Attraction Spotlight: Marvel Cave

Marvel Cave is the original attraction on the Silver Dollar City property, and the historical activities related to this cave are the basis of the park’s overarching theme and the theme of a number of individual rides and things within the park. The history of Marvel Cave is the story of the origins of Silver Dollar City.

History:

The history of Marvel Cave stretches back into the 1500’s and beyond when various Indian tribes, most notably the Osage, inhabited the area and acknowledged the cave. Local lore says that the Indians called the cave “Devil’s Den” due to the occasional sounds that echoed from its mouth. It has been said that sometime in the mid 1500’s Spanish Explorers went into the cave searching for the Fountain of Youth or other treasures, but I’m not aware of any actual evidence to back that up.  Due to the cave’s dangerous sunken entrance it seems that no notable exploration was made into the cave until 1869 when Henry T. Blow led the first official expedition in search of minable ores. They didn’t find any useful ore, but they did find large quantities of bat guano and what they thought was marble. It’s thought that since the explorers only had lamp light to see with, they mistook the guano-covered rocks for marble slabs. The cave soon became known as Marble Cave.

In 1882 the Marble Cave Mining Company began attempts to mine the supposed marble out of the cave. After about four and half years of trying and finding no marble, the company folded. While the company was operating a mining town called Marmaros sprung up around the operation, named after the Greek word for marble. Silver Dollar City was actually created to commemorate this town, albeit in a rather idealized manner. When the company gave up the operation, Marmaros became a ghost town.

In 1889 the cave was bought by William Henry Lynch, a Canadian entrepreneur who had an interest in opening the cave as an attraction. For reasons that are somewhat muddled in the fog of history, Lynch’s purchase of the cave and business intentions set off a local band of vigilantes known as the Baldknobbers. The group swept in one night and burned the entire town to the ground. Fire-in-the-Hole, one of Silver Dollar City’s first rides, is themed to the story of the Baldknobber attack. Lynch continued on with his plans and brought in the famous artist and scientist S. Fred Prince to survey the cave. Prince spent most of two years living in the cave, and built his own living areas and fireplace so he could stay down there for months at a time. The cave was first opened as an attraction in 1894. Prince continued to work for Lynch as a guide and explorer until Lynch’s death in 1927. Around this time the cave finally became known as Marvel Cave.

Hugo Herschend, a former vacuum cleaner salesman from Chicago, acquired the cave in 1950 on a 99-year lease from the Lynch sisters. Hugo Herschend passed away in 1955, but his wife Mary took over the cave operations and set forth a serious of grand visionary expansions. Her two sons, Jack and Peter, helped construct concrete paths and stairs within the cave, and a tower that allowed guests to easily climb down the sinkhole to the bottom of the Grand Cathedral room. They also built a funicular inclined railway system to haul guests out of the cave, removing the dread of climbing back up all of those stairs in the summer heat. This train is especially notable for having a fairly sharp curve for such a cable pulled mechanism. The Army Corps. of Engineers told the Herschends it couldn’t be done, but they went ahead and built it anyway and it has been operating for over 50 years now.

With all these improvements in place and Branson tourism surging, Marvel cave began to grow in popularity faster than tours could be provided. Mary Herschend expanded the cave attraction by building the afore-mentioned idealized recreation of the town of Marmaros and began giving out change in Silver Dollars as a marketing ploy. Silver Dollar City was born and has never stopped growing.

The cave attraction is still operating – making it the oldest continually operating cave attraction in the United States. Due to it’s somewhat restricted capacity it isn’t heavily advertised, so it can be easy to miss for novice visitors to the park. The entrance is located within the Hospitality House, which is the building all guests pass through just before reaching the main square. You’ll have to crawl underneath a cutout representing the most difficult passage of the journey in order to reach the waiting area. Check the Silver Dollar City Times (the park’s brochure and maps handed out at the entrance) for the tour schedule.

Experience:

Upon passing the cut-out check to get into the tour waiting area, you’ll meet your tour guide and go over the cave rules, regulations, and guidelines. The normal tours are approximately 1 hour long and include about 600 stairs that will take you down hundreds of feet through the sunken cave entrance and down to the depths of the gargantuan cathedral room. Your guides will inform you that the cathedral room is so large that they have flown 5 hot air balloons inside of it at once.

Regular tours will take you past a number of interesting cave formations and even an underground water fall. At one point in the tour your host will turn off all the lights and allow you to experience absolute darkness. You’ll also see a replica of Harold Bell Wright’s cabin, which he once stayed in at times for artistic respite.

Lantern light tours are also now available for a small upcharge of $10 per person, with very limited tour capacities. You can reserve a space online at this link. The Lantern light tours follow a fairly new trail within the cave that includes the Mammoth room which can’t be viewed during the regular tours.

 

Further Reading:

For more official information, check out the Marvel Cave page on the official site.

Check out Marvel Cave’s Wikipedia page for more in-depth information.

 

Attraction Spotlight: Grandfather’s Mansion

Grandfather’s Mansion is a walk-through fun/gravity house attraction located in the heart of Silver Dollar City just north of the main square. The attraction is fairly small and oddly pieced together, but it is has remained popular due to its unique steeply pitched lower level.

