The Hermit of Beaton Cave

One of the strangest stories from the upper peninsula took place in the mid-1900s. That is the story of the Hermit of Beaton Cave. The fellow’s name was Melvin Beaton, born June 22, 1911. He was a lifelong resident of Rockland, working at a variety of common obligations throughout his life. He had a normal life in the early years when the world was a simpler place. Things began to go awry for Melvin with improved communications and the outside world began to encroach on this remote town. It was reported that he became paranoid about the dangers of the modern world, especially with the specter of a thermonuclear holocaust during the cold war of the 1950s and 1960s. He became increasingly convinced that an atomic war with Russia was imminent and that lead to his obsession with the protection that a fallout shelter could provide.

Melvin was down on his luck at this time and was living with his mother in Murphey’s Hotel. Though he couldn’t seem to find steady work, he seemed to have plenty of energy for bomb shelter research. He was certain that the bombs were coming and searched the area for a suitable location. He was certain that the hotel would be a death trap. Building a simple bomb shelter provide impossible given the hard bedrock he would have to dig through. Melvin became more and more frantic. Then he found a solution.

beaton cave

For miles around Rockland the wilderness is dotted with abandoned mines both modern and prehistoric. Most of these are open pit mines, convenient for removing ore but not suitable for protection from atomic bombs. However, Melvin found an old exploration shaft at the end of the south range. It was a horizontal exploration shaft forming a cave that was six or eight feet wide and nearly six feet high and it went back into the bedrock for 100 feet. In his mind it was perfect as a bomb shelter, and he set about making it his home. Melvin moved into the old mine lock, stock, and barrel dragging his bed, simple furniture, and supplies through the dense forest and deep into the back end of the cave.

inside beaton cave

It is unclear how long Melvin lived in the cave or whether he stayed out there during the winter months. Living conditions would have been harsh in any event. As time passed and no thermonuclear cataclysm fell upon Rockland, people began to pay less attention to the somewhat deranged individual out in the mine. Little is known about the later years of Melvin’s life. Murphey’s Hotel was torn down in 1965. Melvin Beaton died in a nursing home December 2, 1990, at 79 and was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery near Rockland.

The mine shaft, known locally as Beaton’s Cave is still there, but it as a bit tricky to find. You take the road out of Rockland that goes to Old Victoria. Park at the rail trail where the railroad used to come through. Head south keeping to the trail for a half mile or so where you will come to the railroad again. Continue down the railroad. On your right will be a major power line supported by enormous metal structures. When you reach the fifth powerline support turn left into the forest and make your way to the distant cliffs. That is where Beaton’s Cave is. Inside is pitch dark. There are markings left by the miners and a few bats. The entrance can be treacherous.