2006.By Michael Metzger, Downtown Journal.
Vernon Dalhart sang whatever would sell. He sang light opera, Hawaiian songs, comic pieces, and even blackface minstrel material before turning his attention to country music back in the 1920s and ‘30s. Dalhart used more that 100 pseudonyms in his career, recording more than 5,000 singles, including the big hit, “The Wreck of the Old 97.”
By the time Dalhart died in 1948, however, he was largely forgotten. He had been giving vocal lessons and working part-time as a night watchman. One of the people he helped to commemorate in his long, forgettable career was Floyd Collins, a man whose story was at one time thought to be immortal but is today almost mostly evaporated from the pages of history.
But if you drive south on Interstate 65 in south-central Kentucky and take the Mammoth Cave exit, you’ll get a refresher course in the strange tale of Collins. He met his demise thereabouts in the soggy blackness of Sand Cave. Known as America’s greatest spelunker, Collins was exploring the cave alone with one light, no helmet, and in clothes ill-suited to subterranean adventure.
Naturally, when his foot got caught between a rock and a hard place, ol’ Floyd was in deep guano.
The subsequent search for the trapped caver was covered on live radio, sparking a nation’s ghoulish imagination.
His exploits and memory are resurrected in Theater Latté Da’s production of “Floyd Collins,” running now through May 21.
The musical features the tunes and lyrics of Adam Guettel, grandson of Richard Rogers, and Tony Award winner for “The Light in the Piazza.”