I’ve been following Crystal Cave since I landed upon the for-sale listing online a couple of years ago. The grass was overgrown; paint was peeling from the old sign, and the cave entrance looked more like a dungeon than a once-popular attraction. While most people probably saw disarray, I saw potential. After failing to convince my in-laws to buy the cave (It's a great investment, I promise!), I hoped one day that someone would reopen it.
When I saw the property was purchased in 2021, I sent an email asking the owner(s) to let me know when they’d be reopening. Nine months later, the long-awaited email arrived in my inbox with the subject, “Crystal Cave…Exciting News.”
Many months of patience paid off.
A few days ago, I got the opportunity to see the once-thriving cave that drifted through my mind for years. Here’s what I learned.
There’s no denying that caves are old. Super old. According to the Crystal Cave website, the cave is estimated to be first seen by people who lived in the region between 8,000 and 1,000 B.C. Between then and now, the cave was probably home to several people and quite a few creatures.
Fast forward a few thousand years, give or take, and the first recorded owners of Crystal Cave were William A. Wallace, followed by William Jenkins in 1882. Neither of the men made an attempt to develop the cave commercially. The third owner, Alfred Mann, did. The cave was officially opened in 1893, making Crystal Cave the second commercial show cave in Missouri after Mark Twain Cave in Hannibal.
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Crystal Cave stayed in the Mann family throughout the lifetime of the three Mann sisters who operated the cave from 1925-1969 after their father, Alfred’s death. When the last sister passed, the cave was left to their longtime friend Estle Funkhouser. After 13 years of cave ownership, Estle sold the cave to her sister and brother-in-law, Loyd and Edith Richardson.
Loyd and Edith operated the cave for years and made many improvements to the cave’s lighting system, and even discovered several more passageways. When Loyd died in 2014, the cave was closed to the public and given to his daughter Barbara. For about a decade, the cave sat closed and untouched until it was put up for sale.
After being purchased by the Dole family in 2021, a lot of new additions were made to the property. What once featured just a cave now offered so much. I was amazed by how many new features were added.
Mini-Golf Course: Test your golfing skills at the challenging 9-hole indoor course. Grab a club, scorecard and golf balls and start making your way around the course. Golf your way around some obstacles and check out some of the vintage animatronics placed around the course.
Gift Shop: The shop offers a large variety of fun and memorable souvenirs. Browse the shelves and find something that’s calling your name. They offer curios, old-time games, magic tricks, minerals and gems, hats and shirts, vintage collectibles, plushies and more.
Penny Arcade: Try your hand at a dozen restored vintage arcade machines such as “Test Your Strength,” “See Your Future,” “Shake Hands with Uncle Sam,” “The Claw Machine,” “See An Old Time Movie,” and “Shoot a Pistol.”
Gemstone Mining & Fossil Digging: All ages will enjoy gemstone panning. Guaranteed to find gemstones, fossils, and other artifacts, Crystal Cave offers three sections of pay-dirt: The Prospector, Emerald Strike, and The Mother Lode. Each pay dirt includes an identification card and keeper bag, allowing participants to identify and take home the treasures they discover.
Train Ride: Trains aren’t just for children. All ages can enjoy a Crystal Cave train ride. Begin your adventure by boarding the train and enjoying the narrated ride around the historic property. Learn fun facts and historical tidbits about the cave and the families who have owned it. Take a seat, see the pond, and keep your eyes open for wildlife.
With so much more to do, you’ll want to spend at least an afternoon here.
When the cave closed over a decade ago, the gates were locked and old barn doors were used to cover the entrance. Not much has been in or out over the years.
How much changed, if anything?
I trekked down the narrow stone staircase, clinging to the metal railing, so I didn’t slip from the rain-slick walkway. The entrance to the cave is guarded with the old iron gates from the original Springfield jail. Walking past the gates, the temperature dropped to a cool and consistent 59° Fahrenheit. The clouded sky disappeared and the cave’s small entrance opened up to reveal a dome-like room with high ceilings—the first room. The air didn’t smell musty like some caves do. It was light and airy. Untouched.
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If you expect this cave to be like its neighbors, Fantastic Caverns and Smallin Civil War Cave, you’ll be mistaken. A 55-minute walking tour will take you through the different sections of the cave featuring many geological formations, including stalagmites, stalactites, flowstone and rare helictite formations. While many caves I’ve been to have just one way in and out, Crystal Cave is a maze of passages, chambers, and tunnels as low as 39 inches.
Traversing this cave is not for the faint of heart. Exploring Crystal Cave requires some athleticism and an acceptance of closed spaces to confidently make it through the tour. At some points, duck walking or crawling on your hands and knees would be the best way to explore. Moving from room to room, I was in a daze. The cave was bigger than I’d imagined, more than double what I expected. Each corner we rounded, I expected the “end-of-the-tour” speech to begin, but the passages kept going.
Time seemed to stop for the duration of the tour. When I emerged an hour later, my hands and boots muddied, my hair frizzed, legs a bit sore. I couldn’t believe only an hour passed. I saw so much in so little time that it’s hard to believe it was still the same day. It was a refreshing experience. By the time I made it to the car, I was already looking at my calendar to see when I could make it out here again with friends and family.
While I would love to tell you about every aspect of the tour and all the amazing rooms and features I saw and visited, I don’t want to ruin the fun. I’ll let you take the tour yourself.
If you’re interested in booking a tour or finding out more information, visit https://visitcrystalcave.com/.