Yellow and red tape snake in what seems an erratically pattern across the floor. In some places they intersect. In others, they cross. The yellow tape is marked “Cave Outline.” The red says “Sinkhole Outline.”
I am back in the Skydome at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky. I think this is my fourth visit, though it may be the fifth. Regardless, I am sure it is my first since repairs were completed following the sinkhole that swallowed eight of the Chevrolet Corvettes that were on display the first time I visited.
That first visit took place maybe three or four years ago. Like so many who have visited the museum since it opened a couple of decades ago, I was impressed, not just by the various exhibits designed to tell the story of America’s sports car, but by the architecture of the buildings that house those exhibits.
You can see the Skydome from nearby Interstate 65. It is shaped like a volcanic cone, though its exterior isn’t matte gray in color but boasts a stunningly bright yellow shade. And its interior isn’t dark, but is very well lit by a glass skylight supplemented by electric lights.
As if that bright yellow shape reaching into the sky isn’t enough to draw traffic off the highway, the cone’s skylight is pierced by yet another cone, this one narrower and taller. It looks like a gigantic pinched drinking straw, its bright-red hue standing out above and in contrast to the massive yellow cone.
But since February 12, 2014, those inside the Skydome have been looking down rather than up. Early that morning, before anyone was in the building, a sinkhole opened beneath the Skydome, the catastrophe was caught on security cameras. Though no people were injured, several of the Corvettes were crushed beyond repair. Others could be fixed, and the historic One-Millionth Corvette was restored by GM Design.
Scientists explored the cave beneath the sinkhole and construction experts made things safe for visitors — me among them — to re-enter the building during the museum’s 20th anniversary celebration over the Labor Day weekend of 2014. We could see the cars that had been recovered and, from a safe distance, we could look down into the abyss.
Various options for restoration were considered. Decisions were made. Work was completed and the Skydome reopened for the 21st anniversary celebration late this summer.
The Corvette Hall of Fame banners are back in place on the interior walls of the cone, with exhibits on the most recent inductees featured inside the bright red tube. Various Corvettes are again displayed around the big room’s perimeter.
But the focus is on the sinkhole and the eight cars that are back above ground, on the taped outlines on the floor, and on a metal door in the Skydome floor, which has been reinforced and now rests on a series of steel-and-concrete support pillars.
That door in the floor has two porthole-style windows so you can see a ladder the descends through yet another tube, this one providing scientists and engineers with access to what remains of the cave.
Access to the Skydome itself continues to be through a tunnel-like entryway. But early in 2016, that tunnel will be transformed into a cave-like entry — The Skydome Sinkhole Experience — which not only will feature sinkhole exhibits but will use 360-degree computer-imaging animation projectors, rushing air, vibrating walls and a state-of-the-art sound system to let visitors feel what it was like inside the Skydome the morning of the sinkhole.
Looks like I’ll be making yet another pilgrimage to Bowling Green in the new year.
Photos by Larry Edsall