Grand, Gloomy, and Peculiar:

Stephen Bishop at Mammoth Cave

Kentucky Slave Finds "Freedom" in World's Longest Cave


Historical Novel is Based on True Story of Stephen Bishop


What readers say about 'GGP'

A century before Mammoth Cave in Kentucky became a national park, it was already a popular tourist attraction. In those early years, the full extent of the cave's reach was unknown. Its passages had only been explored a few miles, and the owners were too busy making money from visitors to spend time pushing farther into the darkness. All of that changed with the arrival of Stephen Bishop, a 17-year-old slave who became Mammoth Cave's most popular guide and America's first great cave explorer. His inspiring story is told in the new historical novel Grand, Gloomy, and Peculiar: Stephen Bishop at Mammoth Cave by Roger W. Brucker, to be published October 1, 2009.

Obsessed with the cave's beauty and mystery, Bishop would often venture into passages far beyond where any human had ever been. With a lantern and to light the way, and an unquenchable curiosity, he made many important discoveries and produced the first complete map of Mammoth Cave. His work paved the way for subsequent discoveries that led to Mammoth Cave becoming a national park a century later and being recognized as the world's longest cave.

“Stephen was noted for being the first systematic cave explorer,” Brucker said. “He was the prototype for guiding, educating and entertaining cave visitors. He was the economic engine that put Mammoth Cave on the map of American natural wonders.”

Little is known about Stephen Bishop, as there are few historical documents that mention him in detail. However, much is known about the owners of Mammoth Cave during the period when he was there. By combining facts with speculative details that only an experienced caver could imagine, Roger Brucker wrote Grand, Gloomy, and Peculiar as a historical novel, from the perspective of Bishop's wife, Charlotte. Although some elements of the story are fictional, the historical aspects were carefully researched. Brucker even personally re-traced many of the underground routes that Stephen explored, in order to describe them accurately in his book.

"It's well-known that Stephen was the first person to cross the Bottomless Pit, which tourists can still see today," Brucker said. "He found a scary way around the pit. It’s a tight crawlway over several drops. I went through it, to understand what Stephen experienced.”

While most books about slaves focus primarily on those who lived on, or escaped from, Southern plantations, Grand, Gloomy, and Peculiar is one of the few about the non-plantation slave experience. What distinguished Stephen Bishop from most other slaves even more was the way he was treated. Although his owner clearly did not consider him as an equal, Bishop was nevertheless treated better than most slaves. This was undoubtedly due to the fact that he was popular among visitors to Mammoth Cave, many of whom came from non-slave states or foreign countries.



"Grand, Gloomy, and one of the best historical novels I have ever read. It educates and captivates. I loved it."

-- Donald W. Murphy,

   Chief Executive Officer,

   National Underground Railroad Freedom Center


"Clearly written and researched...this love story is set against a background of slavery, the quest for freedom, and magnificent cave discoveries. Readers, young and old alike, will be intrigued by Roger Brucker's story of antebellum Kentucky."

-- Carol Crowe Carraco, Ph.D.,

   Distinguished University Professor of History,

   Western Kentucky University


"...will appeal to anyone with an interest in Mammoth Cave, including cavers and tourists alike, placing a century and a half of ongoing exploration in the world’s longest cave system into historical perspective."

-- Danny A. Brass,

   NSS News Book Reviewer,

   Author of Rabies in Bats: Natural History and Public Health Implications


"...well-grounded in historical data and serves as a tightly-written complement to other historical works on Mammoth Cave and the people who made it a national treasure."

-- John Hardin, Ph.D., Professor of History,

   Western Kentucky University,

   Co-editor of Kentucky African American Encyclopedia and Author of Fifty Years of Segregation: Black Higher Education in Kentucky, 1904-1954


"...takes us back to a time and a life we can hardly imagine, and into the head of Stephen Bishop, the cave explorer as well as the slave."

-- C. William Steele,

   Noted Cave Explorer/Recipient of the Lew Bicking Award for Exemplary Cave Exploration

   Author of Yochib: The River Cave


"This book about a unique American is masterfully written. It will thrill the souls of everyone who reads it."
-- Patty Jo Watson, Ph.D.,
    Edward Mallinckrodt Distinguished University Professor Emerita,
    Department of Anthropology,
    Washington University, St. Louis, MO,

    Editor of The Archaeology of the Mammoth Cave Area




Roger Brucker is the co-author four previous books: The Caves Beyond (with Joe Lawrence, Jr.), The Longest Cave (with Richard A. Watson), Trapped! The Story of Floyd Collins (with Robert K. Murray) and Beyond Mammoth Cave: A Tale of Obsession in the World’s Longest Cave (with James D. Borden).  All are available from Cave Books.

    Grand, Gloomy, and Peculiar: Stephen Bishop at Mammoth Cave will be published by Cave Books on October 1, 2009. Order now from:

Cave Books

4700 Amberwood Drive

Dayton, OH 45424-4602


Hardback edition $21.95    (ISBN: 978-0-939748-72-3)

Paperback edition $15.95   (ISBN: 978-0-939748-71-6)


Rev. 9-14-2009