A mysterious burst of cool air prompted one of the greatest natural discoveries in the 20th century. The unexpected rush of air was felt by excavators 260 feet below ground, coming from a newly drilled opening in a section of stone as they tediously carved out an elevator shaft to the Lookout Mountain Cave. Eager to discover and explore the source of the cool air, Leo Lambert set off through a small opening, on what would become a 17-hour caving excursion. On his expedition, Lambert discovered a majestic waterfall that had been hidden deep within Lookout Mountain. Named after Lambert’s wife, Ruby Falls is the tallest underground waterfall open to the public and since its discovery has been seen by millions of people. While the falls were once a great hidden secret of Lookout Mountain, there are still a few other mysteries floating around under the surface. One of the most popular—an unsolvable gem—is the carving of President Andrew Jackson’s name deep within Lookout Mountain in the caverns beneath the Ruby Falls cave.
Nearly 100 years before the entrance to Ruby Falls was discovered by Leo Lambert’s crew, local legend has it that America’s seventh president, Andrew Jackson, stopped in Chattanooga during one of his summer travels from Washington, D.C. to the Hermitage, his home in Nashville. On this visit, he visited the Lookout Mountain Cave and left his mark. Using something sharp, possibly his sword, President Jackson is said to have carved his named and the date, 1833, into the wall of the cave below the path to Ruby Falls.
The trouble with legends and lore is that they can become embellished over time. It remains unknown if the signature was carved by Jackson himself, another man with the same name or perhaps by someone pulling a prank on cave explorers of a bygone era. The answer is a mystery that is forever buried in Lookout Mountain. While public tours of the Lookout Mountain Cave where Andrew Jackson’s signature is located are no longer running, the intrigue surrounding the mystery remains.
If our seventh president or the unknown carver would have etched their name into the cave today, they would be in a bit of trouble because of current strict conservation laws that prohibit defacing cave walls in any way. But a century before these laws and Ruby Falls’ own conservation initiatives, Andrew Jackson wasn’t the only one to carve his name into the caves of Lookout Mountain. During the Civil War, Lookout Mountain Cave was used as a temporary hospital, and some soldiers took the opportunity to leave their mark behind. Thankfully, Ruby Falls conservation initiatives now protect the cave and its ancient formations, minimizing the effects of visitors, light levels, temperature and even air flow. Not only does Ruby Falls have stewardship programs to preserve the cave for future generations of explorers, it is also charged with protecting the water traveling through the cave from pollution as it eventually joins the water table of the Tennessee River.
While you may have the urge to leave your signature behind, it’s best to simply enjoy the natural beauty of the cave and appreciate the wonder that is Ruby Falls.
To discover more about Ruby Falls, go to www.rubyfalls.com to buy tickets and plan your own Lookout Mountain adventure today!