Around February 13—the exact day and moment is uncertain—in 1925, the Kentucky spelunker Floyd Collins met his end in what is now called Sand Cave after being trapped there for about fourteen days. In early twentieth century Kentucky, many former farmers, disillusioned from their craft by the poor soil, took to exploring the extensive cave system beneath them, in hopes of creating a prosperous tourist attraction. Having discovered Crystal Cave in 1917, now part of Mammoth National Park, which lay on his family’s property, but attracted few tourists because of its remote location, Collins attempted to find an alternate, more convenient entrance. On January 30, 1925, Collins dug his way through the narrow passageways of Sand Cave, but became pinned there by a rock that had become wedged near his leg. Friends found him the next day, and a rescue effort was mounted. Digging a new tunnel to reach Collins, by the time the his would-be rescuers made it to the chamber where he was located, he was already dead from exposure. The attempted rescue of Floyd Collins created the third largest media sensation between the World Wars (the other two involved Lindbergh), and the first major news event to be covered on the radio. On Collins’ grave reads the epitaph, “Greatest Cave Explorer Ever Known.”
Victor 19779 was recorded September 9, 1925 in New York by Vernon Dalhart, accompanied on guitar by Carson Robison and violin by Lou Raderman. This issue was pulled from the Victor catalog several weeks after it was issued following complaints that Victor was profiting from the USS Shenandoah disaster, “Floyd Collins” was reissued on number 19821 the following month, paired with a different flip-side; apparently no one had a problem with profiting off Floyd Collins’ death.
On what was actually intended as the “B” side of this disc, but served as the “A” on the reissue, Vernon Dalhart sings Rev. Andrew Jenkins famous tribute, “Death of Floyd Collins”.
The flip-side, “Wreck of the Shenandoah”, refers to another major event that occurred in 1925, the crash of the USS Shenandoah, a US Navy airship (from those amazing science fiction-esque days when the Navy took to the sky). After embarking on a promotional tour of the Midwest, the airship crashed during a storm in Noble County, Ohio on September 3, 1925. Songwriter Maggie Andrews is, in fact, a pseudonymous Carson J. Robison.