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Grand, Gloomy, and Peculiar:
Stephen Bishop at Mammoth Cave


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Grand, Gloomy, and Peculiar: Stephen Bishop at Mammoth Cave is Roger Brucker's fifth book, and his first novel. Based on a true story, it tells of Stephen Bishop, the slave who gained fame as a guide and explorer at Mammoth Cave in the 1840s and 50s. His early explorations paved the way for subsequent discoveries that led to Mammoth Cave becoming a national park a century later.

"Stephen was noted for being the first systematic cave explorer," Brucker says. "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."

Even in those early years, Mammoth Cave was a popular tourist destination. As visitors returned to their homes and told people about the cave, Stephen's reputation spread throughout the United States and Europe. However, limited information about him is known, because few documents exist. To fill in the gaps, Brucker decided to write Grand, Gloomy, and Peculiar as a historical novel. Although it is a work of fiction, the book does not deviate from known facts about Stephen's life. Brucker carefully researched the historical elements of the story, in order to paint an accurate picture of slave life in Central Kentucky.

Roger Brucker with Stephen Bishop's autograph on
a Salts Cave wall.

"Most slave stories are about slaves living on, or escaping from, plantations," Brucker says. "This is one of the few books written about the non-plantation slave experience."

Combining adventure, romance and history, Grand, Gloomy, and Peculiar is written in the first-person, from the perspective of Stephen's wife, Charlotte. It is a personal and moving portrait of America's first great cave explorer - a slave who found freedom underground.

"Stephen's experience was different from that of most slaves," Brucker says. "He was treated well, because the tourists liked him, and the owner of Mammoth Cave wanted to keep his customers happy. Stephen was passionate about the cave. Even after he gained his freedom, he remained at Mammoth Cave until his death."

Grand, Gloomy, and Peculiar: Stephen Bishop at Mammoth Cave is published by Cave Books.

To learn more about how Roger Brucker came to write Grand, Gloomy, and Peculiar, click here.

Roger Brucker with Donald W. Murphy, CEO of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. For information about the Freedom Center, please visit

Praise for Grand, Gloomy, and Peculiar: Stephen Bishop at Mammoth Cave "

"...the compelling historical fiction account of America's first great cave explorer."
-- History Magazine, Feb/March 2010

"...Grand, Gloomy, and one of the best historical novels I have ever read. It educates and captivates. Not many books leave a lasting impact these days, but this one will weigh on your mind long past its reading. I loved it."
-- Donald W. Murphy, Chief Executive Officer, National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

"Grand, Gloomy and Peculiar: Stephen Bishop at Mammoth an intriguing, fictional exploration of the life of the very real Stephen Bishop. He was one of the first persons to fully explore Kentucky's Mammoth Cave. Written in the voice of his slave wife Charlotte, the reader experiences Bishop's challenges as a cave explorer and still-enslaved African American. Moreover, the reader travels with both Charlotte and Steven Bishop as they explore the vast cave system, grow closer and eventually gain their freedom. Although a novel, it is 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 The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia and Author of Fifty Years of Segregation: Black Higher Education in Kentucky, 1904-1954

"Written so incredible story."
-- Nancy James, Northern Kentucky Magazine (television)

"This fact-based biographical saga is sure to stimulate an interest in Mammoth Cave and in Stephen Bishop's steadfast efforts to plumb its depths. This work 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

"Grand, Gloomy, and Peculiar 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 and Huautla: Thirty Years in One of the World's Deepest Caves

"Clearly written and researched, Grand Gloomy, and Peculiar: Stephen Bishop at Mammoth Cave is a work of historical fiction about Charlotte and Stephen Bishop, an African American couple whose names have become synonymous with Mammoth Cave history. 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

"Just as Stephen Bishop explored Mammoth Cave, Roger Brucker has explored nooks and crannies of history. His research on the early days of Mammoth Cave and that 'peculiar institution' in mid-nineteenth century America makes for fine and fascinating reading."
-- R. O. Blechman, Emmy Award-winning Animator, Illustrator, and Author of Dear James: Letters to a Young Illustrator

"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 Archaeology of the Mammoth Cave Area

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