September 4, 2008
Written response to question addressed to CAVE Superintendent
Some Historical Timeline Events Connected to Carlsbad Caverns
National Park and the Immediate Area during World War II
Your Question: “were the caverns open during World War II?” The answer is yes.
O.K. now that I presumably have your attention--
First off, I did not send these pictures to the people who posed the above question because I didn't have any hard copies of these photos. But aren't they interesting photographs?
Let's look at them closer What can we notice? Both pictures show the elevator building and what we call the Superintendent's building (one pix has more of it than the other). Built in 1932, this building was originally a dormitory and has served a variety of uses since.
The other thing that we notice is that the planes are flying extremely close to the ground. Of course, the planes probably contain trainees from the nearby Carlsbad Army Air Base (see more below). Why would pilots "stunt" like this? Because (I think) there is something in the blood of some pilots that make them do things like this. As a teenage pilot, even before he entered the U.S. Navy as a fighter pilot, my Dad lost his civilian pilot's license for a while due to "looping a bridge" while flying his plane--whatever that means. O.K., I admit it; he was "stunting."
While I enjoy these pictures, I do want to emphasize that this was not typically what military pilots did in the CAVE area. As you might imagine, the complexity of flying planes requires much self-discipline from pilots. And I also want to emphasize that these pictures show probably what was a "once or twice in a lifetime event" in these parts.
By the way, this plane is the B-24 "Liberator."
The following information comes from Caverns Superintendent Monthly Reports of the WW II period as collected in two separate chronologies by Bob Crisman and Peggy Justice. Such SMR information is in italics. I will add explanatory notes, in italics, as I think necessary (Bob Hoff, hereafter “BH”).
Colonel (an honorary title) Thomas Boles was caverns superintendent from 1927 until 1946, and the author of the Superintendent Monthly Reports. Boles was a “people person” who loved to promote visitation to the caverns, but he also realized the importance of protecting its resources. In 1944, one of his favorite visitor programs to have his staff of guides present, the Rock of Ages ceremony in the Big Room, came under criticism from authorities in Washington D.C. I will touch on this more later. (BH)
Superintendent Boles wrote in his December 1941 SMR: (Hereafter, all SMRs written by Boles)—
December 1941--After the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and U. S. entry into World War II, armed ranger patrols of the park power plant, explosives storage shed and developed area were started, along with closure of the park from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. each night. (Bob Crisman Chronology, hereafter “CC”)
In the 1940s, the elevator building, constructed in the early 1930s several hundred yards away from the caverns natural entrance, stood atop the ridge overlooking to the south the site of the ancient Permian Sea. On the hill opposite from the elevator building (to the north) were (and still are in many cases) buildings constructed in the 1920s and 1930s, as well as a triplex residence completed in 1942 by Civilian Conservation Corp enrollees. (BH)
In the “valley” between the two hills sat the Cavern Supply concession building constructed in 1927. This company sold various refreshments and souvenirs to the public. This building was also adjacent to the park ticket office constructed in 1926, a visitor parking lot built in the 1930s, and a government facilities building constructed in the 1930s. (Ibid.)
Occasional Civilian Conservation Corps enrollees groups from other area (New Mexico and Texas) CCC camps visit the caverns; several such CCC groups posed for a picture at the caverns’ natural entrance. Carlsbad Caverns had its own CCC camp at Rattlesnake Springs (six miles distant from park headquarters) with CCC “boys” completing various projects from 1938 – 1942. (Ibid.)
