In 1994 I was treated to a very special trip to Lookout Mountain Cave, below Ruby Falls. We were having dinner at a friend’s home, and at our table we met a couple from Lafayette, Georgia. We started talking about caving and Pettyjohn Cave near Lafayette, when he told me that he was going on a special trip to Ruby Falls. He knew a cave guide there who was taking a group of city official from Lafayette to the lower cave in Ruby Falls on the following Tuesday, April 19th. He invited me to come if I would like. I had to take off from work and drive up early, but I knew that it would be worth it. A once in a life time experience and my only chance to see Lookout Mountain Cave!
When I arrived I was the only one dress in caving gear, the others only had hand held flashlights, but they were impressed as we enter the lobby and the elevator.
After a long slow ride to the bottom, we exited the elevator into a passage of Lookout Mountain Cave. The electric lights were turned on. A string of lights with half of them burnt out and spread far apart. I recall looking carefully at the rusted frame of the elevator and was amazed that it was still working in the wet conditions of the cave.
Although Lookout Mountain Caverns has not been open to tourists for quite some time, the management of Ruby Falls did allow researchers to take the elevator (the shaft excavated in 1928-1929) down to Lookout Mountain Caverns by prior arrangement. This access resulted in the discovery of new passages since Barr’s description was published in 1961. It also resulted in the discovery of prehistoric bones dating back to the last Ice Age (Pleistocene). Many old names and dates in this cave are of great interest to historians. The map of the cave in Barr’s book indicates the existence of “Andy Jackson’s Signature.” Unfortunately, in 2005 the State of Tennessee’s elevator inspectors required the Ruby Falls operators to seal the portion of the elevator shaft below Ruby Falls and the cave is now totally inaccessible in 2006.
One of the first things the guide showed us was the Signature of Andrew Jackson, The protective glass was long gone but the bolts that held it in place were still there, and you could just make out the signature.
The lower part of the cave was flooded and the stairs led down to the water. As we were looking at the passage below, the guide explained that the water filled passage linked up with the dry passage in the direction we were heading. I asked if we could take it and join up with the group at the junction. Two of us, my friend I met at the dinner and I followed the stream passage with the water over our waist. After what seem like a long water hike, we heard voices and joined up with the rest of the group, soaking wet.
We continued through the cave toward the original entrance which is now blocked by the railroad tunnel, we heard one train pass through while we were there. We took a good look at the rock ballet boxes that were along the side of the passage and were told that they were used for early voting. Though hard to believe, they did have a square hole in the top.
In 1905 the entrance to Lookout Mountain Cave was permanently sealed by the railroad tunnel, and in 1928 an elevator shaft was dug by Leo Lambert 420 feet down into the known cave. At the 260 foot level an opening of eighteen inches high and five feet wide, was discovered. This led to the now show cave, Ruby Falls named after Mr. Lambert’s wife Ruby. In 1929 the tours were opened to the lower original cave. A year later Ruby Falls was open to the public. And in 1935 the tours to the original cave were discontinued, in 2006 the rusty elevator was replaced and the shaft to the lower cave sealed off.