Memory Lane: Dead Man’s Cave

Just say the name out loud: “Dead Man’s Cave.” If you’re twelve years old or so, there’s potent magic in that name.

I had heard of Dead Man’s Cave years and years before I ever saw it. Kids spoke of it in hushed whispers. Older kids had been there, and were kind of vague in their descriptions of its wonders. That only served to feed my imagination all the more. Was the cave a hideout for outlaws? Or a completely crazed murderer? I dared conjecture even farther: prehistoric animals. That’s what you’d find there, if you went in deep enough. A saber-toothed tiger, at least.

It wasn’t until I was 14 years old that I actually laid eyes on Dead Man’s Cave. And went inside. Yes, my friends and I went in!

Well, why not? I mean, it wasn’t exactly Carlsbad Caverns, was it? All thoughts of Tom Sawyer trying to elude Injun Joe among the stalactites and stalagmites evaporated from my mind.

Dead Man’s Cave turned out to be an unused, brick-lined culvert that ran under a railroad embankment. The other end was blocked by rubble, so it wasn’t very deep. Its archaeology featured beer bottles, soda cans, cigarette butts, and not very original graffiti. No sign of a dead man anywhere.

But I dare say one is all the better for having had a Dead Man’s Cave in one’s life–especially if you spend some time looking for it and never quite find it.

Because, in all fairness, how could it have ever lived up to your imagination?

8 comments on “Memory Lane: Dead Man’s Cave

  1. I think the expression you misheard and then misquoted is actually”Dead Man’s Curve”, a song by one of those groups of the 50’s and early 60’s, like maybe Jan& Dean or some copycat. Just don’t “freakout in the Garden”, and no, “the bathroom ain’t, ‘on the right'”, to mis-quote just a few more.

  2. Actually, it would have been better if you had never seen it; the legend and the mystique far exceeded the mundane reality of it.

  3. I remember the mystique and awe of some lone spot like that when I was growing up. Several places come to mind along with some of the scary urban legends with them. Most were some mysterious-looking spots in Philadelphia with one being out in the suburbs. Some teenaged boys took some friends and me to that suburban scary place with high gates where strange-looking people supposedly lived and were perpetually waiting for cars to come by that were full of teenagers just waiting to be scared by the strange-looking people living there just behind the high gates.

  4. I visited Carlsbad Caverns and the ones around where I live, but they are all tourist attractions. When in Yosemite Nat’l Park as a teen we found caves that seemed to have no end. It felt like a page out of Huckleberry Finn to explore them. I read of caves in Kentucky where there are holes so deep that no one has ever figured out how deep they really are.

    1. My brother used to do a bit of caving, but I didn’t go for the idea of squirming along underground passes just barely large enough to admit me.

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