Monday, April 28, 2008
Tunnels Under Richmond
Most young boys growing up in Richmond, KY and attending Model Laboratory School in the 1970s were probably aware of the complicated lore regarding tunnels underneath the school. I know my own friends and I were fascinated with the rumors. Well, it turns out some of the rumors were true, as I have learned from a recent interview with a former classmate who prefers to remain anonymous, so we'll call him "T".
Unusual Kentucky: So first of all, where are these abandoned tunnels, really? How do you get in?
T: Well, I don't advise you go in, or anyone else go in. It's totally dangerous and I can't suggest anyone go down there. I'm pretty sure most of the old entrance ways have been closed by now. But you remember the old yellow signs that said "Danger - Electrical"? Those were always near entry points to the tunnels.
UnK: So was there really an electrical danger?
T: Oh yeah. There's bundles of very old wiring running along the ceiling and sometimes along the sides. Also scalding hot steam pipes. Very, very dangerous. We were stupid kids to ever mess around down there. It's a wonder no one got hurt. The Lord watches over the innocent!
UnK: Older kids would sell "Tunnel maps" to young and impressionable underclassmen like myself. Did you ever see any of those? Were they for real?
T: Some of those were probably my own maps! I was all about mapping them out completely. I treated it like a serious expedition and treated everything we found down there like it was a important historical discovery.
UnK: Like what?
T: Well, there was a roomful of huge barrels of water, dated from the early 1960s. We thought, "hmm, that's weird, what's the purpose of that?" until we came upon a room filled with metal tins of "survival biscuits" with the Government's Civil Defense logo on them. So the whole thing was, I guess, like a backup for emergency kind of thing, in case Castro or Russia dropped the bomb, you know.
UnK: Yes! A friend got several cans of those, and we actually devised ways to use them in cooking, in recipes.
T: I can't imagine eating them voluntarily. They tasted like unleavened crackers that had been left in a moist room for years. And you know, I guess that's exactly what they were!
UnK: What else did you find down there?
T: A lot of graffiti, mostly from the 1960s. There was a note written in, like, grease pencil, commenting about how John F. Kennedy had died that day. There were also the usual signs of civilization - Playboy magazines, condoms, liquor bottles.
UnK: And these tunnels go all under Eastern Kentucky University?
T: No. I'm very doubtful about that. I know the Model system of tunnels used to connect to a couple of nearby dorms and the Coliseum, but they don't anymore and I dont think they ever connected to most EKU buildings. There are different sets of other tunnels on campus, but they're from older buildings and probably not connected to Model's at all. But there are the storm drains, which would take you all over the place, under Richmond.
UnK: Yes! We called them "The Tubes", those cylindrical tunnels that were built to be storm drains but many of which apparently never served that function. I did explore those several times in my youth.
T: Some did. There was a steady stream of water running at all times down one that would deposit you out in some forest if you followed it long enough. You quickly learned how to run in a splay-legged position in those round drainage tunnels. I think all those have been done away with. Probably for the best.
UnK: Yes, I remember one had slightly buckled from above and cracks were forming. But we kept exploring them anyway.
T: Kids always think they're indestructible. I know I did.
UnK: What about the rumors of abandoned sewer tunnels that also connected to the EKU tunnels?
T: No, there was an open sewer manhole in the Model tunnels that had a never-ending river of sewage going by, very fast. We'd stand around it and watch it forever like it was television. But Richmond doesn't have any big-city kind of sewers that you could actually go down into and walk around.
UnK: Any other fun memories of Model's tunnels?
T: There used to be a tunnel that brought you up through a trap door into a teacher's office, which was a really weird, Hogan's Heroes kind of thing. I never could figure out what purpose such a tunnel could have been intended for. They boarded that up somewhere along the way. I also remember there were kids playing live-action Dungeons & Dragons down there, which I tried to discourage. I always felt protective of the tunnels and didn't want dumb people running around smashing things just because they could.
UnK: Would you like to ever go back down there, just for old times sake?
T: No way. It's way too dangerous and I can't stress strongly enough, nobody should ever go down there again.
UnK: It's enough just to know that they're there.
T: Yep. Kids today are more interested in playing video games than actually doing things anyhow. Maybe they'll make a virtual simulation of the tunnels one day!