Rebecca’s Cave houses the grave of an infant killed in ‘32 hurricane
One of Cayman Brac’s best known landmarks, Rebecca’s Cave, is up for sale.
Owner Kent Eldemire is selling the cave, which contains the grave of 17-month-old Rebecca Bodden, along with 1.7 acres of elevated land for $175,000.
The little girl died in the cave when her family took shelter there during a devastating storm known as the Great Hurricane of 1932. The cave was named in her memory.
Rebecca’s sister, Dorothy Brown, still lives on Cayman Brac. At age 96, she said it no longer matters to her if the cave is sold. “They can go ahead and sell it. I will never be able to go up there to the park ever again anyway,” she said.
But Ms. Brown’s daughter Coleen Gibson – Rebecca’s niece – does not want to see the site sold. “They should not sell it, but restore it and make it into a tourist attraction. The cave has always been a memorial in Rebecca’s memory. It was not only a cave in which she died, but it was also a refuge from the ‘32 storm for other Brackers.
“It is more of a keepsake for the family and for others to know that they did not make it, but her mother and siblings made it. Her father did not make it; he is buried in the mass grave to the west end of my grandmother’s house.” Ms. Brown, the closest surviving relative of Rebecca, was 15 when she helped her mother Helen Bodden (known as Miss Missy) bury her baby sister in the cave.
Mr. Eldemire said he never wanted to sell the land but has to do so because of a court case in which he is being sued to pay lawyer fees.
“I never wanted to develop it in respect of the family and the little girl [who] is buried there. It is a tremendous story and one of the most sacred places of the Cayman Islands, not just Cayman Brac. Just about every family in Cayman Brac lost someone in that hurricane,” he said.
Some 109 people were reported to have died during the November 1932 hurricane, as the storm surge consumed the small island.
“What they need to do is to control it so that no one can build anything on top of the cave and maybe damage the cave,” Mr. Eldemire said.
He explained how the Eldemires’ home, donated to the National Trust, was the only house left standing on the north side for people to gather in after the storm.
Mr. Eldemire said the land has been in his possession for the past 20-odd years. “I have notified the Cayman Islands National Trust through emails and sent them organization pictures, plans, history, dimensions, and aerial photos, but up to this day I have not heard one word back from them about it, only that the information was sent to the Trust in Cayman Brac,” he said.
National Trust Executive Director Christina McTaggart Pineda said, “This site is undoubtedly a historically and culturally significant site, one which we would love to be able to preserve.
“Unfortunately, for a number of reasons we are not in a position to make an offer at this time. These reasons include the fact that the newly elected Trust Council has not had a chance to properly consider the purchase [as] its first meeting [will] be held in mid-October.”
Greta Tatum, a Brac retired civil servant, said she could not speak for all the Brackers, but when she first heard the history of the cave, she cried, and she would like it to be preserved.
“It will be a sad day in Cayman Brac’s history if the property is sold and someone does not convert it into a historical park. It is a shock to everyone in Cayman Brac that it is being sold, We did not even see a for-sale sign on the property,” Ms. Tatum said.
Ms. Gibson explains that fateful day as told to her by her mother and grandmother of Rebecca.
“They were on White Bay Road in a home belonging to a family. They were in the house with a lot of other people seeking protection from the storm. The family did not know anything until water started to come into the house and they realized it was salt water. They decided they would try to get to the bluff to (what is now called) Rebecca’s Cave. It was no proper road then; they had no path, they just knew that Rebecca’s Cave was on the other side.
“They tried to get there with the baby (Rebecca) … My grandmother left the house with Rebecca in her arms. She was a short little woman and there was plenty of water. Those days the place was all bush, not flat and clear like it is today, so they had to tear their way through. By the time she got to the bluff and inside Rebecca’s Cave, Rebecca made one sound and that was it. My mother said her mother looked up and said, ‘You know she is gone,’ and they buried her right there in the cave.”