Journalist Skeets Miller Journeys into a Cave for a Scoop Part 2

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



Miller's stories about these rescue attempts and Collins's latest condition riveted Americans to their newspapers. But time was running out. Collins was deteriorating. In desperation, heavy equipment operators tried to drill down into the cave. But Sand Cave was too treacherous. The cave's floor shifted, isolating Collins from the rescue teams. America held its breath and crossed its fingers, but the end was inevitable. Collins was discovered dead. He had succumbed to the constant pain and February cold.

After the Collins tragedy, there were several mine disasters which took hundreds of lives, but none touched the American public the way the Collins story had. Miller's reporting about one man's misfortune and struggle to survive was something with which everyone could identify. Miller had made Collins something more than an abstract statistic.

Even in death, Floyd Collins couldn't be removed from the cave. Too many lives would have been endangered in any attempt to bring out the corpse. In the end, Sand Cave was filled in and became Collins's permanent tomb.

In Print: "Floyd Collins is suffering torture almost beyond description, but he is still hopeful he will be taken out alive, he told me at 6:20 o'clock tonight on my last visit to him.

"Until I went inside myself I could not understand exactly what the situation was. I wondered why someone couldn't do something quick, but I found out why.

"I was lowered by my heels into the entrance of Sand Cave. The passageway is about 5 ft. in diameter. After reaching the end of an 80-ft. drop I reached fairly level ground for a moment.

"From here on I had to squirm like a snake. Water covers almost every inch of the ground, and after the first few feet I was wet through and through. Every moment it got colder. It seemed that I would crawl forever, but after going about 90 ft. I reached a very small compartment, slightly larger than the remainder of the channel.

"This afforded a breathing spell before I started again toward the prisoner. The dirty water splashed in my face and numbed my body, but I couldn't stop.

"Finally, I slid down an 8-ft. drop and, a moment later, saw Collins and called to him. He mumbled an answer.

"My flashlight revealed a face on which is written suffering of many long hours, because Collins has been in agony every conscious moment since he was trapped at 10 o'clock Friday morning.

"I saw the purple of his lips, the pallor on the face, and realized that something must be done before long if this man is to live." (Louisville Courier-Journal, Feb. 2, 1925)

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