One of the coldest January periods in recent decades made
some wonder if the ice ages are returning to our hometown, but citizens got
relief late in the week when temperatures climbed into the 50s. And how will
things be when the full moon rises January 15th?
Since we last talked, several people who we knew and loved
have died. You know these folks because they have been featured in the Plain
Talk over the years because of their interesting lives, community work, and
efforts to make things better for others. I’m talking about Frank Strickler,
90, who I got to know through stories we did on his World War II valor and
actions in combat. Both Duay O’Neil and Kohn Harper did stories on his military
exploits at Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge. And, after Dr. Mike Hood
presented an update on the family vineyard at Goodwater Road, I wandered how
his wife, Carol, was doing. Only days after this did she die of cancer at age
62. She did extraordinary work with animals both as a talented veterinarian and
then as director of the Newport Animal Shelter. Any friend of an animal is a
friend of mine. What Frank and Carol shared in common was a life of outstanding
personal accomplishments. I am so glad to have known them.
My apologizes for the pain
Last week we began revisiting Rattling Cave where Bill Gregg
died during a fall in November 1946 as a teenager. On re-reading the 1946 Plain
Talk account, it seems that most of the witnesses have died along with their
sorrow and recollections, many unrecorded to their deaths.
I know it must be painful for those relatives are still
alive, such as Violet Sane Willis, but we must not forget either. I apologize
to her and any others who might not like to remember the tragedy, but I look to
it as a memorial. As I said, it was a comfortable early April day when retired Judge
Kenneth Porter, retired football coach and educator Mike Proffitt, and I
traveled to the cave site. Gene Branam had expressed an interest in going, as a
local historian, but he was not available. I thought we would have to struggle
through brush and rocks but the easy route was to drive to the Newport
Utilities water tower and take a service road.
Earlier that morning on orienting ourselves, Mike did have to struggle
through brush as we felt our way around the landscape. It had been years since
Mike was at the cave. It gets its name from the fact that if you throw stones
down into this dark pit, you can hear them hit the walls, bouncing and rattling
off rock until the sound is quenched by darkness and distance, perhaps a depth
of 300 feet. About 200 feet from the cave, its location is marked by a sign
that declares Rattling Cave as a bat sanctuary, and because of the problem with
the white fungus killing bats, the warning is to stay out of the cave. We had
no intentions of getting too close. You are also required to sign up for a
visit but we didn’t know this until it was too late.
Ken Porter’s recollections
I saved this recollection of the day, April 9, 2013, sent to
me afterwards by Ken: “I am amazed at the transformation of the cave since 1946
and the enormous opening it now has. The first two photos I sent you show a
similar indentation beside the trail into the steep hillside. Having thought
about it at length, the little ditch-like low area leading to the circular flat
ground cave entrance was soil and not rock and that soil has caved into the
cave leaving a large gash in the hillside. I suspect Bill fell to his death
with the partial collapse of the scanty ditch which was filled with broken
limbs, sticks, and leaves that I described to you. I walked the eight or ten
feet of that short little ditch several times to the entrance to the cave.
Anyone who walked that little ditch was at enormous risk of it collapsing into
Ken did recall that in later years, as a father, married to
Janet (Rhodes) Porter he made another visit with their two children, Janie and
Jimmer. Mike also has been several times and has collected various stories related
to the cave. He has heard there is a note pad still in the cave and signed by
spelunkers who have gone inside and down, perhaps hundreds of feet or further.
He said there is a story from the era of famed Spanish explorer Desoto, who
passed through Cocke County, that there is a mummy in the cave. I am not going
to go down and check.
My notes from the visit day in April 2013 show the
temperature was about 80 degrees. We hoped we weren’t breaking the law as
trespassers. It was good we had a splendid lawyer with us, and a fine retired
judge, and Mike—“Everybody knows Mike Proffitt.” By the way, our next adventure
will be to visit narrow gauge railroad tracks and sites, as Mike has done much
studying on these.
Ken’s memories returned of Art Fisher, who was about 17,
J.M. Poe, Dick Carson, and Billy Gregg. It was Art who provoked Billy’s
curiosity by asking, “Have you been to Rattlin’ Cave?” Ken and the other
younger boys had been there several times and did not tag along this time, Nov.
10, 1946. Ken went home; others went about there play; the trio left their
bicycles and walked to Rattlin’ Cave. And that was the beginning and ending.
Looking back on our visit, it was good that at our ages,
Mike being the youngster, we had the stamina and ability to make the visit.
However, my advice is not to make a visit to this cave. Read what I’ve written,
look at the photos and leave it at that. It was an uncomfortable feeling
generated by the cave and its unknown darkness. I can’t describe exactly what
it was but it was not inviting so I will leave it as that and close this tale.