When we were kids, it was a foregone conclusion that during one of our many elementary school outings our class would visit the Ohio Caverns. This natural wonder is located in Logan County, near the community of West Liberty. Legend has it that the caverns were first discovered by a young boy who was out searching for his dog. Over the years, the place became a Mecca for tourists who wanted to experience this underground marvel.
Our old yellow and black school busses would be loaded with willing and enthusiastic students in the parking lot of North Lewisburg Elementary School. Sack or box lunches were the order of the day, and many of us went forth bearing metal lunch boxes which had been imprinted with our favorite television, movies, or comic strip characters. There was generally a sandwich, most often prepared using Wonder bread. It was piled high with peanut butter and jelly, or bologna, salami, or ham which our mothers had purchased the day before at Arbuckle’s, or Woodruff’s Red and White, or Arthur’s IGA, or possibly Jack Swisher’s shop. Sometimes there was a slice of Kraft cheese, carefully cut on one of the large, metal meat cutters which were prominent in the rear of the stores. There was also an apple, or banana, or orange, and possibly a slice of cake which was left over from the previous day’s dinner. Or, a special treat might be a Hostess chocolate cupcake or similar store-bought baked goods. There was a metal and plastic thermos which was filled with milk (white or chocolate), or Kool-aid, lemonade, or iced tea.
The drive to the caverns was a noisy affair, each bus filled with kids’ chatter, laughter, and songs. The miles seemed endless, and time seemed to pass so very slowly as we meandered the back country roads to our destination.
Upon arrival, there was always the safety lecture from our adult teacher escorts. We were reminded that we represented our school, and were to be respectful of the people we were to encounter and the property we were to transverse. Then, normally in two-by-twos, we were led to the entrance to the caverns (located in the headquarters building) to link up with our guide…normally a teenage boy or girl who had learned to master the prescribed script for our journey from start to finish.
We then descended the steps which led down into the ground, everyone excited to experience the change in temperature as we moved deeper and deeper into the bowels of the earth. We followed the concrete trail which led us through the wondrous rooms, each of which was filled with fascinating rock formations. We were warned that many of the formations were hundreds of thousands of years old, and that our mere hand-touching of any of them would destroy years of nature’s work. We were awed by the gigantic icicles, which we were soon to learn were actually formed by water leeching through the limestone above us. We listened in wonder to the sounds of tiny droplets of water as they fell into the many pools which surrounded us.
At one point, we stood transfixed as the lights were extinguished, and the soothing melody of “Beautiful Ohio” drifted through the cavern from some hidden pipe organ device. When the lights came back on, we were ready to continue on our adventurous path through the balance of the caverns.
We walked on, constantly informed by our guide of the many features we were experiencing. We eventually came to the end of the journey, prominently visible with the many, many steps which would take us once again to the surface. We emerged into sunlight, walked to the picnic tables to enjoy our repast, and chattered amiably about the many wonders we had seen.
If we were fortunate, we had the opportunity to go to the souvenir shop to spend our precious dimes, quarters, and half-dollars on some trinkets to commemorate the trip. (I still have a cedar jewelry box, imprinted with a rendering of the caverns, after all these many years). We ran and chased each other around the many rock gardens, flower beds, and expansive grassy areas until it was time to once again board the busses for the trip back to North Lewisburg.
Here’s a special note for my friend, Doug Fadely. Do you remember when you memorized that Ohio Caverns script and worked so hard to enhance your performance as one of the guides?