Collections from Kentucky National Parks

In celebration of the National Park Service Centennial in 2016, this exhibit showcases one object from the Mammoth Cave National Park.

Lard-oil LanternNational Park Service, Museum Management Program

Lard-oil Lantern used to guide cave tours and to illuminate salt petre mining work areas throughout the 1800s and early 1900s. The lard oil lantern is perhaps the most iconic link between human presence and the darkness of Mammoth Cave. Its light embodies the opportunities people have in connecting to Mammoth Cave in their own unique way. The first modern era people who went into Mammoth Cave used the lantern to enter an unknown underworld. They soon realized Mammoth Cave had enticed others to enter in much earlier. The lantern helped to shed light on a prehistoric people who first ventured into the cave 5,000 years ago. It illuminated artifacts that still speak volumes about a culture, their activities and explorations that heralded humanity's first interaction with the cave.

Mammoth Cave National Park, MACA 3318

As the United States entered the War of 1812, the lantern enabled entrepreneurs to successfully operate a subterranean saltpeter factory to aid in gunpowder production. Yet ironically, the same light that enabled some to profit and succeed in preserving their free society would be the same light that slaves, who were denied their own freedom, would tirelessly labor under. The lantern lit the pathways the first tourists tread in 1816. It transformed a new generation of slaves into heroes for visitors throughout the mid-1800s, as some of Mammoth Cave's greatest and grandest discoveries would occur through their efforts. Many today walk in the footsteps of those slaves as the same discoveries are shown to hundreds of thousands each year. Our understanding, perceptions, and attitudes about Mammoth Cave through time can trace their ancestral lineage to this simple object of fashioned metal fueled by animal fat. Our bond to the cave is so interwoven it would be impossible to tell the story of the cave without discussing the other. In many ways the lard oil lantern illuminates human perseverance in exploring, enduring, discovering and experiencing Mammoth Cave.

Credits: Story

Park museum staff from the Mammoth Cave National Park.

National Park Service, Museum Management Program Staff: Amber Dumler, Stephen Damm, Ron Wilson, and Joan Bacharach

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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