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Time to revisit our story of Rattling Cave and see it

Published: 10:26 AM, 01/06/2014 Last updated: 10:26 AM, 01/06/2014

Author: David Popiel
Source: The Newport Plain Talk

Time to revisit our story

of Rattling Cave and see it



The New Year is not only a time to look forward as many are already breaking their resolutions in our hometown, but a time to look back and reflect on what was and its influence on the future.

Yes, is past time for me to revisit an old story of a deep cave, the untimely death of a young Newport man, and my own visit to the cave early last year before the green rush of summer could prevent the trip. But let me add some background and how I came across the story in July 2010. I had been chatting with Hugh Gregg, Jr., who was 77, at the time and recalled the events about 1946 as a I later verified from Plain Talk news  clippings, talking as if everyone knew about Rattlin’ Cave and the death of Billy Gregg, who was a likeable teenager with a promising future. He had many friends, some of you alive today. One I talked to several times about the cave and his recollections being retired circuit judge J. Kenneth Porter. He was about 12 at the time and looked up to the older boys such as Art Fisher Jr., Billy, and J.M. Poe. These three were at the cave when Billy somehow fell into the almost vertical shaft. When I finally made it to the cave in April 2013 along with Ken and our guide, Mike Proffitt, you get a chill just by being too close to the large opening into blackness. But more about this soon.


A tragic front-page story


The Newport Plain Talk covered in detail the story of Billy’s accident and the rescue attempt. This was lead by Johnny Farmer of Stokely cannery. He was joined by Earl Rhodes, Robert Hickey and many men from town. Ken described Johnny as a fearless, rugged man who descended into the cave by rope. During the rescue, Johnny lost his footing and fell a short distance but was still able to tie a rope around the victim so he could be pulled out. This was accomplished by Art Fisher Sr.’s large and prominent silver tow truck. By recollection, the accident happened late afternoon so the rescue took place at night by lanterns. The area of the cave is off Highway 25/70, and I described it in my column as pasture land skirted by trees. I thought with all the overgrowth over the ensuing 65-plus years it would be difficult to find and approach, but I was mistaken. Incidentally, after the columns the summer of 2010, Ken, Mike and I talked about visiting the cave. Ken had not been back to it since childhood but Mike had been to it many times over the years. I am sorry that I did not get to talk with Betty Poe, J.M.’s widow, about his recollections before she died not long ago last year. He rarely spoke of the accident and did mention to her that Billy barely brushed against him as he fell into the cave. Ken observed that usually there were dry sticks and gravel around the opening. This could easily cause you to lose your footing.


Many recollected the news

During my research on the tragedy I got to talk with Louise Taylor, who shared a photo of her father, Tom Edwards. His connection to the event is that he was one of the rescuers. The photo, perhaps a Plain Talk photo, showed his bandaged hand because he was helping to control ropes into the cave and it burned his hand. I wish that there had been a photo of the young men: Billy, Art, and J.M. They along with Ken’s close friend, Bobby Parrott, the Poe boys, Greggs, and others dominated the countryside filling their summer vacations with swimming in the Pigeon River, biking along Edwina and Asheville highways, running across green pastures including the Freshour farm. A color photo would have shown Billy to be red headed, blue-eyed, over six feet tall, fair skinned. I am not for certain but it seemed that the visit to Rattling Cave was for Billy, his first and last. My guess is the others were reluctant to revisit it after the fall. There are many caves in the area, especially along Pigeon River. An often-visited one being Quarry Cave off Edwina Hwy. not far from the Dr. Jack Clark home. Many of he boys had met to play in this cave before the three set off on the ill-fated journey to Rattling Cave. I my last column of that series, I visited the home of Clifford Sane, whom I had known for years because of his work as a county jailer. We talked about the Sunday, November 10, 1946 accident and I was able to borrow an old photo of Billy on his Indian motorcycle from Clifford and his wife, Sharleen. I never got back to the home to reminisce more and Clifford died last year. So, I am glad for those memories of the visit.

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