The Natural Bridge Horror: Caverns at Natural Bridge Lantern Tours Offer Thrills and Chills

By: Rich Goode, 3L

Managing Editor

Welcome to Part 2 of the Law News troglodyte series, where your intrepid, morlockian reporter plumbs the depths of the Shenandoah valley. Our last entry covered the gaudily lit Shenandoah Caverns, but this one stays closer to home and out of the literal lime-light. Read on, if you dare…

As the Western world prepared to celebrate ghosts and ghoulies at the end of October, the Caverns at Natural Bridge got in on the action by offering lantern-only tours of the caves, promising thrills, chills, and a glimpse of how the underground complex might have appeared to the first souls brave enough to delve into it.

Just before the turn of the 20th century, two local twelve-year-old boys received a dollar a day to explore the cramped crawlspaces and natural tunnels that eventually open in a series of cavernous rooms containing impressive examples of flowstones, soda straws, stalagmites, and stalactites. Today, tourists can tread a

Source: | Enter the dark caverns at your own assumption of risk.

Source: | Enter the dark caverns at your own assumption of risk.

larger, more pedestrian-friendly entrance into the cave system, albeit less-than-friendly to anyone taller than 5’6”, who must take care or else go home with free souvenirs of a headache and a bruise. And, in October, the entryway is strewn with thick cobwebs and hosts a plastic ghoul, and cave-goers can see the complex only by the light of camp-lanterns.

Legend tells of a woman named Emma who disappeared in the caverns in the late 1800s, and tourists are said to sometimes hear a sound akin to screaming in the shadows of the caverns. While geologists assure that the banshee noises are actually the result of wind traveling through a crevice in the rocks above, such a hole has never been found…

As we descended with our lanterns, the tour group could hear a banging from the bowels of the earth, followed by sharp shrieks piercing the darkness all around us. At times, as our guide spoke of the first spelunkers and their challenges mapping the area, the glow of a single candle erupted from the depths, bobbing for a few moments before disappearing into the pitch black.

When the group stopped in a larger room, our guide asked us to extinguish our lanterns, plunging all into the cold embrace of nothingness. For a few moments, as retinas searched in vain to latch onto some vestige of light, the group reported visions of movement in the darkness. Suddenly, a scream exploded from behind us.

The lights of the cavern complex came to life in an instant, and some hundred feet away in an adjoining tunnel stood the source of the ear-splitting cries. Her face and skin the color of death, her clothing tattered and frayed, her visage terrible, Emma glared at the group without a movement or a sound.

Figuring that we shouldn’t linger with the spirit, the group briskly climbed a set of stairs and hustled round some natural bends, stepping with verve back toward the exit of the caves, the guide nearly coming face-to-face with a sleeping small brown bat. We oohed and ahed half-heartedly at the wondrous formations while glancing ever backward for sight of the banshee Emma on our tails. Fortunately, it seemed we’d lost her, so we took a few moments to appreciate the couple of other bats dozing upside down.

But another scream brought us back to our senses, and, as the group two-stepped back through the entry tunnel, some of us ducking low-hanging rock ceilings, Emma again appeared yards behind us, pointing toward the surface and walking slowly toward us. Politely shoving aside children and the elderly, your plucky reporter emerged an hour older and wiser and daringly jumped at shadows for the remainder of the evening.

While the Caverns at Natural Bridge’s lantern tours sadly run only through October, the attraction itself is open much of the year, and Emma awaits your arrival.