Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Ghosts of Seneca Caverns

As I said in the previous post, my very first job was as a tour guide at Seneca Caverns in Riverton, WV. This was back in the 1990s, when the economy wasn't shot.

Anyway, during my time at the caverns, which lasted several years (I worked there all through college as well) I learned many things. I memorized the tour (which I can still recite to this day). I learned how to recognize different types of minerals simply from their color, how to deal with the public, and more importantly - how to deal with spirits.

Now you may think I am making this all up - and you have a right to be skeptical. But I am telling you that this is all based on real experiences my fellow guides and I had while working at the caverns. Now Seneca Caverns was discovered by Europeans in the late 1600s, but before that it was home to the Seneca tribe. The most famous story is that of Princess Snowbird and her love story (see previous blog entry). The Seneca, it was stated, lived in the giant cavern during the winter months, and in the warmer months they would move out into the surrounding Germany Valley to hunt.

This is Candy Mountain, a flowstone formation at the front entrance to the Council Room.

During those long winters, the shaman of the tribe would use a deeper part of the cave, now called the Council Room, as a place to hold rituals and spiritual ceremonies. To this day, the walls of the Council Room are smoked black by the fires that lit those thousands of council meetings. After the Seneca left the region, the cave was abandoned. Over the years local citizens used its 54 degree temperatured rooms as a natural refrigerator, and during the Civil War it held supplies used by both sides. It gained public prominence when it was opened to the public in the late 1920s as a tourist attraction.

Knowing the history of the cave, it is not surprising that it would have some type of spiritual activity. And during my time as a guide, I and others witnessed some pretty strange things.The most strange thing that happened was when I was giving a tour of the caverns. At one point in the tour, the tourists descend into the area known as the Devil's Kitchen and then come back out into the Council Room. I was leading the group out of the kitchen when I saw two small spheres of light zip from one side of the Council Room to the other. A young woman, who was right behind me, gasped and I knew she had seen it too. As the rest of the group came up out of the kitchen, the light spheres zipped back across the Council Room to the other side. We waited for a bit after that, but nothing else happened. It was then that the tourists became VERY interested in the ghost stories I had about the cave.

This is "Niagara Falls Frozen Over" at the far end of the Council Room The green spots are actually algae that grows as a result of the lights.

Another story involves a rather strange phenomenon - it's what we tour guides referred to as "the ghost tour". What happened on many occassions was that one or two of us would be in the cavern, and we would hear a tour approaching. This sometimes happened when maintenance was required on the lighting or stairs, so it was pretty common to just stand aside and let the tour go by. I remember one time another man and I were working on the drainage system by Mirror Lake, and we heard a tour coming up on us. So we prepared to stand under the stairs and wait for the tour to pass by. Well the voices got louder and louder, as if a tour was coming down the long tunnel known as "The State Penitentiary" because of all the columns that look like bars. Just when it sounded like the tour was going to appear, it stopped.

The other man looked at me and said, "Well I think we've done enough today." and we left by the back of the caverns. Other times the ghost tour would come, and it always happened when there were only one or two people in the cavern. Often we would go through at the end of the day to pick up trash and sweep the gravel off the stairs, and on many occasions strange things happened.

At one point, I was sweeping the stairs by the Council Room and the Devil's Kitchen when I heard footsteps behind me in the gravel. I turned around, but no one was there. Knowing what it was, I just started to hum to myself. The longer I was there, the more I felt like I was being watched. And the footsteps started again. So I gave the steps a swipe and a promise and took off through the Council Room to the end of the caverns.

Another tour guide who also had this same experience came up with a brilliant plan to counteract this ghost. She told me that it happened to her every time she swept the stairs at the end of the day. So she got an idea to follow the final tour through the caverns. She would stay one room behind each tour, but followed closely behind it. In this way, she was able to avoid the "man at the top of the stairs" in the Council Room.

The Iceberg - the last large formation in the caverns.

Now some people have thought that it was just our minds playing tricks on us, and that the ghost tour was simply an echo of another tour in the cave, but it happened when there were no other people or tours in the caverns. And there were multiple witnesses, so it was obviously not someone's imagination gone awry. I've said it before and I'll say it now: Seneca Caverns has ghosts!