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BLACK HISTORY MONTH — Hawkins’ Pass

Ed Hawkins Photo courtesy of Mammoth Cave National Park

Research Courtesy of Mammoth Cave National Park

 

Ed Hawkins was born on May 10, 1863, in the community of Park City, Kentucky. He began working at Mammoth Cave as a cave guide, but Hawkins also worked above ground for the privately-owned Mammoth Cave Estate property. Hawkins would later be a part of the discovery of some of the well-known areas of the cave.

While Hawkins did guide tours, many of his other tasks took him away from the cave; odd jobs such as small repairs, chopping wood, and plucking chickens. African American employees during the early 20th century had certain restrictions on them. All porter and waiter positions were filled by black employees, while white staff members were clerks and managers.

One account recalls that Hawkins had to cancel his plans for a cave exploration trip, because one of the managers needed him to peel potatoes. No doubt, his ability and familiarity with the cave would have been better served in exploration.

In 1907, Hawkins co-discovered a breathtaking series of shafts known as Cathedral Domes with fellow guide Will Bransford and visitor, Benjamin Franklin Einbigler. The avenue leading to this impressive series of domes was named Hawkins’ Pass in his honor. Visitors are still able to view these domes on the Wild Cave Tour.

A unique trait of Hawkins was how recognizable he is in photographs. He often secured his clothes with large blanket pins. Oral history says his hands were so large he could clean a chicken of its feathers in just two swipes. With such large hands manipulating small buttons may have been too tedious of a task.

After more than half a decade at the Western State Hospital in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, Hawkins passed away on January 25, 1936, due to myocarditis and a contributing factor of senility. He resides today in an unmarked grave at the hospital cemetery.

 

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