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Trapped!: The Story of Floyd Collins

Robert K. Murray
Roger W. Brucker
Copyright Date: 1979
Pages: 360
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    "When Floyd Collins became trapped in a cave in southern Kentucky in early 1925, the sensationalism and hysteria of the rescue attempt generated America's first true media spectacle, making Collins's story one of the seminal events of the century. The crowds that gathered outside Sand Cave turned the rescue site into a carnival. Collins's situation was front-page news throughout the country, hourly bulletins interrupted radio programs, and Congress recessed to hear the latest word. Trapped! is both a tense adventure and a brilliant historical recreation of the past. This new edition includes a new epilogue revealing information about the Floyed Collins story that has come to light since the book was first published.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4394-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-6)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 7-10)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 11-13)
    R.K.M. and R.W.B.
  4. Map
    (pp. 14-14)
  5. Prologue
    (pp. 15-20)

    “Hello ... Roger Brucker? This is Robert Murray.” With those words, the present book began.

    How I, a blue-water sailor, and Roger Brucker, an expert caver, should have found each other is, in itself, the work of fate. A historian when not sailing, I had often run across the name of Floyd Collins and had accumulated considerable information about him in the course of nearly a quarter of a century of research on the social and political life of the American people during the 1920s. Brucker, an advertising executive when not caving, had also long possessed an interest in Collins...

  6. 1 To Find a New Cavern
    (pp. 21-51)

    The cave was only a short distance from Bee Doyle’s house, and Floyd covered the ground quickly. It was not a morning to loiter. A chill westerly had pushed back the rain clouds, which, for the past two days, had brought extreme dampness to the area, and only a weak sun shone through. Winter runoff dripped everywhere and the earth underfoot was in a semisolid state that was neither ice nor mud.

    Except for the battered kerosene lantern and a seventy-two foot rope slung over his shoulder, Floyd could have been any Barren County farmer setting out to cut ties...

  7. 2 Friends and Relatives
    (pp. 52-68)

    “Did Floyd come in?” It was Saturday morning and Bee Doyle looked worried as he talked to his neighbor, Edward Estes.

    “Naw,” replied Ed. “Figured he was over at your place.” Rubbing his fingers over his chin, Estes added, “Guess we’d better see about him.”

    Doyle nodded as their eyes met. They knew what they had to do. They had to go to Sand Cave.

    Both men had been uneasy about Floyd since the previous evening. Floyd should have returned to Doyle’s house to remove his cave clothes at the end of the day’s work, but he had not. Nor...

  8. 3 The Outside World Intrudes
    (pp. 69-91)

    Louisville, Kentucky, was a city of four newspapers in 1925. TheHeraldand theCourier-Journalcompeted for the attention of the reading public in the morning. TheEvening Postand theTimesdid the same at night. TheHeraldand thePostwere owned together, as were theCourier-Journaland theTimes.On weekdays, all four of these papers were on the street. On Sundays, there were only two—theHerald-Postand theCourier-Journal and Times.

    Such rivalry helped create, and at the same time fed on, that style of sensational journalism identified with the 1920s. Some of this sensationalism...

  9. 4 Human Chains and High Hopes
    (pp. 92-113)

    Lying wearily on an army cot at seven o’clock Tuesday morning, an exhausted Johnnie Gerald stared vacantly ahead. With Lieutenant Wells on one side and Charles Whittle on the other, he had just been helped up the last incline of the cave’s entrance and into the recently pitched first-aid tent. Through a cloud of fatigue, he was confident that success was near and that Floyd’s release was inevitable. Only his own failing stamina prevented it from being achieved at once. Also, he was now more convinced than ever that final success depended on keeping excess traffic out of the cave....

  10. 5 Final Contact
    (pp. 114-127)

    The failure of the jack attempt at one o’clock Wednesday morning was a crushing blow for Floyd Collins. Throughout his long ordeal since Friday, January 30, he had experienced a number of emotional lows, but he had remained convinced that ultimately he would be freed. On Tuesday night, while Skeets Miller was working with the jacks, he had believed that his release was only minutes away. Now he was unsure and extremely fearful. Despite the added comfort of the electric light, the departure of the young newsman had heightened Floyd’s feeling of apprehension and loneliness. An overpowering sense of helplessness...

