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Famous Cave Victim’s Body To Be Reinterred At Mammoth Cave

February 13, 1989 GMT

HORSE CAVE, Ky. (AP) _ The body of cave explorer William Floyd Collins, whose 1925 entrapment and death in a cave became national news, will be laid to rest again spring, perhaps for the last time.

After his death in Sand Cave, Collins’ body was recovered and buried, exhumed for public display, stolen and dumped along the banks of the Green River, and put back on display.

″The time has come to let him rest in peace,″ said Donnie Collins, a Horse Cave resident and Collins’ great-nephew. ″He deserves it after all these years.″

Collins’ relatives and the National Park Service have worked out arrangements to re-inter the body.

″He’ll be buried in a cemetery on the (Mammoth Cave) National Park grounds in late March,″ Donnie Collins said. ″We’re not sure exactly when it will be, but there’s no rush after all this time. He’s still dead.″

The park now includes caves that Collins discovered and died in.

Collins was 37 when he entered Sand Cave on Jan. 30, 1925, in hopes of finding a new entrance to Crystal Cave, the cavern he discovered under his father’s Edmonson County farm on Jan. 18, 1917.

Caves in the area were privately operated then, and competition for tourists’ dollars was intense.

Collins was on his way out of Sand Cave - head-first and on his back - when he was trapped in a small passageway by rocks that fell onto his foot and ankle.

More than 30 news agencies sent reporters to the site, and thousands of spectators watched while rescuers tried in vain to dig a shaft parallel to the cave to reach Collins.

Collins was pronounced dead Feb. 16 - 18 days after entering the cave.

His body was removed from the cave without fanfare and was buried near an entrance to Crystal Cave.

Later, the body was disinterred, placed in a different casket and displayed in a large cavern in Crystal Cave.

It was stolen four years later. The body was found at the edge of the Green River, but one of Collins’ legs - the one which had been trapped by the rocks - had been sawed off.

Eventually, the body was redressed and returned to Crystal Cave, where it remains today in a black casket chained securely to a concrete base.

That cave has been closed since 1961, when it was bought by the Park Service. Until then, Collins’ casket was the highlight of tours and, until 1948, visitors could view the body through a window in the casket lid.

″I’m tickled to death they’re finally going to bury him for good,″ said Pat Thomas, a Bowling Green police polygraph examiner. During his college days, he worked for O.O. Burgess, the funeral home director who embalmed Collins.

After Burgess died, his daughter gave Thomas a set of slides Burgess had bought that photographically detailed the events surrounding Collins’ death.

″That’s part of the commercialism of the whole deal,″ Thomas said. ″I wouldn’t trade those slides for anything, but it shows you the way Floyd was exploited after his death.″