NSS 75th Anniversary Convention

Historic Lehman Cave Images...

A celebration of Great Basin National Park


Not all cave exploration takes place underground.

Several years ago while, conducting research for the NSS 75th anniversary convention, an obscure reference was found in the digital card catalog at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. The catalog record mentioned an old envelope of photographs taken in Lehman Caves in 1928 by a John Walker of Ely, Nevada. No digital scans or descriptions of the images were available which suggested the envelope had probably not been opened in almost a century. No other records could be found to describe the collection.

Bob Hoke and Dave West of the DC Grotto were tasked with visiting the library where they examined the contents of the envelope. The library staff graciously allowed them to take low resolution pictures of the black and white photographs which were then shared with Great Basin National Park. Upon examination by the park's archive staff, we were all thrilled to learn that the park had no knowledge of the images in the envelope. They had been lost for decades.

Merilee Proffitt from Diablo Grotto then started to research the photographer. She learned that John Walker, operated the Walker Electric Studio in Ely, Nevada from 1923 to 1928. After his death in late 1928, his wife Mary S. Walker continued to operate the studio, and worked as a photographer in Ely and later in Churchill County, Nevada.

We knew that Walker had shot several photographs in another cave near Ely, but the collection that was discovered at the Library of Congress was the most complete record of the cave from that era.

Members of the NSS tracked down the grandson of John Walker. He's currently living near Reno, Nevada and was excited to learn of our research. Sadly, he believes the original negatives for the photographs were likely destroyed in a house fire many years ago. This means that the photographs in the Library of Congress are the only surviving images of the cave from shortly after its designation as a national monument by proclamation from President Warren G. Harding in 1922.

In mid-2015, the Great Basin National Park commissioned the Library of Congress for a set of high-resolution scans of these historic images.

Our Newest Partner

The Great Basin National Heritage Area was chartered by the US Congress as an agency dedicated to preserving the "lived in landscape" that is unique to the inter-mountain region of the western United States. Ely, Nevada and Great Basin National Park are located within the heritage area.

By decree of congress, heritage areas are a combination of natural, cultural, historic and recreational resources that have shaped a nationally distinctive landscape.

The deep history of mining and ranching in eastern Nevada, coupled with the diverse ethnic influence, now define this region.

Last December, the Great Basin Heritage Area Partnership awarded a grant to the Western Cave Conservancy and the NSS to cover expenses for Dave Bunnell to travel to the park and re-shoot the historic images frame-for-frame.

This summer, the resulting images from Bunnell's work will be enlarged along with the corresponding images from 1928. For the first time in the history of the national park, cave scientists and land managers may view the effects of nearly 100 years of visitation to this pristine cave.

The "Art Bank" in downtown Ely will feature a gallery show of these images on Saturday, July 16 - the opening weekend of our convention this summer. The free exhibit will be open to cavers and the public. We hope you can join us.

1928 Images from Lehman Caves