Journalist Skeets Miller Journeys into a Cave for a Scoop Part 1

About William Skeets Miller who won the Pulitzer Prize for journalism at 21 by chasing a story down into a cave.

BEHIND THE FRONT PAGE-GREAT SCOOPS AND NEWS BEATS

JOURNEY INTO A TOMB

Dateline: Cave City, Ky., Feb. 2, 1925.

By-line: William Burke "Skeets" Miller. A reporter for the Louisville Courier-Journal. Miller was only 21 at the time of the story. In 1926 he won the Pulitzer Prize for reporting.

The Big Beat: A stringer's tip gave young reporter "Skeets" Miller his big break. The stringer reported that a Kentuckian named Floyd Collins had been caught in a rock slide while exploring Sand Cave, a natural cavern a few miles from famous Mammoth Cave.

Miller demanded the story from his editor on the Louisville Courier-Journal. He got it on one condition-that he wouldn't risk his neck by going down into the cave after the trapped victim.

Miller disobeyed the order. Once he reached Sand Cave, he felt it was his duty to try to help Collins. Miller's size had a great deal to do with his decision. He was a small man-only 120 lb.-and able to wriggle down the narrow passageways to where Collins was half-buried.

Miller found Collins tightly wedged, almost welded, into the cave. A six-ton boulder had fallen on his ankle, pinning him on his side. He was covered with mud and rocks, and cold water streamed around him. But the worst part of Collins's ordeal was the constant dripping of water from the cave's ceiling onto his forehead. This became so intolerable that Collins's brother crawled down with an oilcloth to cover his head.

Such was the raw material of Miller's stories-a man trapped alone in a cave. To Miller's surprise, his dispatches captured the attention of the entire country. Before Miller arrived at Cave City, there were only a few of Collins's friends and relatives sitting at the mouth of the cave worrying about his fate. Miller's stories brought hordes of people to the small Kentucky town. The area around Sand Cave swarmed with the sympathetic and the curious, and soon barbed wire fences and an army of state police were needed to control the crowds.

During all of this, Miller continued to crawl down on his stomach through the freezing black slime to check on Collins and try to extricate him. Although Collins was only a few hundred feet from the mouth of the cave, the tortuous journey through the tunnel, together with the bitingly cold water, numbed would-be rescuers and quickly sapped their strength. Only one person at a time could maneuver through the passageways. Once the rescuers reached Collins, they tried everything. They tried to pull him out with a body harness; they tried to dig him out; they even tried to chip away at the giant boulder which trapped him. Nothing worked. The best they could do was to make him as comfortable as possible and hope that he could somehow wriggle out on his own.

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