Rural Missouri - October 2010 - (Page 22)
Opening of Marvel Cave to tourists led to the creation of Silver Dollar City
photos courtesy of Silver Dollar City
William Lynch’s purchase of a seemingly worthless hole in the ground for $10,000 set the stage for what would be the start of Silver Dollar City, a theme park located in Branson. The hole was an opening for what is now called Marvel Cave, the ﬁrst destination at the site of the sprawling tourist attraction, shown below in an old postcard. by Arline Chandler email@example.com Onyx Park rests in the archives at Silver Dollar City. This collector’s item marks Lynch’s transformation of a hazardous hole in the earth into a cave tour worthy of a visitor’s ticket and time. He negotiated a stop on the railroad where travelers could detrain, ride a horse or hike to the cave, then return to their coach. Lynch cleared the rutted road with the help of 9-year-old Lester Vining, who stayed on and invested his life in the visions of both William Lynch and Hugo Herschend. After William Lynch’s death, his daughters, Miriam and Genevieve, carried on his dream, adding wooden steps and railings at the cave’s entrance. Visitors no longer backed down a ladder into the great Cathedral Room. Early tours, conducted by the sisters, compare to present-day spelunking. “The Lynches considered kerosene lanterns too risky, so they provided candles to visitors,” says Silver Dollar City co-owner, Jack Herschend. “Tours required six hours. At the surface, they outﬁtted guests in coveralls with leather seats for sliding down muddy slopes.” Adventurers climbed down wooden steps into the Cathedral Room and past a formation known as the Liberty Bell. The winding Serpentine Passage
gaping sinkhole in an Ozark hillside forever linked William Lynch, an ambitious, educated Canadian, and Hugo Herschend, an adventurous Danish immigrant. Ironically, the men never met. Yet, their individual grit set the stage for the start of Silver Dollar City, an entertainment ﬂagship that inﬂuenced the destiny of tourism in the Missouri Ozarks. No one knows what prompted William Lynch to pay $10,000, sight unseen, for a seemingly worthless hole in the ground. Packing meager household furnishings on mules, and accompanied by two unmarried daughters, he left a promising career as a Canadian government ofﬁcial to pursue a dream. Lynch’s interest came from a science magazine’s report by early explorers of prehistoric animal bones. Lynch expected fame and fortune from the bones on the cave’s ﬂoor. When the Smithsonian Institution and the American Museum of Natural History in New York thanked him for his contribution with appreciative letters instead of cash, Lynch turned to simple survival by developing a natural wonder to show off to tourists. A faded ribbon from the Oct. 18, 1894, opening of Marble Cave in
led to the Egyptian Room. Guides led guests down the Corkscrew, past the Gulf of Doom and into the Waterfall Room. Until 1958, cave tours stopped at the waterfall. Visitors retraced their steps over a half mile to daylight above the cavern’s entrance. A platform discovered in the cave’s great auditorium indicates that Miriam Lynch sang opera arias for guests, accompanied by a piano lowered 200 feet into the earth’s darkness. Her sister worked as a hospital administrator in Carthage until 1927. For 50 years, the Lynch family operated Marble Cave, which the sisters renamed Marvel Cave. When Hugo and Mary Herschend vacationed in the Ozarks, they discovered the cave and the delicate, yet resilient, sisters. The Herschends stayed in a housekeeping cabin built by William Lynch. By 1950, cave work proved too strenuous for the two women. The Herschends leased the property, planning that Mary would manage the cave while Hugo supported their retirement business with his work in Chicago. “I didn’t understand why my mother cried as we left Chicago,” Peter Herschend says. “To me and my brother, Jack, summer jobs at a cave surpassed the tales of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. We were the only boys in our high school whose family owned a cave! “Despite Mother’s anxiety, Jack and I led exploring parties and tourists through the lantern-lit caverns,” he continues, admitting he loved spinning tales for his guests. The ﬁrst summer of their leased operation, the Herschends welcomed 8,000 guests. Under Hugo’s plan for improvements, they installed electric lights and replaced the rickety walkways with concrete paths. Jack Herschend, captivated with the underground environment, determined that Marvel Cave would be his life’s work. “The ingredients for an exciting life were here,” he says. “In the 1950s, the Ozarks were still primitive — no electricity, no indoor plumbing, and water was trucked in
from Reeds Spring. For eight years, we operated with no telephone!” In the meantime, Hugo Herschend applied his marketing skills honed as a district manager for Electrolux Corp. to the promotion of his tourist attraction. During the 1950s, live radio broadcasts and annual square dance festivals staged in the large auditorium room made headlines in local and
big-city newspapers. Advertisements on billboards and the radio touted the cave’s natural air-conditioning on summer days. Visitors returned year after year. Herschend’s vision included a European-style cable car system to transport visitors out of the cave in comfort. Before he could initiate his plans, a fatal heart attack snuffed his life at age 55. “I remember my mother, grief stricken and lacking in entrepreneurial skills, questioning my dad’s legacy in Missouri’s deepest cave,” Jack says. “Nevertheless, with self-discipline cultivated on an Illinois farm, she cut her ties in Chicago and never looked back. Her only insistence was indoor plumbing!” A year after Hugo’s death, the cave train project began in earnest with Jack in charge. Failing to ﬁnd a natural exit to the cave, the younger Herschend and his workers determined to blast a tunnel from the surface down to an undeveloped part of Marvel Cave. When they were not guiding tourists, Lester Vining, Bert Lewallen and Rex Johnson set off one stick of dynamite at a time. The tunnel inched downward through solid rock to the calcite formation known as Blondie’s Throne. Meanwhile, Jack and Peter Herschend started rebuilding the old mining town above the caverns. Shops and attractions entertained folks waiting for cave tours. By 1960, the reproduction city with its rides and shows had a name: Silver Dollar City. Mary Herschend caught her husband’s vision — an unexplained tug at his heartstrings related to the rugged hills of his native Denmark. She and her sons discovered their own roots descending the depths of Marvel Cave through the hillside’s rocks and thin soil. The Herschends acknowledge their award-winning theme park, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, exists because of a mysterious calling within both William Lynch and Hugo Herschend. Two families focused on an unknown buried in the hearts of the men they loved. With the help of Ozark strangers who became friends, their hard work, prayers and deep faith changed the face of Roark Mountain forever. The legacy of two men, one cave and a thriving Silver Dollar City lives on for present and future generations who visit the Missouri Ozarks. The United States Department of the Interior proclaimed Marvel Cave a natural landmark. Upon their deaths, Miriam and Genevieve Lynch bequeathed the cave property to the College of the Ozarks and the Branson Presbyterian Church. Silver Dollar City, served by White River Valley Electric Cooperative, includes a tour of Marvel Cave with its admission price. For park information, go to www.silverdollarcity.com. Chandler is a freelance writer from Heber Springs, Ark.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - October 2010
Rural Missouri - October 2010
Good Times on the Berryman
Elk in Missouri?
Out of the Way Eats
Live Like a Viking
Two Men and a Cave
Hearth and Home
Paddlin' for a Cure
Get in Touch with Ghosts
Rural Missouri - October 2010
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