Floyd Collins Museum – Cave City, Kentucky - Atlas Obscura
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Cave City, Kentucky

Floyd Collins Museum

A museum to a cave explorer whose tragic death was a media sensation, and whose corpse became a tourist attraction. 

Sorry, Floyd Collins Museum is permanently closed.

This small museum housed in the Wayfarer Bed & Breakfast chronicles the strange tale of Floyd Collins, a cave explorer who was a media and tourist sensation both in his tragic death and afterlife. 

Collins, an intrepid spelunker, had discovered Crystal Cave in 1917. However, it wasn’t getting much tourist attention due to the much more massive Mammoth Cave, so he was looking for an entrance into the competing behemoth in Sand Cave on January 30, 1925. Unfortunately, his light accidentally went out over 100 feet below the surface and he managed to dislodge a rock onto his leg which pinned him into place. 

When he was discovered trapped, the media swarmed, and so did a curious public, turning the area around Sand Cave into a pop-up media circus with vendors and souvenir sellers. It was one of the biggest national news stories between the two world wars. Collins could be reached at that point and brought food and water, but on February 4 the tunnel collapsed and he was cut off from his rescuers. By the time a new shaft was dug to his location, he was dead.

After a funeral held outside Sand Cave, his body was finally retrieved two months later, embalmed, and buried on the property of Crystal Cave where his family lived. When they sold the property in 1927, the new owners had an idea to get tourists to the cave, one that was a bit unsavory for the departing Collins family. They dug up Floyd Collins’ body from its grave, placed it in a glass-topped coffin, and installed him right in the center of Crystal Cave where visitors could peek through at the dead spelunker’s corpse.

It worked, and the tourists came in droves. Collins wasn’t placed back in a proper grave until 1989, but even though he is now interred in the Mammoth Cave Baptist Church Cemetery, his legend lingers in the area. The Floyd Collins Museum has newspaper clippings and artifacts from his time as a national media spectacle and  years as a macabre tourist attraction. It includes a mock-up of the tombstone that once marked his cave coffin, and now his new resting place, declaring him the “Greatest Cave Explorer Ever Known.”

Know Before You Go

As of August 2017, this museum no longer exists. However, you can take the Floyd Collins tour at Mammouth Cave. One visits his house, the entrance to Sand Cave where Floyd was pinned, and the church where the family prayed, the entrance to Crystal Cave which the family owned and Floyd's final resting place. He was re-interred five times and the Ranger will tell you about each one

Contributed by
Allison Allison
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