Out in Catawba, a good ways off the beaten path, there’s a yawning gap in the earth that’s darkened in early-morning shadows cast by the craggy ridge of McAfee Knob.
Its ominous-sounding name is “Catawba Murder Hole.” To the naked eye, it’s 100 feet wide and another 120 feet deep. But that part, named “Daylight Cave,” is merely the visible section of a larger cave system that stretches beneath Dan and Marian McConnell’s 34-acre wooded spread .
Two unseen lower levels take its depth down to 234 feet. One of the underground chambers has a 75-foot-tall ceiling.
Talk to Marian and you’ll hear stories — some are fact and others are legend. There’s the one about the Virginia Tech student who fell and died there when his climbing rope snapped during a caving expedition in 1958.
That one’s a fact. Tragically, fibers in the rope had weakened because some toilet-bowl cleanser stored with the line had leaked onto it.
There’s another about a Civil War deserter angrily thrown into the pit for his cowardly transgressions. And another about a heartbroken young woman who despondently jumped into the cave because her parents disapproved of her beau.
And yet another tale about a traveling salesman whose horse-drawn wagon mysteriously disappeared in the Catawba area in the early 1900s century. Word is, a local farmer stole his goods, killed the tinkerer and disposed of his horse and wagon into Murder Hole.
Those are legends, so far unconfirmed.
Is the famed Beale Treasure hidden there? McConnell doubts it, though she’s heard that one, too.
Murder Hole has been featured in nonfiction books, such as “Caves of Virginia” and “Underground in the Appalachians,” and in fictional stories such as “Twilight at the Murder Hole” by Richard Raymond III of Roanoke.
Now the cave is getting its own book, a coffee table-style hardcover volume. McConnell is writing it; she hope to have it published by June. And she wants to hear your stories about it and see your pictures from Murder Hole, too.
READ THE REST OF THIS COLUMN HERE