Marvel Cave

Last updated
Marvel Cave
Marble Cave
Marvel Cave.JPG
Marvel Cave Cathedral Room I
Location Silver Dollar City, Branson, Missouri,
United States
Coordinates 36°40′03″N93°20′23″W / 36.6675°N 93.3397°W / 36.6675; -93.3397 Coordinates: 36°40′03″N93°20′23″W / 36.6675°N 93.3397°W / 36.6675; -93.3397
Depth500 ft (152 m)
Discovery16th century
Accessprivate (tours on park operating days)
Show cave opened1894
Show cave length60 minutes
Features flowstone, stalagmites, stalactites

Marvel Cave is a National Natural Landmark located just west of Branson, Missouri, on top of Roark Mountain in Stone County. The cave was known by the Osage Indians in the early 16th century, after a tribe member fell through the cave's main entrance, a sinkhole. There is evidence that in 1541 the Spanish explored the cave, but the first recorded expedition was in 1869, led by Henry T. Blow. The unofficial Stone County chapter of Bald Knobbers, a local group of vigilantes, were rumored to have taken people to the top of Roark Mountain, and thrown them in the sink hole.


Marvel Cave was originally called Marble Cave, after explorers in 1882 saw what they thought was marble on the cave's ceiling. This started the Marble Cave Mining Company, although later it was realized that there was never any marble in the cave. The Marble Cave Mining Company ceased all operations after only four and a half years. William Lynch purchased the cave in 1889, and soon after opened the cave to the public. In 1950, Hugo Herschend leased the cave for 99 years. The Herschends made renovations to the cave, and later opened a theme park, Silver Dollar City, on the surface above the cave. Marvel Cave is known for being one of the largest caves in Missouri, having one of the largest cave entry rooms (the Cathedral Room) of any cave in North America, and for being one of the longest running tourist attractions in the Ozarks.


The Bald Knobbers

According to Silver Dollar City park legend, a local group of vigilantes who later turned into outlaws called the Bald Knobbers were known for throwing people through the sinkhole into Devil's Den around the mid 19th century. Though it's likely that roving Bushwhackers and outlaws would've undoubtedly chosen to dispose of their victims through this sinkhole, the Bald Knobbers did not form until 1883 (starting-up in neighboring Taney County), were replaced by an unofficial chapter in 1886 within nearby Christian County, with unofficial chapters in other counties (including Stone County where the cave is located) later than that.

However, though there is no written evidence to substantiate it, it's possible that Stone County's unofficial Bald Knobbers used the cave for various uses sometime in 1889, between the time the mining operations ceased and late October of that year when it was purchased for sightseeing tours.

Early explorers

There is evidence that the Spanish explored the cave in 1541, hoping to uncover riches and possibly the fountain of youth. [1] There is a legend that the Spanish buried gold in the cave. The first known expedition was in 1869 and lead Henry T. Blow of St. Louis, a lead mining magnate. He explored the cave with six other miners. [1] One by one, the miners lowered themselves down into the sinkhole. They carried lanterns for light and spent hours studying the cave walls carefully searching for signs of mineral deposits. They went as far as the Shoe Room, because on one side was the Gulf of Doom, which they believed was the bottomless pit after throwing rocks down the Gulf of Doom and hearing no sound. On the other side was the Cloud Room, which was filled to the ceiling with bat guano. The miners returned to the surface late that evening having failed to discover the lead ore they sought, but were convinced that the flat ceiling of the Shoe Room contained marble. Their report gained the interest of area locals who decided to name the cave Marble Cave.

No more expeditions took place until 1882 when another group of entrepreneurs, led by Mr. T. Hodges Jones and Truman S. Powell of Barton County, entered the cave in hopes of finding lead. Jones and Powell found huge amounts of guano and the flat ceiling, which they also believed to be marble.

Marble Cave Mining and Manufacturing Company

In 1884, Mr. T. Hodge Jones bought the property and, with several of his friends, formed the Marble Cave Mining and Manufacturing Company to mine the marble from the cave. The company hired a geologist, and it was proved that what looked like marble on the ceiling of the Shoe Room was really limestone. To keep the company alive they mined out the guano and sold it for $700 a ton. The guano was used for gunpowder and fertilizer. The miners filled ore carts with guano, then the carts were pulled by donkeys to the Cathedral Room, and the carts were lifted out of the cave by a pulley system. In 1889, after four and a half years, all the guano was mined out. Marble Cave Mining, Co. closed all operations.


