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For the Methodist Magazine and Quarterly Review.
A VISIT TO WEYER'S CAVE, VIRGINIA.
By Rev. J. H. Young, of the Balt. An. Conference.
FOR the extent, variety, and number of its apartments, and for the singularity and sublimity of its calcarious formations, Weyer's Cave is, perhaps, not surpassed, if equalled, by any known cavern in the world. The Mammoth Cave, in Kentucky, may indeed excel it in the capaciousness of its rooms, and the grotto of Antiparos in the dazzling brightness of its alabaster incrustations; while Fingal's Cave, in Scotland, is superior to it in the regularity of its basaltic columns: but, as a great whole, combining in itself every thing calculated to satisfy the eye of the curious beholder, or to gratify the mind of the devout admirer of nature, it stands alone on the list of subterranean wonders.
This stupendous cavern was brilliantly illuminated on the 18th of July, 1838, with nearly three thousand candles, and visited at the time by about five hundred persons. The writer of this sketch had the pleasure of being present on that occasion, and also of again examining it in all its parts, a few days after, under the direction of the proprietor, who acted as our guide, and who resides half a mile from its entrance. The country around it, to a considerable extent, is level and beautiful, while the soil is very rich and productive. The cave is situated seventeen miles north-east of Staunton, Augusta county, Virginia, and two miles from Port Republic, a small village, pleasantly located immediately above the junction of the south branch, with the middle and north branches of the Shenandoah river. The ridge in which it lies is called Cave Hill, and runs nearly parallel with the Blue Ridge-a chain of mountains by which the state is naturally divided into Eastern and Western Virginia and is distant from it about three miles.
In the same hill are two other caves, Madison's and Weaste's. The first of these was so called, it is supposed, from the father of the late Bishop Madison, who lived near it, and who possessed a large tract of land in the neighborhood. A brief description of it may be found in Mr. Jefferson's Notes on Virginia, to which the reader is referred for farther information. It may, however, here be observed, that the mouth of this cave is only two hundred and twenty yards from the entrance of Weyer's. It was discovered and visited many years ago, and was then esteemed a great curiosity. It terminates in two different places at basins of water, thirty or forty feet deep, which are bounded very abruptly at the farthest extremity by perpendicular rocks. The earth in the bottom of it yields saltpetre, from two to four pounds to the bushel: two thousand pounds were manufactured in 1813-14.
The second was discovered by Mr. Edward Weaste, on the 17th of January, 1835. It contains twenty-five or thirty different apartments, some of which are very curious and magnificent. To follow the zigzag course of the path leading from the foot of this hill to the mouth of this cave, it is nearly five hundred yards from the entrance of Weyer's. Its direct length is about twelve hundred feet; but, to
pursue its various windings, the distance is not far from a half mile. It is not improbable that the above three caves, though they are supposed to be entirely separate, are nevertheless connected by some secret passages which still remain unknown. This opinion will appear more plausible, when it is observed that there is one room in Weyer's Cave which has never been entered by a single human being. Some have conjectured that fixed air, or carbonic acid gas, exists in it; and this is the reason why no person has yet had sufficient courage to make an entrance. For what is known to the contrary, outlets may be found in this unexplored chamber leading into both the other caves.
Weyer's Cave was so called in honor of Bernard Weyer, who lived between two and three miles from it, and who was the superintendent of a distillery in its immediate vicinity. He was occasionally engaged, in 1804, in setting traps for ground-hogs, which in those days were quite numerous. But one of these quadrupeds appears to have been too cunning for the hunter, for it carried off regularly every trap he would set for its apprehension. Vexed by these frequent disappointments, and by the loss of his traps, he determined to pursue the mischievous little animal into its hiding place. This he accomplished with but little labor; for he not only soon arrived at the spot where his traps had been safely deposited, but also at the opening of a gloomy cavern. It was afterward explored, with the exception of the above-mentioned apartment, and a brief description of its principal rooms will be presented to the reader in the following pages :
On the day of the illumination, with a small company of select friends, we left Port Republic, and arrived at the guide's house about 10 o'clock, A. M. Here we found a large concourse of persons from different parts of the state, and some from other states; and it was soon ascertained that there were too many visiters together either for comfort in the house, or for satisfaction in the cave. At half-past 10 o'clock, having obtained our tickets of admittance, for which each gentleman had to pay a dollar, with the privilege of taking in two ladies, we commenced the march toward the place of entrance. The distance from the bottom of the hill, which is very steep, to the mouth of the cave, is one hundred and twenty yards. This is a well-beaten path, and has been passed over by persons from nearly all parts of the world. As we arrived rather too soon, we had to wait on the side of the ridge for more than half an hour, before the door-keeper and candle-lighters were ready to receive us. This detention was evidently beneficial to every one; for we were all quite fatigued and thrown into a profuse perspiration by the walk, as well as by the heat of the sun, which at 12 M. stood at 96 deg. Fahrenheit, while the temperature of the cave is invariably in summer and winter only about 55 deg.