Gravity houses, also known as tilt houses, were once fairly common amusement park staples. These attractions feature slanted floors and numerous tricks and gags associated with them. There are only a few known gravity houses left in the United States, as modern considerations such as the Americans with Disabilties Act (ADA), insurance issues, and general safety concerns have made such features impossible to incorporate into modern attractions.

Attraction History

Grandfather’s Mansion is actually the second incarnation of SDC’s original gravity house, Slantin Sam’s Mining Shack. The bottom floor of the Mansion is actually the original Slantin Sam’s floor. One of SDC’s most memorable post cards features the shack which can be seen here.  There are a few more photos in this thread on our forums.

Some of the history of Grandfather’s Mansion after it’s conversion from Slantin’ Sam’s is a little shaky and hard to piece together. I’ve been told of various changes to the top floor, such as the claim that the tilting hallway is not original, but I don’t have any clear sources for that information. What we do know is that the mirror gag was switched to a more PC friendly version in recent years, and sometime around 2007 the large waterfall feature in front of the mansion was removed. Small changes and additions are also common, such as the recent addition of holographic portraits on the walls.

 

Attraction Experience

Grandfather’s Mansion is divided into two floors. Participants enter on the top floor walk up a small ramp past an antique music box. Turning right, you are faced with a long hallway. Something’s different about this hallway though: the walkway remains stationary, but the walls tilt back and forth. If you keep your eyes fixed ahead of you and try to keep walking forward, you may end up on the floor!

Turning left out of the hallway you’ll find a small room with a few gags. Most notable are two windows, the first of which shows into a room where Grandpa is currently staying. Apparently Grandfather isn’t a huge fan of gravity himself, as he and the entire contents of his room are stuck to the ceiling. The second window is mostly covered over, but there are a few slits cut into it where one can look through and spy on the silhouette of someone in the shower. On the other wall is a mirror that invites you to get up close and have a look at yourself, but once you do you get a surprise.

You then take a narrow, hazardous stairway down into the basement where the real highlight of the attraction is contained. Immediately at the bottom of the staircase it becomes apparent that things are seriously tilted on this level. A short switchback hallway helps disorient participants before they head into the main area of the room – but first, you have to check out the fun house mirrors on the upper left side of the room. On the right side there is a curious billiards table that is slanted, like everything else in the room. Every once in a while a billiard ball shoots down a ramp onto the table, then arcs perfectly and disappears straight into the far corner hole.

Going farther across the slanted floor there is a wooden “bed” on the right hand side that invites participants to lie down and then attempt to get up normally. On the left is a porch swing that is difficult to actually swing due to the slant. Getting to the other side of the room there is a row of tricks and gags on the left wall including a gem mirage in an open safe that invites you to attempt to grab it. On the right there is some open space to play around in and and several benches. Finally you reach the other side of the room, where you then turn right into an “infinity” mirror hallway that leads to the exit.

Further Information

In the Loop has a walkthrough video of the Mansion here.

Dollywood received it’s own version of Grandfather’s Mansion in 1979, dubbed the Inventor’s Mansion. This was replaced with Dolly Parton’s Rags to Riches museum when Dolly became associated with the park in 1986. That museum has since closed, but the building remains.

Attraction Spotlight: Tom and Huck’s RiverBlast

Tom and Huck’s RiverBlast is a Mack Splash Battle themed exquisitely to the exploits of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. The ride is located right in the heart of SDC in an area that was formerly called Tom Sawyer’s Landing, which was a massive play area with slides, gigantic bouncy nets, a kiddie coaster, a couple rides, and lots of other play amenities. After the creation of The Grand Exposition in 2006, the park made a few logistical decisions to remove the aging rides from the landing and the Splash Harbor water play area and create a new high capacity attraction that combined elements of water play and a family friendly ride experience. When RiverBlast finally opened in 2010, it was the largest and most expensive SplashBattle attraction to date, and has been lauded around the world for its excellent theming.

 

Construction

Construction on RiverBlast began during the summer of 2008, when walls suddenly sprung up around the rides and play area of Tom Sawyer’s Landing. The Landing had seen better days at this point and a refurbishment of the area was due. A large section of the ropes area had been closed off years prior, the petting zoo had been moved and consolidated to the Homestead area (partly due to hoof-and-mouth disease issues of the time), and the Run-Away-Ore-Carts kiddie coaster had just been replaced due to age with the new Grand Exposition Coaster on the other side of the park. The Balloons, Carousel, and ropes were all sorely missed, but in the years since this project each of these attractions has made it back into the park.

RiverBlast was intended to open in 2009, but unfortunately the great recession of 2008 threw a wrench in these plans. HFEC, as a privately owned company, has always been very careful and calculated with the way it manges its money, and in order to ensure that they wouldn’t have to cut back on staff during the downturn the park made the wise choice to delay work on the attraction for one year.

 

Ride Experience

RiverBlast’s ride experience is fairly uniform: the “ride” itself is merely a slow boat ride on a small raft through a slowly moving channel. It’s what happens on either side that makes RiverBlast such a fun and wet experience. Each seat is equipped with a crank-powered water gun which riders use to activate targets and battle with other water cannons manned by spectators on the shore. With all the hectic water antics going on, it’s easy to miss a lot of the intricate missouri river theming that really sets this ride apart.

 

Further Reading

 

Photos

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