What You Told Us About Your Hometown’s Hidden Tunnels - Atlas Obscura
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What You Told Us About Your Hometown’s Hidden Tunnels

We asked Atlas Obscura readers to share local stories of secret underground spaces, and they went deep.

The finest local tunnels are at least a little scary.
The finest local tunnels are at least a little scary. bergadder/Public Domain

Many cities around the world have local legends about hidden tunnels running underneath the streets. Recently, we asked Atlas Obscura readers to tell us tales of hidden underground passageways from their own hometowns, and the results were even better than we’d hoped. We learned that there’s a wide world of subterranean passages out there, some real, some mythical, but all them decidedly underground.

You sent us stories of old bootlegger tunnels, forgotten service networks, insane asylum escape routes, and more than a few cases of steam tunnels lurking beneath the halls of academia. In some cases, your tales of secret spaces were based on something real from history, and a few are even accessible today. Still others seem to be more fiction that fact, unless lizard people really are hiding treasure under the streets of Los Angeles.

We’ve collected some of our favorite submissions below, so read on to find out what might be lurking just beneath the surface a city near you.

(Mostly) True Tunnel Stories

Milford, Connecticut

Our town was founded in 1639. One day there was a small sinkhole that developed in the sidewalk in front of my aunt’s house. Her house was about 1/4 mile from the harbor. The city engineers investigated and found that it was part of a tunnel system that were escape tunnels leading to a small hidden beach by the harbor. I was pretty young at the time so I don’t remember exactly, but they were either from the Revolutionary War or the Civil War. — Gretchen Foster

Chattanooga, Tennessee

From the mid-1800s until the Tennessee Valley Authority controlled the Tennessee River with a dam system in the early-mid 1930s, our city flooded with alarming regularity. Over the years, a combination of public and private efforts were made to raise the grade of the downtown streets, with the end result being a weird patchwork of subterranean tunnels and basements that bear the marks of the businesses that occupied them, back when they were street-level storefronts. It’s creepy, not super-accessible, and even dangerous in certain locations—but it’s a neat reminder of a time when the river ruled the lives of Chattanoogans. — Alison Sexter

Norwich, England

There is a network of largely forgotten chalk and flint mine tunnels under the city. These were carved out over hundreds of years of mining. The full extent of the network is not known, and has never been fully mapped. There is however a map of one section which was used as a visitor attraction in the early 19th century. The tunnels of this section were given romantic sounding street names like ‘Beehive Place’ and ‘Bacchus Street.’ This section of the tunnels made the news 30 years ago when one collapsed, taking a double-decker no. 26 bus down with it! — Tom Laws

Fort Worth, Texas

Back in the ’50s there was a tunnel going from a parking lot to Leonard’s Department Store. People would park their cars in the lot, and board the trolley for a ride underground to the store. They would get off the trolley car and go into the multi level store, where you could buy almost anything you needed. They shut down in the 80s, I believe, but were bought out by someone else, who continued using the trolley cars until they closed and then the trolley cars were parked and the tunnel was closed off. But people still managed to get into them to film and graffiti them. As of today, last I heard they were permanently closed off with concrete. — Tamara

Clare, Michigan

Not my hometown, but the nearest city to where my parents retired in lower central Michigan. The legendary Purple Gang of Jailhouse Rock fame would hole up in the only hotel in town, The Doherty. They installed a tunnel between the hotel and the pharmacy across the street. The upper floor of the pharmacy was a speakeasy and brothel. Part of the tunnel was uncovered during recent road repairs so it was definitely real. — Kelly Wells

Not every secret tunnel is a mess.
Not every secret tunnel is a mess. Jerry_Shan/Public Domain

Eureka, California

There are two tunnels originating under the Vance Hotel. One leads under Second Street, one runs parallel to Second Street. Both are blocked off under the hotel. During the remodeling of the old hotel I was fortunate enough to be invited to the basement to view new construction and was shown the tunnel entrances. Rumor has it that they were used by bootleggers during prohibition. Rumor also has it that there are more such tunnels in the Old Town area. Eureka is the largest city (but still under 30,000) on Humboldt Bay, a remote fishing port in far Northwestern California whose heyday as a lumber port is long past. Rumor also has it that those loggers were a thirsty bunch. — Maurice Moley-Viand

