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It Breathes


Does Alvin McDonald still roam Wind Cave? NPS photo.

Editor's note: Halloween is near, so how about another spooky story? Andrea Lankford, author of the book 'Haunted Hikes: Spine-Tingling Tales and Trails from North America's National Parks', has given us permission to re-post some stories from her book. This one explores the apparition of Wind Cave National Park.

The first white man to see Wind Cave was a cowboy who found the entrance when a puff of air from the cave blew off his hat. Scientists have measured gusts in excess of 70 mph coming out of the cave’s mouth. Wind Cave is a barometric cave. It blows in or out depending on the atmospheric pressure. In other words, it breathes.

In 1889, a young man named Alvin McDonald came to Wind Cave when his father was hired on as a caretaker. Alvin spent a few hours of almost every day inside the cave, exploring the labyrinths by candlelight and naming many of the cave’s features, including a room called “Garden of Eden.” By all accounts Alvin was in love with Wind Cave. In 1893, when he fell ill and the symptoms kept him from his beloved cavern for only two days, the young man wrote in his journal, “(I) am homesick for the cave.”

In December, at the age of 20, Alvin died from typhoid and pneumonia. He is buried on a hill just outside the natural entrance. From the visitor center, a short footpath leads to the stone marking the gravesite. Park rangers who lead tourists through the cavern today are fond of the park’s “chief guide.” They sense a kindred spirit in Alvin McDonald’s passion for Wind Cave’s natural beauty.

In 1981, a female ranger leading a group of five people through the cave stopped at the Garden of Eden to do “lights out.” Lights out is the part of the tour when rangers turn off the electric lights, giving tourists an old-fashioned view of the cave.

By the flame of her “candle bucket” the ranger noticed that her group of five had grown to six. From out of nowhere, an additional person had joined her group—a man wearing “period” clothing. Startled, the ranger immediately turned on the electric lights, and the man disappeared. Upset but not wanting to frighten her tour group, the ranger practically dragged her charges to the elevator.

In the summer of 1986, there was another sighting. A group of new rangers on an orientation trip had explored so deeply into the cave that by the time they were ready to leave, it was two a.m. On the way out, one ranger began to have trouble with his light. So he rushed ahead of the group toward the elevator.

While in the corridors of the Garden of Eden, the ranger heard a cough to his right. He turned to look down the passageway. A man wearing clothes from another age stood not more than 100 feet away from him. The apparition met the ranger’s eyes. The ranger said it looked as if the man was surprised he could see him. The man started down the passageway and then turned down another corridor. The ranger walked down the passageway after the man, but when he turned the corner, the vision had vanished.



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