  11. 6 The State Takes Over
    (pp. 128-166)

    Cave City magistrate Clay Turner was a worried man. Since Sunday, February 1, events at Sand Cave had been growing beyond his control, and he was under increasing pressure to do something about them. William Hanson, the town marshall, who was saddled with the specific responsibility of enforcing the law, had been no more effective than Turner in maintaining order. By Tuesday, February 3, their ban on drinking was being openly flaunted and the mounting altercations and controversies at the rescue site were too much for them to handle.

    Reporter A.W. Nichols of theEvening Postsuggested to Hanson on...

  12. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  13. 7 Carnival Sunday
    (pp. 167-179)

    Sunday, February 8, dawned cloudy and mild. The warming trend that had set in at midweek continued. The overnight low had been in the high forties and by noon the temperature again stood at sixty degrees. Intermittent patches of blue sky were seen throughout the day and an occasional burst of sunshine flooded the rescue area.

    Unfortunately, the diggers’ problems in the shaft remained the same. The constant thawing added to their woes and emergency shoring was necessary to maintain the integrity of the shaft’s sides. At one point on Sunday they ran into a tough stretch of rock and...

  14. 8 Investigation and Frustration
    (pp. 180-207)

    Three events hit the public with devastating effect on Monday, February 9. The decision for a military inquiry, the possibility of a grand jury investigation, and the Killian AP dispatch appeared in the press simultaneously. Descriptions of the carnival scenes of Sunday were introduced by headlines that indicated there were new and sensational angles to the tragedy. One read: “MURDER IS HINTED IN CAVE PROBE”; another, “COLLINS NOT IN CAVE.” Subheadings went on to say that “Kentucky Natives Think He Found Exit or Has Food Cache,” while accompanying articles elaborated on these themes. Angry disputes in the Collins family were...

  15. 9 The Struggle Ends
    (pp. 208-224)

    “We’re there! We’re there!” Shouting, then falling to his knees, Albert Marshall clawed at the small opening. The prominent forelock that hung down over his forehead was shiny with sweat. Al Blevins and Ed Brenner, two paces behind him and covered with mud, were caught by surprise. Simon Johns, enjoying a cigarette farther back in the lateral tunnel, rushed forward.

    Since late Sunday evening, these men had been working in shifts in the lengthening heading. Slowly, laboriously, sometimes able to move only one cubic yard of dirt an hour, they had pushed the lateral past the ten-foot mark on Monday...

  16. 10 Making of a Legend
    (pp. 225-270)

    In an editorial on February 18, 1925, thePark City Daily Newssaid of the Collins tragedy: “In a few weeks the people will stop talking about it. We are prone to forget the dead. . . . So it will be with Floyd Collins.”

    TheDaily News’sprophecy quickly rang true. On February 18, Cave City was almost deserted. The exciting days were over as well as the profits that had accompanied them. As one citizen remarked, “Back to the dullness of the daily round.” Taxi drivers and their cabs were missing from the streets. At the L &...

  17. Epilogue
    (pp. 271-291)

    “Okay, Roger, you take the caving part, and I’ll take the history.”

    With that statement to me by Bob Murray during our original phone conversation in November 1976, my first thought was:Brucker, you’ve got to get into Sand Cave!The saga of Floyd Collins would remain forever unfinished without knowing what that cave is really like. Only by going into the cave could some of the details surrounding the Collins entrapment and rescue effort be clarified. Contemporary newspaper articles, notes in diaries and on maps, and even eyewitness accounts were not enough to give a complete picture. Therehad...

  18. Epilogue 1999
    (pp. 292-301)

    SinceTrapped!was published in 1979, the story of Floyd Collins continues to unfold in strange and fascinating ways. The basic facts remain as we described them. But tidbits of additional detail have been uncovered and, as time passes, the story simply refuses to end.

    By 1999, none of Floyd’s living relatives had personally known the man. His last surviving brother, Marshall Collins, died in Horse Cave, Kentucky, in September 1981, at age eighty-four. Skeets Miller died in Florida on December 29, 1983, at age eighty. William Douglas, one of the early rescue workers on the scene and prominent as...

  19. Notes on Sources
    (pp. 302-334)
  20. Index
    (pp. 337-347)