Ottumwa, Iowa

Al Capone once had a hideaway mansion here, and had a network of tunnels to avoid authorities. One series connected to an earlier network built in our downtown and the other was a main line that ended at a garage-sized terminal in a cemetery for Capone’s getaway car. That tunnel also connected to his mansion which was only a block or so away. — Steve Anderson

Longmont, Colorado

There is a bar/nightclub called “The Speakeasy” on Main Street at below street level, and behind the bar the tunnel starts and continues around behind the stage and supposedly under the streets to an old mansion a block or so away, and was supposedly used during prohibition. — Randy Kiunke

Eastchester, New York

There is a tunnel from the cellar of a house on Winter Hill Road and Post Road that leads to the well in the front of a house across the street. The house on Winter Hill Road was owned by gangster Arthur Simon Flegenheimer AKA Dutch Schultz, and he used the passage as an escape route. — Catherine Houston

Winston-Salem, North Carolina

There is a tunnel between the Graylyn Estate and the Reynolds Estate (founder of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco) built as an escape route from angry depression-era local workers. — Amy Wagner

Minneapolis, Minnesota

There is an old Masonic Temple (currently a school for hairstylists) that the Grateful Dead once played at that has a tunnel running from the basement to an adjacent building that is now a piercing studio. No one really knows why the tunnel is there or what it was used for. — Eric Long

South Saint Paul, Minnesota

The town I grew up in was one of the few places that had a healthy economy during the Great Depression due to the large stockyards off Concord Street. Millions went through South Saint Paul each day, and since St. Paul was a haven for gangsters laying low, there was plenty of contraband to hide. Supposedly, all of the bars along Concord had interconnecting tunnels to hide booze. These tunnels not only connected bars, but led to the Wabasha caves that had been carved out by the Mississippi River. These caves once held a full restaurant that was a favorite hang out of mobsters, and the tunnels probably made for an easy escape route. — Cassandra Konz

Even an underpass can be a acceptable tunnel.
Even an underpass can be a acceptable tunnel. JarkkoManty/Public Domain

Confirmed Reports From Amateur Investigators

Girona, Spain

It seems the old city of Girona has several tunnels connecting the two main churches of Sant Feliu and the Cathedral, and with a large underground passage out of the city to a place called El Polvorí (‘The Gun Powder Depot’). When I was young, some friends and I had been in the mouth of this last one, but didn’t progress very deep into it. It was scary. Surely some of it was obstructed, but it can lead to the main Girona church. — Ramon Carbó-Dorca

Detroit, Michigan

Northville tunnels. Tunnels that went underneath the northville psychiatric hospital and connected to out buildings. The rumors are that more extreme cases were kept in isolation cells down there. Kids would break in when I was a teenager and hangout in them. Homeless people were also known to use them for shelter. — Rachel Woodward

Grand Island, Nebraska

I purchased the historic seven story Masonic Temple, built in 1925 in Grand Island. A magnificent building, it had secret rooms befitting a Masonic building. As a group of urban explorers from Chicago visited me, we searched the basement and found a strange cinder block wall that did not seem right. After some liquid courage, the men and one woman, took turns with a sledge hammer, knocking a hole in the wall. We found the beginnings of an old steam tunnel. As many cities in the Midwest, the city produced electricity and as a byproduct, sold steam to downtown buildings. There was LOTS of sand but we burrowed through to find about three blocks worth. Armed with flashlights, we found tunnels tall enough to comfortably walk, two by two; dark, smelly and dangerous because we felt not enough air could get to us, we were cautious. The steam pipes had been removed. We were convinced the tunnel had not been used since the 1940s and our guess was confirmed, quietly, by city officials and told to seal the entrance. I did so the following week. — Paul Warshauer

Colleges and Universities

Urbana, Illinois

There are steam tunnels under the University of Illinois campus that connect many of the buildings that were once used for heating. These tunnels still exist and students have been known to explore them after hours. There are vents along the tunnels that provide access on the quad. — Will Gray

