After massive sinkhole, Corvette museum doubles as a geology classroom

It was a stunning reminder that sinkholes can happen with little warning and have major consequences.

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. -- A giant sinkhole that opened up under the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky, was one of the most unforgettable sights of 2014.

It was a stunning reminder that sinkholes can happen with little warning and have significant consequences.

"It was pretty surreal to walk into this massive room and see this open hole in the floor," said Mariah Hughes, the marketing specialist for the museum. "And the fact that they had already extracted a few of the Corvettes, but not all of the eight that fell in."

Hughes said the sinkhole that devoured the one-of-a-kind cars happened on ground that was tested and presumed safe.

"They tested the ground 70 feet deep here before they could build the museum at this spot, of course, like you do anytime you are doing construction…but they never hit the cave ceiling, so they didn’t know the cave was here," she said.  "And the museum opened in 1994, and the sinkhole happened in 2014. So for that 20-year timespan that limestone rock had eroded and just could not support the weight of what was sitting on top of it anymore."

In the years since the sinkhole, the Corvette Museum has embraced this devastating event and turned geological education into part of their overall mission by devoting a large amount of exhibit space to the collapse itself.

"So we are not just a museum for cars now," Hughes said. "We are a place where geologists and kids that are interested in science can come and learn about the events that happened here."

And back on the reinforced floor? A showcase of a few Corvettes that were recovered but unable to be restored, each with dirt and debris precisely as they were found. 

The floor also features an incredible window to the 35-foot hole below that serves as a classroom and important lesson to this day.

"The science department here at Western Kentucky University frequently comes back to monitor the area, as well as check on the cave, see what is happening down there as it is still a living ecosystem as well, a living cave system," Hughes said.

It was a high-profile and expensive display of the earth’s movement that can take us by surprise -- a lesson that won’t soon be lost on this part of southern Kentucky.

"We say it’s the safest room in Bowling Green," Hughes said. "Because we know exactly what is under our feet."