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Deep cave temperatures constantly warmer than our cold surface lives

Mike Proffit, at left, and Ken Porter stand next to the cave opening. Ken was astonished that
the opening had become so much larger during the 50-plus years since he had visited.

Published: 9:17 PM, 01/10/2014 Last updated: 9:18 PM, 01/10/2014

Author: David Popiel
Source: The Newport Plain Talk

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 the cave.”

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.


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