East Lansing, Michigan

There is a network of steam tunnels beneath Michigan State University that has allegedly hosted cults, bodies, and Dungeons & Dragons Games. — Sarah Kate

Ellensburg, Washington

Between 1999 and 2000, the campus of Central Washington University was plagued by a masturbating mystery man who would appear out of nowhere, do his thing in view of some unfortunate female victim and then disappear before he could be caught. This went on for months causing the campus and city police considerable embarrassment due to their inability to get a handle on the increasingly brazen criminal. The small college town became obsessed with rumors about who the perpetrator was and why the incompetent police couldn’t pin him down. Some began speculating that maybe the villain was himself a police officer. Eventually the “campus masturbator” got too cocky and was apprehended when he tried a mid-afternoon attack. Upon searching the house he was renting, police discovered a key to the campus’ subterranean system of heating tunnels that could be accessed from many of the university buildings, leading investigators to reason this was the key to his elusive disappearing act that had frustrated the community for so long. — John Hieger

Boston, Massachusetts

I did my undergrad at Massachusetts College of Art in Boston in the late 80s and early 90s. There was a series of secret passageways between the newer tower building and the adjacent buildings. They were a series of catacombs and strange spaces that captured our imaginations as young art students. — Cooper Lee Bombardier

Raleigh, North Carolina

There are MILES of secret steam tunnels underneath one of the largest university campuses in the southeast—North Carolina State. Entrances lead to almost every single building, and one could spend days down there without retracing your steps or seeing another person. — Adam Travis Kincaid

Is there anything more mysterious than a foggy tunnel?

Is there anything more mysterious than a foggy tunnel? Rajesh misra/Public Domain

Potsdam, New York

SUNY Potsdam College in northern New York has a series of tunnels that connect the academic and residential buildings to keep students and faculty from having to venture out into the unbelievably cold winter (during a cold spell in 2014, temperatures were consistently below -20 Fahrenheit for nearly two weeks). Rumor has it that one of the tunnels used to have an offshoot, now cemented shut, that led to the Snell home. The Snells were a prominent family in town and made significant financial contributions to the school from what I remember. According to legend, the Snells also had a penchant for incest that led to several Snell children born with hideous physical deformities. To hide their shame, the Snells sealed the tunnel that led to the school and imprisoned their deformed children within it, where they eventually died, hidden away and unloved. — Kristian

Montevallo, Alabama

When attending the University of Montevallo there were stories of tunnels underneath the campus from when it was an all girls school. Apparently they were sealed In the 1970s. One entrance is supposed to be back stage of Palmer theatre. — Austin Carpenter

Flagstaff, Arizona

I went to college at Northern Arizona University. At 7,000 feet, it can get very cold during the winter. The campus is mostly heated by steam and throughout much of the campus there are tunnels to carry steam pipes to heat the various buildings. I was able to gain access when I was a Resident Assistant in one of the dorms. Had a key to the basement and then access to the tunnels. So. Much. Fun. This was in the 70s so I don’t know if they’re still accessible. — Michael Roberson

Vancouver, British Columbia

There are supposed to be disused mining tunnels running through the North Shore mountains. What makes the story particularly appealing is that it’s reported some of them have flooded, and it’s possible to go kayaking under the mountains. Also, the University of British Columbia does have steam tunnels for dealing with the output of fume hoods, and they apparently have had a decades-long battle keeping (often drunken) students out of them. — J. J. DeBenedictis

Myths and Rumors

Everett, Washington

When I was going to Sequoia High School, the former principal once told me about a tunnel that supposedly exists under the school. The buildings that are now the high school and the gym were built during the Franklin D. Roosevelt, ‘New Deal’ era. She told me that it was constructed as an underground means of escape from one building to the other in the event of an emergency. Apparently, it was also used as part of an initiation for the new principals who were made to run through the pitch black tunnel before assuming their new post. — Claire

