(NOTE: This is a reprint of an article published in the Ocala Star
Banner in 1991. Many caves have been closed in Ocala over the years.
This article recounts an old timers caving days around Ocala.)
SEARCH FOR LOST CITIES IN AN "OLD" OCALA AN EXCITING PURSUIT
Ocala Star Banner, Oct. 30, 1991
Underground Ocala? You mean like Atlanta or the subways of New York?
Or the raunchy juke joints of the 30s?
None of the above. Were talking a real underground here,
the web of caverns and subterranean rivers in the limerock base
of much of Florida. Theyre the conduits that distribute ground
water throughout much the state: The aquifer network.
In the mid-30s, when Ocalas Irregular Historians were
rookie teen-agers undistracted by television and other trivia, we
sought adventure. One opportunity was our discovery of various mysterious
entrances to these caverns. Naturally, without advising our parents,
sisters or girlfriends, we proceeded to explore them.
Mind you, this was decades before spelunking became a recognized
sport. We had no experience to guide us, no equipment, no maps,
rarely even a flashlight. There was only the challenge of the unknown
depths of the earth, the lure of maybe finding a lost city down
Most of these openings were in fact sinkholes, caused by a collapse
of the ground above the cave. Its a phenomena still very much
with us as many Floridians discover when their homes are swallowed
The most exciting cave entrance in those days was a sinkhole called
the Devils Pit, located in a cow pasture just east of
where Forrest High School is today. There was good reason for the
name. Looking down from the rim of the 30 deep, 20 wide
pit, the view presented a hellish jumble of horns and bleached bones
of cattle and other animals that had fallen in, entwined with vines
and snake-hiding brush. The walls of the pit were nearly vertical,
offering no handholds for climbers.
Wynn Whidden (OHS class of 30) recalls: As we rappelled
down one wall, the grisly scene was enhanced by the deep shade from
a clump of trees surrounding the pit. Once at the bottom, in company
with the bones and dank atmosphere, the sense of high adventure
seemed very real indeed.
Using torches fashioned from cattails soaked in kerosene, we crawled
cautiously into a low tunnel that led to a cavern some 15 feet high.
Its floor was pure white sand rippled by a flow of water at
some earlier time. No footprints of man or beast were to be seen.
The silence was menacing, totally isolating us from the world of
sunshine above. The cavern branched off into a number of smaller
caves which seemed to go on forever. The rough limerock ceiling
cast eerie shadows from our torches.
Another cave the three of us explored was at the bottom of the
Meffert limerock mine, then and now a quarter mile or so south of
Maricamp Road (SE 17th Street). Only recently abandoned, the mines
walls were naked rock, rising precipitously some 35 feet from the
bottom. The caves mouth, exposed by mining operations, was
at the bottom near the south wall.
By that time wed learned a thing or two from our Devils
Pit experience and brought along balls of string. We trailed the
string behind us to mark the return route through the maze of tunnels
and caves. Even if our single flashlight konked out, wed be
able to follow the string out of the blackness back to the daylight.
My most vivid recollection of those escapades is stepping carefully
behind the flashlight down a sloping tunnel and suddenly finding
myself knee-deep in a pool of ice water. It was so clear as to be
almost invisible. Again, there were no signs of living things, not
even bats, in the caverns. And, most disappointing, no lost city
A third cave the Irregulars recall exploring was located on a Mr.
Waldos farm, then contiguous with todays Route 200,
south of Days Inn. A popular sport for adventurous young Ocalans,
Waldo cave was said to be an extensive web of confusing, interlocking
One who remembers it with acuity is Abe Shashy (OHS 39) whose
group, typically, ventured in without parental permission. He recalls
lighting the way with fat pine torches fashioned from old fence
posts. We had to crawl through a low tunnel, probably 100
feet, to reach a large cavern which had more tunnels branching off
it. In no time, it seemed, the smoke from the torches filled the
room and smothered the lights. As they dimmed out I remember this
sense of imminent doom. In total blackness it occurred to me that
maybe we couldnt find our way out, that nobody knew where
we were. I dont remember how long it took, an hour maybe,
to feel our way along the wall until we found the entrance, and
with cries of joy, (if youll pardon the expression) saw light
at the end of the tunnel. That was the end of it for me too.
The intervening years, like much else, have closed off these doorways
to adventure. Mr. Waldo, no doubt in self defense, sealed the entrance
to his cave with concrete. At the south end , noted Ocala architect
Hal Reid erected an office building. Its all planed for the
public under the Countys Pennies for Parks program.
As for the Devils Pit , it is today surrounded by the
property of the First Christian Church. In the shadow of three massive
crosses, the pit has been closed over. Should any devil have abided
there, no doubt he has long been exorcised.