Marmaros (Greek for Marble) was a small town that formed along with the Marble Cave Mining and Manufacturing Company in 1884. It was originally called Marble City. It was located on the rough hilltop near the cave and recorded a plat map at the courthouse in Galena, Missouri. Marmaros contained a hotel, general store, pottery shop, white oak furniture factory, and was rumored to have a saloon. The town turned into a ghost town in 1889 after the Marble Cave Mining, Co. closed. When the Lynches bought the cave, the town was burned to the ground by the local group of vigilantes known as the Bald Knobbers.

The Lynches

On October 30, 1889, William Henry Lynch, a Canadian miner and dairyman, purchased the cave and the square mile of land around the cave where Marmaros was located for $10,000. [1] After coming to Marvel Cave, he found that Marmaros was burnt to the ground. Lynch, with the aid of his family, proposed to open the cave to sightseers. The Lynches began operation of the sightseeing venture in 1894 with a grand celebration and a few visitors. [1] The cave has remained open since, making it one of the oldest continuously running tourist attractions in the Ozarks.

When William Lynch died in 1927, ownership of the cave passed to his daughters. Shortly thereafter, the name of the cave was changed to Marvel Cave. [1] The Lynch family operated the cave for over fifty years.

The Herschends

A Chicago vacuum cleaner salesman, Hugo Herschend, purchased a 99-year lease on the cave in 1950, from The Lynch sisters. [1]

After Hugo Herschend's death in 1955, his wife Mary took over the day-to-day operations of the cave. With the aid of her two sons, Jack and Peter, Mary Herschend was able to make vast improvements to the cave. They added concrete paths and stairs to the cave, and a tower from the sinkhole to the top of the debris pile. Also, they added a narrow gauge funicular (cable-pulled) railway in 1957, whose trains pulled visitors a distance of 218 feet (66 m), [1] from the depths of the cave up to the surface. Before building the cable train, the Army Corps of Engineers said that it could not be built, because a cable train can not make a turn like the one the Herschends planned. The Herschends built it anyway, and it is still in operation to this day.

Once the cable train was in operation, the Herschends decided to recreate the mining village Marmaros, for tourists waiting to go on a tour. It opened in 1960, and is called Silver Dollar City.

In 1972 Genevieve Lynch died and bequeathed the cave to the College of the Ozarks and the First Presbyterian Church of Branson. The Herschends continue to operate the property under lease. [2]


Currently there are two different tours offered: The Traditional Tour and The Lantern Tour.

Traditional tours

The first guided tours in the cave were in 1894 run by the Lynches. They lasted 8 hours and were by candle or lantern. Visitors climbed through the sink hole on a 100 feet (30 m) ladder down to the top of the pile. Then you were instructed to slide down the pile to the bottom. You received a candle to guide your way. The tours included the Egyptian Room (now the Shoe Room), the Lakes Passage, and you saw formations such as the Great White Throne (now the Liberty Bell), and the Spring Room Sentinel (now just the Sentinel). After the Hershends started tours in 1950, they removed the wooden stairs, and added concrete stairs and paths through the cave. Current tours last for about an hour, and are limited to 45 people.

Lantern tour

In 2006, Marvel Cave started offering The Lantern Light Tour. In this tour the electric lights are turned off in the cave and lanterns are given to each member of the tour. Unlike the regular tours which are free, this tour costs $16.12, and is limited to 20 people. The tour has been extended into the Mammoth Room, making it the first tour to incorporate this room in more than fifty years. One is also able to see both the summer and fall sections if the Waterfall Room is not flooded. The tour lasts about an hour and a half. The guide focuses on the history and folklore of the cave and is able to explain more information about the cave due to the small group setting of the tour.

Rooms and passages

Notable formations

Life in the cave

Gray bat in a hibernaculum. A colony of this species lives in Marvel Cave. Myotis grisescens hibernating.jpg
Gray bat in a hibernaculum. A colony of this species lives in Marvel Cave.

Marvel Cave is host to a variety of bats and salamanders. Marvel Cave has been recognized for its outstanding work in preserving its colony of endangered Gray Bats.


See also

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Show Caves of the United States of America: Marvel Cave
  2. Missouri Roadsides: The Traveler's Companion - Bill Earngey - University of Missouri Press (October 1995) - ISBN   0-8262-1021-X