Cape Cod, Massachusetts

There are two bridges to get onto the Cape, the Sagamore Bridge and the Bourne Bridge. Locals and tourists alike know that bridge traffic during the summer months is no fun thing. But locals know about the super secret (but not really so secret anymore because it’s on bumper stickers all over the place) Cape Cod Tunnel—the hidden route to get on and off the Cape without all the traffic. Is it real? Is it fake? I’m a local, so I’m staying mum. — Shannon

Toronto, Ontario

There is an old story that there are tunnels under the Cabbagetown/Corktown areas of Toronto. A guy claims that he wandered into a cave-like hole, and was greeted by a furry animal with glowing eyes and sharp teeth. It hissed at him ‘Go away…’ repeatedly. — Karsten Johansson

Los Alamos, New Mexico

For years there were rumors about a tunnel, a railroad tunnel, a mile or so down that connected Los Alamos National Lab, where America’s first atomic bombs were built, to Sandia National Lab, some 90ish miles as the crow flies South in Albuquerque. The railroad allegedly moved assembled nuclear weapons from Los Alamos to a storage facility at Sandia. I’d made many visits to both facilities but do recall a visit to Sandia where I witnessed something very odd. I was visiting a facility in the Southern end of the facility, South of where warheads had historically been stored. The now reportedly unused storage facility was always of interest and I wondered what it would be like to walk the tunnels with a geiger counter, so did as I always did and was looking toward the tunnel entrances as I drove by. Once my meeting was finished, i drove past the same area, and clear as day, in the middle of a field with no train tracks sat a railroad boxcar. This would strike anyone as odd, a boxcar in the middle of a field with no apparent railroad tracks or explanation for exactly the boxcar had got there in the last two hours. Had I stumbled across the southern and of the legendary underground railroad? Who knows. But I never saw another boxcar in that field again! — Shawn Jefferds

Boise, Idaho

There are legends of tunnels under Boise dug by Chinese workers to get between different buildings. Most people here dismiss the tunnels as an urban legend, but a few days ago the audio for an old black and white news story about the tunnels was discovered. I’m skeptical that the tunnels still exist, but it’s a legend that most people here know about. — Anthony Machado

Breese, Illinois

Not so much a legend, but a running joke of the seniors at the local high school. It’s the senior’s duty to try and dupe the freshmen into asking for a pool pass for the pool that is rumored to be under the school. If you can’t get that, there is always the hot tub on the roof! — Jeff L.

Afraid of the dark?
Afraid of the dark? Joe/CC BY 2.0

Oxnard, California

In my hometown there used to be a bunch of myths regarding Lucy Hicks Anderson, the ‘Madam of Oxnard.’ She was a transgender woman from Kentucky that used to run a catering business and a speakeasy bordello before being sent to prison for accepting army spousal benefits as a transgender woman. She’s really interesting, and worthy of a lookup on her own. Rumor was, there was a tunnel from a local restaurant to her bordello that ran under Main Street. But I’ve also heard that the tunnel was into a restaurant, the Golden Chicken Inn, which was rumored to be an opium den back in the day? I also heard there used to be a bomb shelter under the bleachers of old Oxnard High School, but that it was filled with cement later. — John

Franklin, Ohio

The Great Miami River runs right through the heart of Franklin. We are in an area that was a very active part of the Underground Railroad. A number of large old mansions are located along the western bank of the river and it has been rumored that there are tunnels leading from some of those old homes’ basements beneath the river to the eastern side into the city. — Ken Wagner

Eritrea

I lived for several years in Eritrea, when it was part of Ethiopia. Tunnel legends abounded there, ancient & modern. It was said that a tunnel allowed the army of Aksum to travel eastward to conquer the city then called Bur (now the archaeological site called Metera). Similar ancient legends suggested a tunnel leading to Jerusalem. When I was there in the 60s & 70s at a U.S. military base in Asmara, many locals believed that there was a tunnel from Washington DC to the base which would allow a full-scale invasion. — Skip Dahlgren

Salt Lake City, Utah

Underneath the LDS Temple in the middle of downtown Salt Lake City there are tunnels that spread out in all directions. More than likely the tunnels were built to help employees of the church to walk back and forth between the temple and their offices. Also underneath Temple Square (basically just a block of church buildings) there are tunnels connecting them. The ones that have been seen people have described them as comfortable, carpeted, well lit, and boring. There’s also supposedly a tunnel between the city county building and the city library (where the jail use to be) to transport prisoners between them. Rumor is Ted Bundy was the last prisoner to walk the tunnel. — Matt Scribner

