brother's grave, and two months later, he and some friends reopened the shaft. They dug a new tunnel to the opposite side of the cave passage and recovered Floyd Collins's remains on April 23, 1925. The following day, the body was buried in the burial ground of the Collins familys' farm, near Crystal Cave, now known as "Floyd Collins Crystal Cave." In 1927, Floyd Collins' father, Lee Collins, sold the homestead and cave. The new owner placed Collins' body in a glass-topped coffin and exhibited it in Crystal Cave for many years. On the night of March 18–19, 1929, the body was stolen. The body was later recovered, having been found in a nearby field, but the injured left leg was missing. After this desecration, the remains were kept in a secluded portion of Crystal Cave in a chained casket. In 1961, Crystal Cave was purchased by Mammoth Cave National Park and closed to the public. The Collins family had objected to Collins' body being displayed in the cave and, at their request, the National Park Service re-interred him at Mammoth Cave Baptist Church Cemetery, Mammoth Cave, Kentucky in 1989. It took a team of 15 men three days to remove the casket and tombstone from the cave.  - Wikipedia

Messenger Inquirer, Owensboro, KY, 2/18/1925, Pg 1


Messenger Inquirer, Owensboro, KY, 2/17/1925, Pg 5









I believe that my worst nightmare would be being buried alive. That claustrophobic horror gives me the utter shivers thinking about it. For that poor man to have been trapped and endure such horror for so long had to have been one of the worst ways to die. I cannot even let my mind think about how he felt all alone, dying of hunger, thirst and exposure during those last days. Just reading this 90 years later has kept me up the last two nights. But imagine if it had been your loved one? Your son, brother, best friend? The whole family had virtually camped out at the cave. Lee, Serilda, Marshal, Andy Lee, Nellie and Homer were there day after day. (I couldn't find any mention of the other sister, Annie, in the newspaper reports.) Nellie made food for rescuers. Homer worked like a demon down in the tunnel. Milling around wondering what to do, praying and waiting had to be agonizing. I think Homer, Skeets and Gerald must have suffered the most. The mental torture would have sent many of us screaming. I'm sure they suffered nightmares and PTSD afterwards.

The Courier Journal, Louisville, KY, 11/7/1931, Pg 18


The Advocate Messenger, Danville, Ky, 2/5/1947, Pg 8



The Courier Journal, Louisville, KY, 2/14/1954, Pg 40D










The Courier Journal, Louisville, KY, 5/27/1951, Pg 75

The Courier Journal, Louisville, KY, 6/3/1951, Pg 61


A last tragic note:

Messenger Inquirer, Owensboro, KY, 2/17/1925, Pg 4

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