Hundreds of miles have been added to the Mammoth Cave system through exploration over the years. One of the earliest impediments to exploring the caves was a six foot gap in the path at the location of the Bottomless Pit, a reportedly 105 foot deep hole in the cave.
Cave guide and slave Stephen Bishop was the first to cross the Mammoth Cave Bottomless Pit in October 1838. He was joined by tourist Hiram C. Stevenson. Bishop and Stevenson crossed the gap using ladders stretched between the two sides. Bishop would go on to make some of the most important discoveries in the cave after the crossing, including the blind cave fish in the River Styx. He would become famous for venturing beyond the established tour routes and discovering unmapped areas of the cave system.
The Bottomless Pit is located on the Historic Tour. Guests on the tour must cross a bridge over the Bottomless Pit before reaching Fat Man’s Misery and the Mammoth Dome. Although the bridge is secure and lit now, it is still possible to picture a time before modern lighting and safety systems when the Bottomless Pit provided a barrier to further exploration.
Water did drip from the ceiling straight down through the pit, giving us an excellent idea of precisely how the rock eroded the shaft over time.