Discovered in 1862 by a farmer named John Knox and his dog, the cave that would come to be known as Fantastic Caverns has a unique history, and a story as fantastic as its dark twists and turns.
During the Civil War, Knox kept his finding under lock and key, protecting the valuable reserve of saltpeter that could be found in the cave out of fear that the Confederate army might use it to produce more gunpowder.
During more peaceful times in 1867, Knox put out an advertisement in the Springfield newspaper for explorers to investigate the site. In response, a team of twelve women, part of the Springfield Women’s Athletic Club, went forward into the unknown cavern with their ropes and lanterns, mapping the location and becoming local legends in the process. Inside the cave the women proudly carved their names, cementing their part in the history of the great caverns.
The caves were put to good use during another substantial piece of history when, during the Prohibition era, the cave became the site of various speakeasies. Once that use ran its course, and it was given the impressive title “Fantastic Caverns” in the ’50s, it became a well-regarded concert hall.
Today, you can tour the Fantastic Caverns from the comfort of a Jeep-drawn tram that leads you through the majority of the cave, a safe and comfortable way to experience what the cave feels like when the lights are out, and a chance to drive by the graffitied rock with the explorers’ names with minimal effort.