At length, the time to enter having arrived, we handed our tickets to the door-keeper, and passed on. Before the entrance, and fastened to the rocks on each side, is a substantial wooden frame, with a neat little door in the centre, composed of thin, narrow pieces of board, in the form of a small clapboard, garden, or yard gate. The most uninviting part of the cave is a few feet from this door; it is about eight feet high, and not quite as many broad, but soon
becomes much lower and narrower, until you find it only three feet square. Moving down into a dark aperture, at an angle of 19 deg., not knowing what may lie before you, and taking care of both sides, and especially of your head, is very repulsive to a person who is unaccustomed to wander into the interior parts of the earth.
The first apartment you enter, twenty feet from the door, though not large nor of much interest, is, in some of its particulars, very beautiful, and is called the Dragon's room. To the right of the main path, which lies here in nearly a southern direction, is a curious stalagmitic concretion, of very uncouth form, and was therefore named the Dragon. Nearly opposite to this monster, and several feet above it, is the Devil's gallery. This part of the cave is greatly inferior to other parts both in size and appearance; but it is entirely too imposing for the residence of Satan.
Your course now will be a little east of south, and lead you through a high, narrow passage, sixty-six feet in length, and easily accessible. At the end of this you descend nearly perpendicularly for thirteen feet by means of substantial wooden steps, which have been placed there for the safety and accommodation of visiters. This ushers you at once into a very magnificent room, called Solomon's Temple, thirty feet long, and forty-five broad, running in nearly a western direction from the principal route. Immediately before you is the throne of this celebrated king; it is a large seat elevated several feet above the level of the floor, completely covered with the most sparkling incrustations. Turning around, and casting your eyes to the right of the steps within the walls of the wise man's edifice, you will perceive what some whimsical nomenclator has termed the Falls of Niagara. It has the exact appearance of falling water; but the column seems more broken or interrupted than the broad sheet that falls with so much regularity and awful grandeur over the stupendous rocks of Niagara. To the left of the steps is Solomon's meat house; and at the farthest extremity of the room is his pillar. This is a large mass of beautiful white stalactite, formed by the continual action of the water from the rocks above. Several pieces have been broken off by depredatory visiters; and the whole remaining portion has been somewhat darkened by the smoke of candles.
Having already been raised to no ordinary degree of astonishment by what you have just seen, and supposing that you have now certainly beheld the finest part of the cave, you pass the pillar of the Jewish monarch, and with little difficulty enter a room, the magnificence of which is, perhaps, indescribable. While the guide holds up a candle, in a tin reflector, fastened to a long pole, so that a fair view can be obtained of the ceiling of this chamber, you can do nothing but gaze and admire in almost perfect silence. This silence is only occasionally broken by an involuntary and scarcely audible expression of the mental excitement to which you have been brought, such as wonderful! grand! sublime! While a more ardent admirer of nature, with less self-possession, will exclaim, in an ecstacy, O, is not that beautiful! is it not beautiful!
Well, anxious reader, are you desirous of knowing what all this is. It is nothing but a large room richly studded above with numerous white and red stalactitic radishes, many of which are nearly as
transparent as glass! Hence this apartment is called the Radish
Returning into the principal path, directly opposite to the entrance of the temple, you ascend about twelve feet, and arrive at the porter's lodge, which, with the passage to the next room, is about fifty feet long, twelve wide, and from ten to thirty high. Leaving the lodge you come to Barney's hall, and are introduced to Com. Barney and his cannon, in the form of an upright stalagmite, at the base of which is one in a fallen or prostrate condition.
Near the centre of this apartment two passages lead to the left, and one to the right; the last of these is the main course. Of the two former, the first leads you to the lawyer's office, which is of a semicircular form, from twelve to twenty feet broad, and fifty feet long. In this legal room is a fine reservoir of pure water, formed by the continual droppings from above, where the weary wanderer may not only quench his thirst, but if pious, be led also to think of that fountain that flows eternally "fast by the throne of God." The second opening takes you into the Arsenal or Armory, so called from a very singular incrustation at the side of the room, named after the celebrated shield of Ajax.
