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Marengo Cave to turn 125

Saturday event will feature $1.25 tours

September 03, 2008
Marengo's population is expected to quadruple Saturday, as thousands are expected to help celebrate the 125th anniversary of the discovery of Marengo Cave.

The cave and visitor center will mark the milestone with Discovery Day festivities, including live entertainment, country dinners and family activities, from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Dulcimer music, old-fashioned, homemade ice cream, covered wagon and surrey rides, muzzle loading demonstrations, a hymn sing and fried chicken dinners will be among the tastes, sights, sounds and smells at the event.

The event, which is free, will feature seven bands under a covered pavilion. The bands include the Corydon Dulcimer Society, Butt Struttin' Dixie Land Band, Old Stuff, Boot Scoottin' Grannies, Corn Shucker, Vittle Pickers and Grease Gravy, which is named after nearby Grease Gravy Road.

Visitors are encouraged to wear bonnets, bib overalls or other old-fashioned clothing. There will be lots of hands-on demonstrations, including quilting, old-time toys, pottery, candle dipping and butter churning and tasting. Visitors can take lessons from an 1880 school marm at the "blab school" or join in the a cappella hymn sing in the 1850 Springtown Church that's adjacent to the cave.

But the real celebration will be hundreds of feet underground in the cave itself. Tours will be different than a typical day; they'll be available at the special 125th anniversary price of $1.25 per person.

First-person interpreters will be at various locations throughout the cave to discuss key milestones in the cave history. For example, two children will portray Blanche and Orris Hiestand, the sister and brother who discovered the cave in 1883 when they were 15 and 11 years old, respectively. Other interpreters will recreate the heated 1929 land dispute, while others will re-enact the first wedding that took place in the cave.

"Five years ago, we held our first Discovery Day to celebrate the 120th anniversary of the discovery of the cave, and we were thrilled to host 3,500 people in a single day," Carol Groves, director of marketing at Marengo Cave, said. "That's a huge crowd, considering the population of the town of Marengo is only 829, according to the 2000 census."

Open to the public 363 days a year, Marengo Cave National Landmark is Indiana's most-visited show cave. Designated a National Natural Landmark in 1984, the cave is 4.6 miles long and offers several tours of varying lengths and skill levels. The Crystal Palace tour takes visitors into an immense cave where they see Mirror Lake, a vast, still expanse of water that reflects the stalactites above perfectly. Another highlight is the Crystal Palace Room, where a light show accompanied by music is staged in a grand underground theater.

The 122 acres of forested hills and valleys above the cavern form a park offering gemstone mining, two group shelter houses, the Clifton Group Center for groups staying overnight, four air-conditioned camping cabins, an indoor snack bar, a signed nature trail and a large gift shop. In addition, there is a cave simulator that allows guests to wind and twist through four challenging wooden boxes.

According to current geologic theory, Marengo Cave began to form approximately a million years ago. There is no documented evidence that anyone ever entered Marengo Cave before its historic discovery on Sept. 6, 1883, by the Hiestand siblings, who lived in Marengo. The main corridors were quickly explored by landowner Samuel Stewart's son and his friends.

Recognizing the value of what they had found, the Stewarts immediately opened the cave to the public. The cave remained in the Stewart family until 1955. The present owners purchased the cavern in 1973 and greatly expanded park operations.

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