Today is the 30rd anniversary of the hostage takeover of Carlsbad Caverns. Here are two posts by participants, one who has chosen to remain anonymous and one who has not. However I have chosen to only use last initials in the second post.--Bob Hoff, 7/10/09
Original Conservation & draft interview: 05/22/09
Revised interview: 6/23/2009
Final interview: 7/10/009
Anon:—Anonymous Interviewee, Former Caverns Employee
BH:—Former Caverns Park Guide (1971-72), Interpretive Supervisor (1986 – 1992), Park Historian (1992 – 2005), and Volunteer-in-the Park (2005 - )
BH:—Thanks for agreeing to do this interview with me. Of course, it is good to see you again.
Anon: You’re welcome, Bob. I bet you are enjoying retirement and your grandbaby, aren’t you?
Bob: Yes, I am. Hard to believe that I have been retired over four years and the grandson will turn four on 6/27/09. It is also hard to believe that the historical subject that we are going to be discussing will be thirty years old next month on July 10th. I wrote an article in 1992 on the hostage takeover and published it in this blog in May this year. However I wanted to interview someone who was there. I have wanted to do this interview for
a long time, but perfected procrastinator that I can be have been putting it off for more time than I care to remember.
Anon: Well, I’m happy to help anyway that I can, Bob.
Bob: Thanks. Let’s talk about your memories of July 10, 1979. Where were you when it started?
Anon: I was working for the Cavern Supply Company (note: the food, gift shop, and special service like dog kennels etc. company—BH). About 3:30 in the afternoon we were changing our shifts in the Underground Lunchroom; the early shift was getting off and the second shift was coming on. I was at the front register in the lunchroom at the start of the second shift.
Anon: A long-haired man, who appeared to be Native-American, with a black trench coat, was walking from the lunchroom elevator lobby toward the underground information desk, the desk that most employees called the "ugly desk". Suddenly he pulled a rifle out from under his trench coat, as he arrived at the desk. He reached over the counter and picked up the microphone for the public address system.
Bob: Wow, I bet that the sight of the rifle sure gave you a good scare, no?
Anon: It did. I couldn’t believe what I was I seeing
Bob: What happened next?
Anon: It was so busy in the underground lunchroom; there were gobs of visitors walking around. Then the man with the rifle announced, “May I have your attention please? This is no joke—everyone get out of the lunchroom.”
I don’t know how many visitors actually heard him. Then he said ‘this is for real’ and fired some shots at the ceiling. I also saw a white guy with a hand gun.
Bob: You saw two guns in all?
Anon: Yes, and I only saw two of the four men. I learned later that the group included four men.
Bob: What did the visitors do who heard the shots being fired?
Anon: Many people were heading toward the elevator lobby, but no one seemed to be running in fear.
Bob: What else happened?
Anon: Another Cavern Supply employee went up to the surface on the elevator to tell our supervisor that we had men with guns downstairs in the Underground Lunchroom. The supervisor didn’t believe him. The employee and the supervisor returned downstairs.
Bob: Do you remember the reactions of any of the other employees?
Anon: I remember telling one employee who was working in the back of the lunchroom what was happening. I told him to leave and he wouldn’t. He said that he had a job to do and he was going to do it. He didn’t believe that the situation was for real.
Bob: Sounds like he was stubborn, not to mention thick in the brain area.
Anon: I think so.
Bob: What else do you recall?
Anon: I remember that when I got upstairs to the surface that the visitor center was full of law enforcement officials. Thankfully, law enforcement had gotten to the caverns very fast.
Bob: Did you learn anything else later about the takeover?
Anon: I heard several things in later conversations that were interesting. Some employees recognized some of the terrorists from an earlier visit several days earlier. Apparently, they had come to ‘case the place’ before the actual takeover.
Also, some employees specifically were asked by the terrorists about a tunnel under the lunchroom floor. The tunnel was used to connect machinery to dispense soft drinks from the soft drink “supply drums.” The tunnel was big enough for some employees to enter to clean it. The terrorists wanted to know what was in there. Perhaps they were guessing that something of value was in that tunnel.
After the takeover, I also heard that no money or food was taken, but that one of the terrorists actually had offered to pay for lunch boxes that were “used.”
Bob: So the four perpetrators weren’t as totally disorganized as they appeared to be; they made some preparation, right?
Anon: Some, I guess.
Bob: What could they have been thinking? Taking hostages over in a cave and then demanding access to the media, a million dollars, and a plane ride? The best part of this whole affair is that no one was hurt or killed or killed.
Did any visitors ever bring this caverns episode up to you in the years following?
Anon: Yes, and you wouldn’t believe one particular incident. Several months later, I was working with some inventory in the caverns in the back part of the lunchroom and I felt something stick into my back and heard a voice say, ‘Stick em up. This is a hold up.’
As you might imagine, I was unnerved and threw what I was holding into the air. It was a visitor joking with me, and when he saw how I had reacted, he quickly apologized. I realized then, as I realize today, that the takeover was something that many of us were profoundly frightened by.
Also frightened were my parents, especially my Dad, who didn’t want my sister, also a caverns employee, or I to return to work the next day. But we explained to him that we had to go back and we both returned the next day.
Bob: Well I hope that I haven’t stirred up any bad memories because of this interview.
Anon: No, As the years have gone by, the memories remain, just not so vividly.
Bob: Well, thank you very much for sharing your insights and memories. I appreciate it and I am sure that others who read this will appreciate as well.
Anon: You’re welcome, Bob. Thanks for asking me.
Bob: You’re welcome.