Between the Arsenal and the lawyer's office is the Hall of Bernard Weyer, sixteen feet by sixty, very irregular, and may be entered at three different openings. To the left of this hall, which contains in one corner a natural monument to the memory of the discoverer and his dog, is another apartment, about forty feet long and fifteen wide, which as yet has received no name.
From the Armory you can get into the main passage without returning; but the best way, in order to see all, is to go back and take the right-hand path which has already been mentioned. This brings you through a low opening into the Twin room; in which are several beautiful pillars, connected with the ceiling above and the floor below, nearly similar in form and size. Near the path is a dark gulf, called the Devil's bake oven.* A few steps further is the banister room; this is thirty feet high, and received its name from many regular formations at one side, which resemble very closely the columns or pilasters of a balustrade.
The path is now due west; and a descent of thirty feet leads you into the tan-yard. In this room you will find several holes or pits, like tan vats; and also many large sheets of stalactitic hangings, suspended from the ceiling, in the shape of hides. In the same place are also the French crown and the cathedral; though one should suppose that a tan-yard would be a very unsuitable spot for a Catholic church, or the diadem of a monarch. This apartment, centuries ago, probably presented a more beautiful appearance than it does now. Some dreadful concussion of the earth, perhaps occasioned by the shock of an earthquake, or the sound of very loud thunder, has evidently marred its principal beauties considerably. Huge masses of rocks seem to have been moved some distance, and large portions of stalactitic hangings have been sepa
We wonder at the retaining of such names, at first given no doubt by the vulgar and profane, to designate any part of a place of so much resort.--EDS.
rated from their original place of suspension, and now lie in broken fragments below.
You now change your course a little to the right, and ascend about twenty feet, at an angle of eighteen degrees, into the drum room. This room is small, but has several curiosities; one is the natural stairs by which you leave it, and another the bass drum. This in appearance is a regularly formed perpendicular wall of rocks; but in reality is nothing but a stalactitic partition extending from the top to the bottom. By striking this with the hand, or something else, it will send forth a sound very much like the tones of a drum.
The next apartment we entered was the ball room. It seems people will dance, whether they do it under ground or above it; for even in these sepulchral regions balls have been given. This room is one hundred feet long, thirty-six wide, and twenty-five high. From a precipice of thirty feet, at the eastern extremity, the tanyard can be seen. In this apartment are the following objects of curiosity:-The sounding board, the side board, the natural candlestick, the ladies' dressing-room, Patterson's grave, the town clock, and Paganini's statue. To describe all these freaks of nature circumstantially would only have a tendency to draw out this article to too great a length; and yet each one is worthy of a particular description, especially that huge mass of calcareous matter which has been named in honor of the celebrated Italian musician. Patterson's grave is a small opening in the earth, into which a Mr. Patterson fell, but without injury, in attempting to find the mouth of the cave without light. This happened near a gradual ascent of forty-two feet, termed the Frenchman's hill; and was undertaken in imitation of an adventure by a gentleman from France, whose light was accidentally extinguished, but who was safely conducted through by the guide without a candle. But let us proceed.
In pursuing your route in a north-westerly direction, you will soon come to the narrow passage; this is fifty-two feet long, from four to eight feet high, and from three to five wide; and at the end of it is a flight of natural steps, called Jacob's ladder. Here also are Jacob's tea-table and Jacob's ice house; and all this in a gloomy apartment, which is termed the Devil's dungeon! From the dungeon you pass through the Senate chamber, in which are the music room and the gallery; and then through Congress hall, which contains a curious nose, and the lobby.
By now keeping the main path you will be taken to the theatre; and here you will observe the pit, the gallery, and the stage; but by turning to your right you will soon discover that you have here reached the most dismal part of the whole cavern. No persons were permitted to enter this gloomy apartment on the day of the great illumination; and, indeed, this chamber had no light in it at all. But the writer was led into it in the following manner :-A few days after the 18th of July, he again visited the cave for the purpose of examining it more carefully, in company with the guide and several ladies. Having passed through every part but this, and inspected it at our leisure, the writer undertook to be the leader in finding the way back to the entrance. When he came to the forks of the path he at once turned to the left; but the guide, who VOL. X.-July, 1839. 45