Every caver from the Ocala area has a soft spot for Ocala Caverns. The property was originally a turn-of-the-century quarry. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the property was cleaned up and used as a movie set for a Tarzan movie starring Johnny Weissmuller. Later, the property was bought by the famous wrestler “Man Mountain” Dean, who beautified the area with botanical gardens, waterfalls, pools, and paths. Dean, himself, who was quite a showman, gave very colorful tours of the dry cave known as the Iron Curtain Cave, and also the Main Cave from a boat on the underground Olygoygus river.
After the death of “Man Mountain” Dean, the gates were locked, the waterfall stopped flowing, fittings and hinges rusted, structures rotted, weeds encroached, and nature took back its beloved quarry. Eventually, the remnants of buildings were demolished. To make matters worse, vandals trespassed onto the abandoned property, leaving trash and defacing the two caves with paint.
In 2009, the Florida Speleological Society and the Ocala Sheriff’s Department launched a clean-up effort to preserve the cave area and provide a training ground for K9 units.
On Sunday afternoon, December 2, 2012, the FSS visited the area again to clean up trash that had blown in around the fence line and to trim a bit of overgrowth. Rob Bradshaw came by with his children, Shelby and Chris. Stories were
told of “Man Mountain” Dean and the Ocala Caverns when they were a local attraction. Rob brought a box of memorabilia from the Ocala Caverns glory days for everyone to ponder. These treasures are being scanned and will soon be available for all to see. In appreciation, we took Rob and his family on a tour of the property and the two caves. Shelby and Chris seemed to be naturals, squeezing into the drop in the back of the Uranium Mine and trudging through the water in the main cavern.
Thanks to all who participated: Jon Singley, Mike Gordon, Kitty Markley, Steve Nemith, Phil and Betsey Walker, Al Krause, and his grandson Brian.
All photos taken by Jon Singley, story by Philip Walker.