Portland, Oregon

The Portland waterfront was supposedly riddled with a set of tunnels that were used to shanghai unsuspecting drunks as crew for ships. A “Shanghai Tunnel” tour is a popular tourist attraction, but historians have a technical term for this idea: bullshit. There were some interconnected basements for moving goods and sometimes for fleeing police raids on gambling houses, but nothing like the myth. — Carl Abbott

Los Angeles, California

The Lizard People stored water and treasure in tunnels under Downtown L.A. — Eric Dugdale

Antigua, Guatemala

Old people used to tell that beneath the La Merced Temple (Mercedarian) and Guatemala City’s Catholic Cathedral there were several interconnecting tunnels, excavated to protect nuns and priests from a hostile, anti-clerical government. Presided by General Justo Rufino Barrios in the 19th century, who was against the Catholic Church, almost banned it from the country, pillaged its temples, brought Protestant pastors to the country and seized both treasures and properties from the church. People also used to tell that those underground passages were shut off at a later time, because when some excavations were being done, skeletons of unborn fetuses and small children were found. People thought that they were fathered by priests and nuns of former times, interred there in clandestine tombs to hide their heinous proclivities. So they say, but these allegations, to this date, has never been demonstrated. — Leon Aguilera Radford

Porto, Portugal

In my city there is a main tunnel that covers the old river of the village and crosses the whole city, from the 16th century to the present day. There is an urban legend that a crocodile fled from a circus and lived for many years in this tunnel. — Ricardo Ferreira

Pelham, Georgia

Legend has it that there was a tunnel that ran under the street where I was raised. The tunnel was said to run between the Hand Mansion and the Hand Trading Company across the street. The Hand Mansion was demolished years ago, but the Hand Trading Company still stands! — Tim Davis

Evanston, Wyoming

Back when Wyoming became a state it started to divide up the many responsibilities to the different cities. Legend has it that Evanston had the choice to be the home of the state university or insane asylum, and for some unknown reason we picked the insane asylum. It was built in 1887 and due to the harsh winters in Wyoming, they built tunnels underground for the doctors and patients to move safe and warm from building to building. This of course lead to many stories of crazy people running around in these tunnels and kids swearing they found ways into the tunnels to see the unknown. All of these stories were politically incorrect and based off of uneducated fears, but as a child in the late 70s–early 80s, it used to give me the heebie-jeebies when my parents drove past the place. — Brannigan Cheney

Southern Illinois

When I was growing up in a small town in Southern Illinois there were rumors that the grade school and high school were connected by underground tunnels. The grade school was torn down when I was in 6th grade and my family and I went exploring as the progress was made. We never found any tunnels but we did get a bunch of cool bricks and concrete work. — Sarah

Faribault, Minnesota

Before Prohibition, the beer brewed in my hometown was stored in limestone caves tunneled into the side of a dry river bluff. Once Prohibition hit, that changed, and the caves were used to age various cheese, which the town became somewhat known for. While relatively innocuous, there was a dark side to this. You see, the caves ran deep under the east side of town, even under Shattuck St. Mary’s Preparatory School and the old mental hospital by the river. I heard two stories about this growing up. One, that two kids from Shattuck in the 1950s found the tunnel entrance under the school and went exploring. They disappeared, but the school closed off that branch of the tunnels and covered it up like it never happened. The other, slightly more sinister, is this: in the 1980s the Faribault State Mental Institution was shut down, ostensibly due to lack of funding during the Reagan Administration. But the real reason is that the director was a monster, responsible for the drug overdoses of several young teenage boys who he had groomed while they were hospitalized, and for the pregnancies of several hospitalized young women whose babies disappeared. Once his crimes were made known, he took his own life before he could face justice. I was always told that those loyal to him buried his victims in a secret tunnel near the hospital, said to be a forgotten branch of the cheese caves. — John