Gothic Avenue is a tubular passage extending to the south & southeast from the ESE-trending Broadway Avenue-Main Cave passage. The room where Gothic Avenue's entrance is located is considered to be the end of Broadway Avenue. Beyond this intersection, the cave passageway is about half-as-high and is known as the Main Cave.
Gothic Avenue entrance (looking ~SE) (from an old postcard)
Gothic Avenue entrance (from Hovey & Call, 1912) (looking ~SW) - Gothic Avenue is accessed by a flight of steps from the floor of Broadway Avenue, at the 2nd set of old saltpetre leaching vats. This intersection of Broadway and Gothic Avenues is often called “Booth's Amphitheater”. Edwin Booth, the brother of John Wilkes Booth (the murderer of American President Abraham Lincoln in 1865), once gave a speech atop the limestone platform overlooking the passage intersection.
Relatively little of Gothic Avenue can be experienced on regular cave tours. The only current tour that visits Gothic Avenue is the “Star Chamber Tour”. On this tour, visitors can go in only as far as the Bridal Altar.
The northern portion of Gothic Avenue was formerly known as “Haunted Chambers”. This name refers to the story of an early 1800s saltpetre miner who got lost and disoriented in the darkness of this passage. Eventually, other miners came looking for him, and called out for him. But he was convinced he was dead and in hell, with demons descending upon him.
Gothic Avenue is a fascinating stretch of Mammoth Cave. And yet, it's awful. I can summarize Gothic Avenue as some have characterized Michaelangelo's Last Judgment - a magnificent wreck.
Gothic Avenue - this is a tubular passage originally formed at or below the water table (a phreatic passage). It represents the oldest cave passage that's accessible on modern cave tours (it dissolved out before other lower-level passages). Gothic Avenue's entrance is in the upper half of the southern wall of Broadway Avenue. The ceiling, walls, and floor are all gray limestones of the Paoli Member of the lower Girkin Limestone (lower Upper Mississippian). The ceiling was (originally) a nice, clean, whitish, relatively flat & smooth limestone bedding plane. It has been thoroughly defaced over many decades.
Ceiling smoke writing - during the 1800s, visitors were encouraged to write their name on the ceiling of Gothic Avenue. This place is called the Register Room. They used candle smoke to stain the whitish limestone. The park service generously calls this stuff “historical graffiti”. Call it what it is - vandalism. Even some visitors in the 1800s voiced their negative opinions about this disgusting practice. As a modern-day, 21st century visitor, I too find it awful. And yet fascinating.
Ceiling smoke writing - some of the smoke signatures in the Register Room are dated, such as this example from 1832.
Ceiling smoke writing - the smoke signatures consist of a series of individual “dabs” of dark candle smoke. Much of the ceiling writing here is backward. Writing was done using a mirror on the cave floor. Otherwise, hot wax would drip down & hurt someone standing directly below, looking upward.
Ceiling smoke writing - the most historically significant smoke signature in Gothic Avenue's Register Room is this, done by Stephen Bishop in the early 1800s. Stephen Bishop is the # 1 most famous cave guide in Mammoth Cave's history. He conducted numerous tours from the 1830s to 1850s. He is buried in the cave guide cemetery near the visitor center.
Ceiling smoke writing - the most unusual ceiling smoke writing I saw in Gothic Avenue is this. I don't know the story behind it. I don't know if the story behind it is even known.
Rock stack - Gothic Avenue originally had an irregular strewn field of limestone breakdown. During the 1800s, a desire to make walking through this passage easier resulted in visitors being encouraged to move rocks from the trail and stack them along the side. Many of the stacks honor the home states of various visitors.
Rock stack - this one honors Kentucky's St. Mary's College.
Rock stack - not surprisingly, the tallest stack honors the state of Kentucky. The rocks of this stack reach up to the ceiling.
Columns & Bridal Altar (looking ~E) (from an old postcard)
Speleothem - Mammoth Cave has relatively little speleothem (secondary, precipitational, vadose cave features). The classic locality for seeing Mammoth Cave speleothem is Gothic Chapel (aka Stalagmite Hall). The condition of the speleothem here is awful - many features are partially broken, and all of them are strongly discolored by smoke.
The “cave formation” shown above & below is called the Bridal Altar. It consists of several columns (fused stalactite-stalagmite pairs). Columns are one type of dripstone. The examples shown here consist of travertine (composed of calcite), as is most speleothem on Earth. Early literature reports that 16 weddings have taken place here.
Bridal Altar (from an old postcard) - wedding party at a 1908 ceremony.
Bridal Altar (from an old postcard) - wedding party at a 1912 ceremony.
Bridal Altar (from an old postcard) - wedding party at a November 1915 ceremony.
Column - a discolored column in Gothic Chapel (Stalagmite Hall) with its base apparently partially broken. The column is composed of travertine (calcitic). The red flag is supposedly used by the park service or researchers to indicate the nearby presence of an historically or archaeologically significant artifact.
Stalactites - strongly discolored and broken stalactites (calcitic dripstone) in Gothic Chapel (Stalagmite Hall). This cave passage is definitely not a place to see good, world-class cave speleothem. Try New Mexico's Carlsbad Caverns instead.
Speleothem (from an old postcard) - modern cave tours do not allow visitors beyond the Bridal Altar. In early days, people could walk well beyond that. The speleothem shown above is in the southern stretches of Gothic Avenue. It is called “Devil's Armchair” or just “The Armchair”. It appears to consist of flowstone-covered dripstone. It's certainly composed of travertine (calcitic). Visitors would sit on it and drink from a pool of foul-tasting water near its base.
Speleothem (from an old postcard; original photograph by Benjamin Hains) - beyond the Devil's Armchair is a bulbous flowstone-dripstone mass called “Elephant's Head”.
Lover's Leap (from Hovey & Call, 1912) - beyond Elephant's Head is a somewhat pointed projection of limestone fancifully called “Lover's Leap”. The drop-off is not very high and no one has jumped from atop this feature. This locality is not visited by modern, regular cave tours.
Mummified Bat - I've seen two remarkable specimens of mummified bats in Gothic Avenue. One is attached to the ceiling in the Register Room. The other is this, resting atop a rock among the “state stacks”. The bat is partially covered with crystals of some mineral (magnesium sulfate? sodium-calcium sulfate?), which appears to have acted as a preservative. I'm unsure of its age. Does the remarkable state of preservation indicate a Holocene age? Or is it possibly a Pleistocene fossil that's exceptionally preserved?
Quite a few mummified bats have also been reported from near Star Chamber, in Mammoth Cave's “Main Cave”. Bats represent the most abundant vertebrate group of fossil, sub-fossil, and recent remains found in Mammoth Cave. Specimens include bat guano deposits to bat bones to complete mummified bats. Other vertebrate remains have been reported as well (principally bones, but some scat as well). These include extinct and extant species: raccoons, rats, deer mice, pocket gophers, deer, pigs, flat-headed peccaries, armadillos, short-faced bears, tapirs, salamanders, frogs, turtles, snakes, lizards, and birds. An undetermined proboscidean has also been reported (mammoth or mastodon remains).