leads a group of visitors to an iron gate and pauses to prepare his
guests for what they’re about to see. He speaks
in short, declarative sentences as he begins to tell the story of Crystal
Loyd Richardson points out cave features to Rose Mary Casteel,
who toured Crystal Cave while traveling from Searcy, Ark., with
her family. All tours of the cave are led by Loyd or his wife,
is natural throughout — no man-made stuff
except the lights and the pathway,” he says. “We ask
you not to touch it, feel of it, rub it — does a little damage.
Just look at it. If you’ve got a camera,
take pictures anywhere you like.
deaf on this side so if you say something and I don’t
answer, I didn’t hear you — old age getting to me.”
humble apology is the only indication of Loyd’s advancing age. At
86, he effortlessly heads down a steep flight of stone steps, leaving his
much-younger visitors to precariously find their footing. He opens an antique
gate, salvaged from an old Springfield jail, and passes into the first
room of the cave.
Together with his
wife, Edith, Loyd has been leading these tours since 1982 when the
couple bought the cave from Estle Funkhouser, Edith’s sister.
Funkhouser inherited the cave from the last surviving daughter of
Alfred Mann, who developed the cave as an attraction in 1893. Located
5 miles north of Springfield on Highway H, Crystal Cave was the second
commercial cave in Missouri, opened seven years after Mark Twain
Cave in Hannibal.
first started showing this cave they charged a quarter,” says
Loyd, who collects $9 for adult tours today. “Ten cents,” Edith
corrects him. “But see that’s been a lot of years ago.
And that would have been a lot of money then.”
|An early postcard promotes Crystal Cave.
Edith grew up nearby
the cave and the couple visited often during trips home from Kansas,
where Loyd ran the paint shop at Beech Aircraft.
come down here from Wichita and visit with her folks. Then we’d
come by here and howdy with them,” Loyd says of time spent
with the three Mann sisters. “Maybe stay an hour or 15 minutes
or whatever. We never had any idea we’d ever own the cave.”
when Highway 65 passed nearby, Crystal Cave was a popular tourist
spot. But the highway moved 7 miles east and business dropped
off along with the traffic. Today, few tourists are aware of Crystal
Cave. Those who do come usually follow the hearty recommendation
of a previous visitor.
“People just traveling along the highway
or briefly stopping in Missouri to visit a cave tend to go for the
larger ones. They’re probably not going
to go to Crystal Cave,” says Dwight Weaver, a retired public
information officer for Department of Natural Resources and the
author of five books about Missouri’s caves.
I’ve always regarded Crystal Cave as
one of those little gems sitting back in the woods that a lot
of people are missing.”
better-known caves paint their names on barn roofs or put up huge
billboards to attract tourists to their underground spectacles. Once
inside, visitors often find an unnatural underworld, aglow in colored
lights and lined with paved walkways. One cave even touts
the comfort of its Jeep-drawn trams.
Visitors examine formations inside Crystal Cave.
Named for its sparkling
calcite deposits, Crystal Cave offers no such artificiality. A simple
string of electric lights barely illuminates each room. Passages
are often narrow and occasionally low. “You grown ups will
have to bend in a few places,” Loyd tells a family touring
the cave. “Don’t
raise up too quick. The rock is real solid.”
Crystal Cave lacks in amenities, it more than makes up
for in geologic wonders, each assigned a descriptive
name by the Mann family and highlighted in the beam of a rechargeable
flashlight as Edith or Loyd guides groups from cavern to cavern.
Washington Monument formation is a pair of giant stalagmites that leave no
doubt whether they “might” reach the ceiling. They’re
almost there. Massive vertical columns in the Cathedral
Chamber have been broken in two and offset by some prehistoric seismic episode.
Another room contains helictites, soda-straw-like stalactites that mysteriously
twist and grow sideways.
grow I can’t explain,” Loyd
real strange stuff.”
Missing from the
tour are the legends that so often come with other caves.
no stories about Tom Sawyer or Jesse James here.
try to tell as true a story as we can,” Loyd
so much stuff down there there’s no use
stretching the truth. Just tell it like it is.”
whose book, “Wilderness Underground:
Caves of the Ozark Plateau,” includes
photographs of Missouri’s most spectacular
caves, agrees. “It’s
a very pretty cave. It’s got some beautiful
things in it,” he says.
of the caves in Missouri it just seems like
they run down a long stream passage. This
one seems to be more compartmentalized. You feel
more like you’re in a well-decorated
rooming house the way you move from room
are definitely the focus of the tour, as Loyd directs his
attention to visually interesting things
along the path. While Loyd briefly touches
on how caves are formed, the tour is not
a science lesson. “I don’t
pretend to know anything about geology.
I know a little but not enough to explain,” he
opens an old iron gate to begin the tour. Visitors have been touring
the cave since 1893,
Instead, Loyd recalls
history. He shows pictographs on the
ceiling and explains that Osage Indians once sheltered
inside. Mostly, though, he delights his
guests with whimsical interpretations
of the formations found in the cave.
the rocks along the wall kind of resemble animals — birds,
fish, one looks like a chicken sitting
in a nest,” he says. “You
have to imagine a little but that’s
the way it looks to me.”
who has written about the history
of show caves in Missouri, says the personal
touch the Richardsons and other small cave
owners bring to their tours makes for a special
go through the larger caves they tend to get a canned tour. But when
the owner himself takes you on the tour you get a whole different
kind of look at the cave,” he says. “You get a look at the personality
of the owner too. You get to learn
things about the cave that you’d never
meeting Loyd and hearing his
plans for the cave are among the highlights
of this tour. At an age when
most men settle into rocking chairs
Loyd continues to take pick and
shovel to create stairs and open
passageways to cave rooms previously
accessible only through narrow crawl
spaces. He still builds railing, strings
lights and hauls chat into the cave to lay
down on passageways.
|Visitors make their way down a narrow passage. At age 86, Loyd
still digs new passageways, opening more chambers of Crystal Cave
to the public.
be opening some more cave,” he
tells a recent tour group. “I’ve
got a whole lot of cave open
but there’ll be more open by next year if
I can stay active and I think
Loyd, who also
tends cattle, cuts firewood and cares for 120
acres, appears as fit as men
half his age. Edith, 85, also
seems unfazed by the rigor of
cave tours. “We
enjoy it or we wouldn’t
do it,” she says.
they carry on a tradition
begun more than 100 years
ago, sharing this piece
of Missouri’s underground
it’s the beauty of the cave or the inspiration of the Richardsons
themselves, Loyd says
people seem to like what they see.
“We get lots of good comments,” he
says. “Hardly a person that
goes in there don’t
come by shaking hands
with us and thanking
us and they’re
going to tell their friends.”
For more information
about Crystal Cave call