West Virginia’s largest and most beautiful caverns, Seneca Caverns, are located in the Appalachian Mountain range. Huge chambers provide majestic views for visitors and photographers, and great hiding places for bootleggers, horse thieves and murderers.
“In Prohibition, people used to make moonshine in caves all the time,” says Katie Maloney, a guide for the Mountain Institute, a Washington DC based group whose programs seek to advance mountain cultures. “There was a bootlegger, a man named Warren. When the police came after him, he escaped into the caves, because he knew them so well. His still was on [this] property.”
She was talking about Gandy Creek near Elkins, WV, but could just have easily been discussing any of hundreds of caves in the region. “There’s an area in this cave we’re going to called Robber’s Roost, because bank robbers would hide there.” Those West Virginia outlaws had plenty of company nationally: caves by that name can be found in OH, UT, CO, OR, TX, & OK.
It’s no surprise that as the automobile became widely available and rural electrification lit up America’s backroads, formerly secure hideaways suddenly became public attractions. Seneca Caverns started offering tours in 1930. Others followed: Mammoth Cave National Park opened in 1941, for example. Well lit, heavily visited caves certainly were not conducive to hiding.
Moonshiners caught a break late in 1933. Franklin Roosevelt had defeated incumbent Herbert Hoover in the 1932 presidential race. Roosevelt supported the repeal of Prohibition, and this time a thirsty electorate agreed. On December 5, 1933, the repeal of the 18th Amendment became official.