A Virginia Cave Has the Largest Musical Instrument in the World

The Luray Caverns are in the rolling mountains of Northern Virginia. This year is their 50th anniversary as a National Natural Landmark. The Luray Caverns are the largest cave system in the eastern U.S., but many of the one million people who come each year remember them more for the sounds they make. The world’s biggest singing instrument can be found in Luray Caverns.

Amazing features like stalactites and stalagmites, golden rock formations, and crystal-clear limestone tunnels that water formed over millions of years are visible as you descend deeper into Luray Caverns. The stalactites above can be seen in pools of clear, glassy water. It makes it look like there is a stone city under the water. There are tunnels all over the place that lead to a room called “The Cathedral.” This is where the Great Stalacpipe Organ’s heart is.

It was made by Leland Sprinkle in 1956. “Leland Sprinkle went through the caves with his five-year-old son. They would hit the stalactites with a small rubber hammer and sing. “And that’s where the idea for building an organ came from,” said Larry Moyer, who has worked at the Caverns for 42 years and is now the organ’s lead engineer.

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It is thought to be the world’s biggest singing instrument, and it takes up 3.5 acres of the cave. However, it is a percussion instrument, even though its name comes from the words “stalactite” and “pipe organ.”

When you press a key on the organ, a small electric hammer goes off. As you move through the cave, these hammers hit stalactites of different sizes, making them shake and make a sound. When the mallets hit the stone, they make soft, almost alien sounds that reverberate in the still, damp air for a long time.

“There are miles and miles of wires down here for it.” The tools are ones that we make ourselves. He said, “There’s no great stalactite pipe organ store, so we can’t go get parts for it.”

A musical instrument this big and complicated needs to be taken care of regularly. Moyer is in charge of making sure that all the electronics and miles of cables keep working in the wet setting.

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Moyer has spent many long nights over the years taking care of the Great Stalacpipe Organ so that tourists can enjoy it. He is grateful for the chance, but he knows that he will have to give up the duties at some point. Stephanie Beahm and Ben Caton, two younger trainees, are learning as much as they can from Moyer so that people in the future can enjoy the beautiful sounds of the Great Stalacpipe Organ.

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