December 7, 1941--War Begins: The state of war, commencing with December 7, will undoubtedly result in curtailment to many activities in the National Park Service and in this the Carlsbad Cavern will be no exception, as each must take its place in the scheme of our National defense; everything else must be secondary. (Peggy Justice Chronology, hereafter “PJ”)
The Carlsbad Cavern personnel is represented by four soldiers in the 200th Coastal Artillery now in the Philippines, as well as one young man in Pearl Harbor, and in each case I know he will make a good account of the responsibilities so suddenly thrust upon him. The 200th Coast Artillery is composed entirely of officers and men from New Mexico and includes not only about 100 from Eddy County, but also three young men from our Santa Fe Office. (PJ)
Note: two men of the 200th Coast Artillery were sons of noted caverns photographer Ray V. Davis. Like many soldiers of the 200th Coastal Artillery, Davis’ sons marched in the infamous Bataan Death March, before dying on a Japanese P.O.W. transport ship sunk by mistake by Allied pilots. (BH)
1942--Carlsbad Caverns Civilian Conservation Corp camp at Rattlesnake Springs disbands after completing a triplex residential structure (started in 1940) and a facilities building (still used today—almost seven decades later-- as a maintenance office.) (BH)
1942-1946 Carlsbad Army Air Base—located on the “flats” between the caverns and Carlsbad, New Mexico, provided training for bombardier pilots, many of whom visited the caverns. (BH)
Note: one of the main organizers--if not the main--organizer of the reunion of Carlsbad Army AIr Base pilots and navigators scheduled this month (referred to in the link above) is our own long-term CAVE employee and caver Tom Bemis, without a doubt a major CAVE oral historian, a major participant in CAVE historical events, and one of the most interesting people you might ever want to meet. (BH)
On October 26, 1942, the first party to visit Carlsbad Caverns by plane lands "on the automobile parking terrace." (Tom Meador 1, 1) (CC)
1943--CCC barracks and equipment at Rattlesnake Springs used by a cadre of 117 soldiers assigned to Carlsbad Army Air Base. (CC)
Feb 10, 1943--Lt. Clark Gable (movie star from Gone with the Wind), Army Air Force, Ft. Biggs, Texas, visited (PJ)
1943—April--World War II gasoline rationing and tire shortages affected travel by the general public. Of the park's 89,126 visitors recorded in 1943, 38%, or 33,596 were members of the armed forces who came partly because of intensive efforts by Superintendent Boles who went to numerous regional bases to personally invite them. Soles estimated that another 40% of the visitation was made up of relatives of these soldiers and 10% from other war related workers in transit, leaving only about 12%, or approximately 10,695 "regular" visitors. This heavy military visitation started in 1942 and continued into 1944. (CC)
One former park employee, Olive “Johnny” Johnson, came to work at the caverns part-time in 1943, hired by Superintendent Boles to help with the staff shortage. A highly respected and loved co-worker, Mrs. Johnson worked on the ranger staff until the 1970s. On several occasions in the 1990s, she provided oral history material based on her experiences for the park history files. On April 23, 2001, she returned to the park to provide training for the ranger guides. Incidentally, she passed away here in Carlsbad several years ago on her 90th birthday. (BH)
August 1944--Approximately 95% of visitors walked in on complete tours and 30% also walked out. (CC)
Sept 3, 1944- Biggest visitation day since Pearl Harbor (12/7/41) with 1,588 visitors (CC)
As I mentioned earlier, one of Superintendent Boles favorite interpretive programs was the Rock of Ages ceremony in the Big Room Visitors liked the ceremony as well with its oftentimes inspiring talks, its turning off of the Big Room lights, and its singing by guides and visitors of the popular ballad Rock of Ages. However, as you will note in the next SMR excerpt, higher Park Service officials saw the Rock of Ages ceremony as “failing to accent the scientific and educational value of the caverns tour." (BH)
October 1944--The four trips we will provide beginning with December 1, 1944 will accent the scientific and educational value of the cavern tour, and will necessitate the discontinuance of the traditional ceremony at the “Rock of Ages” beginning with that date. (JC)
November 1944—Conclusion--New schedules of cavern tours permitting three complete tours and one extra tour around the “Big Room” each day was put in effect December 4. ...These tours include approximately forty brief lectures on the geological features of the caverns instead of the traditional ceremony at the “Rock of Ages” which for the present has been discontinued...In the meantime I believe that the service now given the public at the Carlsbad Cavern is along the lines desired and suggested by Director (Newton) Drury. (JC)
December 1944-- Lectures, Guide Service and Interpretive Contacts: Complying with the Director=s order, transmitted through the Regional Headquarters, the ceremony at the “Rock of Ages” was terminated on December 5, 1944, and additional trips through the cavern made available to the public... (JC)
Note: The first Rock of Ages ceremony at the caverns occurred in 1927. (BH)
1945-- Travel restrictions eased somewhat with the end of the European portion of World War II. (CC)
July 1945-- Employee workweek reduced from 48 to 44 hours. (CC)
July 16, 1945-- World's first atomic bomb test, north of Alamogordo, New Mexico, seen and felt at Caverns. (CC)
August 1945--Gasoline rationing ended, and caverns’ travel jumped 72%. (CC)
September 1945-- Forty-hour workweek established and Standard Time Resumed in lieu of "War" (Daylight Savings) time). (CC)
January 1946-- Due to shortage of guides, walkout tours were provided only 17 days this month. This, along with elimination of the separate elevator fee caused 96% of the visitors to exit via elevator. Percentage of visitors taking Big Room tour only increased to 27%. Only 6 guides were available weekdays, 12 on weekends to handle 20,000 visitors per month. Employees from other divisions used to assist with visitors o busy days. (CC)
April 1946—Caverns’ guides on military furloughs began returning. (CC)
Summary—Business at the Carlsbad Caverns National Park during World War II occurred on a smaller scale because of the higher priority of the war (1941-45) and the impact of the war on potential visitors and caverns employees. The popularity of the caverns resumed after World War II. (BH)
Former CAVE Park Historian
Former CAVE Park Guide