The earthy Pioneer country people, their homes and churches, the surrounding sinkholes and caves and the beautiful Joppa escarpment is what helped create the area and National Park we know as Mammoth Cave in Kentucky.
There once were 13 churches in this region now there are two left here in the Mammoth Cave area. Joppa Missionary Church and Cemetery, circa 1862, is one of the historical churches left steeped in many stories rich with tales and events of these people in their time of sharing and living.
Many immigrants and pioneers explored and settled in the Green River Valley coming from western Virginia, eastern Kentucky, North Carolina and Pennsylvania during early 1790’s.
These people of the Joppa Ridge would form a very isolated, self-sufficient mountain farming community that relied on one another, celebrated weddings and children being birthed, grieving together during the passing of a loved one, sharing knowledge, good times and secrets among themselves.
The 1862 Joppa Church was a fascinating place for me to explore. The lovely wood clapboard floor that still feels sturdy has a warm rounded sound as one walks upon it amidst the silence and leaves that have blown in. The large old glass windows let bright light shine upon the dark wooden benches and pulpit. The windows behind the pulpit overlook the large shade trees, cemetery and forest.
I notice there are pennies left on the pulpit and realize the special significance of “Paying the Ferryman” so he would take them into the next world. This is an old Greek myth where Charon, the Ferryman of Hades would demand one coin for payment to cross over.
Pennies are left on gravestones in abandoned places and churches to remember the deceased. It is a lovely sign that you remember the ones that have gone before.
Many fascinating and haunting tales come from this Joppa Ridge and cave area. it is believed that prehistoric Native Americans, around 4000 years ago, mined the cave walls in Mammoth Cave for minerals. They also buried and entombed their dead inside the cool cave. In the 1800’s there was a doctor named John Croghan who created a colony for his tuberculosis patients within the cave. He thought the cave air would heal and end there suffering. It ended more than suffering; it ended some of their lives. There are many people that tell of the ghostly sounds and apparitions in this area of the cave.
During the years of the 1920’s the caves were privately owned and explored. One unfortunate happening was the infamous story of Floyd Collins who owned a section called Crystal Cave.
One day while exploring the cave a large boulder fell upon his leg pinning him there. On finding him the next day people tried to move the heavy boulder but it was in vain. Many people from all around came to help and take in this horrific event. After two weeks, Floyd Collins passed away. They displayed his body in the cave.
His body was stolen only to be found a few days later, without one of his legs. It was returned to a coffin in the cave until the National Park System made the purchase of the cave. They then closed it to tourists. This part of Mammoth Cave is reported to be haunted by many. People have written that they can hear the voice of Floyd Collins asking for help. It has been reported that people can feel objects thrown from some unknown source to land near them.
Researching and learning about the Joppa Church community has been difficult. So many people have passed on and there are not many written records to view. I have a great appreciation and understanding of the importance in handing down letters and stories to one another, to ensure that our past is not just a hazy memory that will be lost in time.
There are many people who have explored the Joppa Church and cemetery through the years, and have written about experiences that they have had. A few have written about the sense of something from the woods watching. Photographs have been taken on dark evenings that reflect orbs of light around the cemetery and within the forest.
One particular story happened around a research group of people who entered the church and looked around. They found a Bible and noticed the page it was on. They returned after a short period of time exploring outside and enter back into the church, to notice it had turned pages. It was reported to be very still and neat inside the place. The people opened and closed the doors trying to stir up a draft to see if the pages would turn. To no avail the pages would not turn.
Most of the stories that have been shared around speak of the uncomfortable feeling that something is watching from the nearby woodlands.
The following photographs are from my visit here and the surrounding countryside where I gathered chicory by the railroad line and explored abandoned houses. I hope you enjoy the journey!