Lost World Caverns - Home of Bat Boy
Lewisburg, West Virginia
In 1992, The Weekly World News claimed that Lost World Caverns was the home of "Bat Boy" -- a large-eyed, fanged human child raised in complete darkness by bats. Bat Boy's shrieking face burned itself into the brains of a generation of rabid tabloid readers.
What the owners of Lost World Caverns thought of that honor is lost to time, but its current owner, Steve Silverberg, embraces the notoriety. He sent the off-Broadway production of "Bat Boy: The Musical" the helmets, caribiners, and equipment that were used in its opening number. And he's thumbtacked a yellowed clipping of the original Bat Boy article to a bulletin board in the gift shop.
These are notably open-minded gestures, considering that cave people are generally conservative about their attractions. (With the exception of the guys at Secret Caverns, of course.)
But Steve Silverberg is not your typical cave owner. He lives at the cave, which might explain why its entrance building and gift shop are so immaculate. He has a killer tan for someone who runs an underground attraction. And he used to work for the Federal Emergency Management Agency as a disaster "expert" -- he hates that label -- which makes him a good guy to be with if something bad happens in a cave. His love of geology brought him here in 1999. "The National Park Service WANTS to sell cave property to private owners," he tells us. "It's the most expensive property to maintain."
Bat Boy wasn't the first time that Lost World Caverns made the media's freak news spotlight.
In 1971 a West Virginia caver named Bob Addis walked into the Caverns and perched atop a towering, 28-foot-tall stalagmite -- "The War Club" -- for almost 16 days, a Guinness World Record that still stands. Steve is more reluctant to talk about this than about Bat Boy. "The question that everyone eventually asks is, 'How did he eat?' And then, 'How did he go to the bathroom?'" Steve shrugs. "I don't know. I guess he had a friend with a bucket."
Lost World Caverns is entered through a long, concrete tunnel. It looks like it leads to a World War III Congressional nuclear bunker -- which, in fact, is a few miles down the road in White Sulphur Springs. The entrance used to be straight down, via a spiral staircase, but Steve tells us that a lot of visitors got hurt slipping on the wet metal steps. We are grateful for the Sand Worm that bored this impressive tube.
The cave itself is a big chamber, over a thousand feet long and ten stories high. The trail -- visitors are invited to take their own self-guided tour -- winds over and around huge slabs of rock that appear to have dropped from the ceiling in some hopefully long-ago eon, past formations with familiar cave names: The Castle, The Bridal Veil, Goliath, and the infamous War Club. What the visitors don't see are the two tons of trash that Steve and some college volunteers have hauled out of Lost World Caverns over the last few years. Steve points to a tiny pinhole of light high in the lofty ceiling. "That's the original entrance," he says. "Farmers love holes in the ground because they're a quick, cheap way to get rid of garbage." This particular hole could have absorbed a discarded battleship.
At the back of the room, where the "wild cave" begins -- it stretches on for over a mile -- Steve points to the lights on tall poles that illuminate the big room. "Sodium vapor," he says. They were installed in the 1960s because they're thrifty with electricity and because they have a cool light that was supposed to be good for caves. Steve then points to several of the huge formations, which used to be snow white. Now they're dark green, covered with thick, slimy mold. "Sodium vapor," he says again.
Steve called the Parks Service for advice about how to clean off the gunk. The Parks Service told him to use Clorox and a fire hose. Then Steve asked what the Clorox would do to the bats and other animals that live in the cave. The Parks Service response was, in essence, "Too bad for the bats."
Thankfully, Steve remembered that he used hydrogen peroxide to take algae off of heavy equipment in Florida -- back in his FEMA hurricane clean-up days -- so that's what he's using in Lost World Caverns. The formations are slowly being de-gunked, and the bats don't seem to mind.
Up on the surface, Steve takes us through the small Natural History Museum adjacent to the gift shop. It has the largest collection of dinosaur and fossil replicas in West Virginia, which says a lot about West Virginia. Steve sweet-talked them out of the Smithsonian, which had them gathering dust in a warehouse in Atlanta. Steve argued, persuasively, that since most of these fossils were found in West Virginia, the people of West Virginia should have a chance to look at them.
Overall, Lost World Caverns gives you more than you'd expect, and also gives you the only self-guided Carlsbad Caverns-esque cave tour east of Carlsbad Caverns. And it gives you Steve, who is a flood-stage river of cave lore.
But don't come here looking for Bat Boy. The last that we read in The Weekly World News, he had hijacked a Mini-Cooper in Detroit and was seen heading east toward Akron.