The air in the cavern was crisp, cool and damp. As I moved, sneakers softly treading across soil untouched by sunlight, taking in the dark shadows of the natural sculptures that surrounded me, I couldn’t help but feel as if I wasn’t alone. I wondered if he was there, watching me.
I photographed the stalagmite and stalactite formations of Indian Echo Caverns as part of a research project about the dark history of the caverns. Unknown to most, the caverns were the home of William “Amos” Wilson, also known as “The Pennsylvania Hermit,” during the late 1700’s to early 1800’s. On January 3rd, 1786, William’s sister, Elizabeth, was hanged for the false accusation of murdering her twin infant sons. William, who had faced numerous trials and tribulations (including crossing a flooded logging river on horseback) in an effort to pardon his sister from execution, arrived at the grisly scene of his strangled sister a mere twenty-three minutes too late. According to legend, the shock and grief sent William into a state of total social isolation. Therefore, he retreated to the caverns, where he lived until his death in 1821.
These photographs capture both the astonishing beauty and ghostly wonder which shroud the entirety of the caverns. They represent a tragic and relatively untold past which begs to be remembered. As I look at the shadows pooling in the cracks of the sculptures, I can’t help but feel as if William is there, peering through the lens.