Two years ago, on February 12, 2014, many people across the globe woke up to some startling news – a sinkhole had opened up inside the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and eight Corvettes were laying at the bottom of it. Fortunately, the cars and building were the only things damaged as it occurred in the early morning hours before anyone was in the Museum. The story captivated those who watched it, and while the Museum initially planned to put the past behind them, the interest in the sinkhole and damaged Corvettes was undeniable.
“Probably two days after the sinkhole happened, after we realized it could be fixed and once we saw more and more visitors starting to trickle in from the interstate, we shifted our attitude. We embraced the situation,” said Katie Frassinelli, Marketing and Communications Manager for the Museum. “Honestly, it paid off big for us. Our attendance had leveled out around 150,000 in 2013, but in 2014 it skyrocketed to our highest number ever – over 250,000 visitors. Even last year we had 220,000 visitors… which if you remove our Corvette caravan event attendance from 2014 (a once-every-five-years blowout event), then 2015 was actually higher.”
There were mixed opinions as to whether the Museum should keep the infamous sinkhole as an attraction, but in the end it just was not feasible to do so. “Once we determined the sinkhole was not going to stay, we started talking about creating some kind of exhibit to tell our story. This was not only a part of our history, but also Corvette history. After meeting with several exhibit design companies we hired Creative Arts Unlimited out of Pinellas Park, FL to bring our sinkhole saga to life,” said Frassinelli.
“We’re story tellers,” said Roger Barganier, President of Creative Arts Unlimited. “When we first started working on the exhibit, I didn’t understand what happened. So we got all the information and created an exhibit so the average visitor will understand what happened. And we added some geology, geography, science, and there is some STEM in it for school groups, plus lots of interactives,” Roger added.
The exhibit is divided into sections including The Day, Media Coverage, Pop Culture, Cars Affected, The Recovery, Karst Landscapes, What It Took to Fix the Sinkhole and The Grand Finale combining photos, videos, informational text and interactives to create an experience that is enjoyable for all ages.
“We were able to put some of the parts from the sinkhole Corvettes back into our cave, and we now have a web cam that allows visitors to actually search in the cave for the car parts,” said Frassinelli. “I think my personal favorite is the Corvette crane game which allows you to remove boulders, debris and Corvettes from the sinkhole. The designers even put the cars exactly how they were in the sinkhole. Of course, the game is a lot easier than it was in real life!”
Upon exiting the new exhibit visitors will see the renovated Skydome that reopened summer 2015, as well as all eight Corvettes from the sinkhole including the 1992 “1 Millionth” Corvette and 2009 ZR1 “Blue Devil” that were restored by General Motors. One car, the 1962 Black Corvette, will undergo repair in the Museum’s new Maintenance and Preservation Department, allowing visitors the opportunity to actually watch the restoration work for themselves.
A line on the floor outlines where the sinkhole was, while a second line marks where the cave still lies. A 48” manhole allows visitors to peer into a glass window to see the floor of the sinkhole, over 30 feet down. The passageway then slopes down into the cave.
“Looking back two years ago, I don’t think any of us could have imagined that today we would be somewhat commemorating the sinkhole,” said Frassinelli. “I guess you could say this is the final slice of lemon on top of our glass of lemonade. We’re excited our story has come full circle and we now have a fun, interactive exhibit to tell it for years to come.”
The exhibit is open to the public and is included with regular museum admission – $10 for adults, $5 for kids age 6-16, $8 for seniors age 62+ and free for children age 5 and under. The Museum is located at I-65 exit 28 in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Learn more about the exhibit and Museum online at https://www.corvettemuseum.org/explore/exhibits/corvette-cave-in-exhibit/.