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But where did the German newspapers come from?
July 8, 2011 11:53 AM   Subscribe

Hidden Tunnels, Bugs, and Bigamy: A Strange and True D.C. Story: "Reports indicated that the tunnels were long and extensive – that they may have reached as far as Rock Creek Park. Some electric lighting was discovered inside. For days, wild theories abounded – was it a Confederate soldier hideout? A stop on the Underground Railroad? A liquor depot for bootleggers? A counterfeiter’s lair? Or maybe a secret laboratory for 'Dr. Otto von Golph’s' experiments?

None of the above."

Via the D.C. NPR affiliate WAMU's Metro Connection.
posted by codacorolla (41 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite

 
Awesome though (spoiler alert) after reading the word 'bigamy' in the title of the blog post, I was really, really disappointed that the tunnels weren't between the homes he set up with two wives and it wasn't a part of his wacky double life scheme, like the restaurant scene in Mrs. Doubtfire but more subterranean with German magazines and less Pierce Bronsan poisoning.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:58 AM on July 8, 2011 [12 favorites]


He told the Washington Star that the urge started when he dug a flowerbed for his wife around 1906. “When I was down perhaps 6 or 7 feet, surrounded only by the damp brown walls of old Mother Earth, I was seized by an undeniable fancy to keep on going.”

...What kind of flowers was his wife planting?
posted by segfault at 11:59 AM on July 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


surrounded only by the damp brown walls of old Mother Earth, I was seized by an undeniable fancy to keep on going.

If only they'd had Dwarf Fortress or Minecraft then.
posted by curious nu at 12:00 PM on July 8, 2011 [17 favorites]


Or how many more underground tunnels we'd have now if not for them. [NOT-ANTIGAMEIST]
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:02 PM on July 8, 2011


“When I was down perhaps 6 or 7 feet, surrounded only by the damp brown walls of old Mother Earth, I was seized by an undeniable fancy to keep on going.”

I am reminded of time, growing up, when I dug holes. I have no idea why, maybe some vague idea of having an underground clubhouse but I ended up excavating half the backyard before someone noticed.
posted by The Whelk at 12:04 PM on July 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


(it's probably a good idea minecraft takes these urges away from me )
posted by The Whelk at 12:05 PM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Reminds me of "Beneath the Cellars of Our Town" in Steven Millhauser's The Knife Thrower.
posted by Nomyte at 12:05 PM on July 8, 2011


Harrison G. Dyar, let the public spectacle go on for a couple of days before admitting to city newspapers that he himself had dug the tunnels from about 1906 until 1916, at which time he moved away to California.

The train turned out to be faster
even with the stop at Albuquerque.
posted by hal9k at 12:05 PM on July 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


If only they'd had Dwarf Fortress or Minecraft then.

Headline: Hundreds Die In Gigantic Sinkhole Caused By Attempt To Recreate The Starship Enterprise In Tunnel Form Beneath City
posted by kmz at 12:06 PM on July 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


Christ, what a hole.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:07 PM on July 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've read of similar stories in the past - like that professor who built a four level complex under his house in Washington State.

If I didn't live in a very rainy river valley, I'd have something like this. Bad day at work? Kids too screamy? Current events too depressing?

I'll be in my hole.
posted by codswallop at 12:12 PM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


i have a cave under my house
posted by The Whelk at 12:15 PM on July 8, 2011


Also previously
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:16 PM on July 8, 2011


This is fascinating, though the quoted section is a bit odd, like, "After finding electric lighting, theories abounded of what pre-electric-lighting purpose the tunnel could have served."
posted by Navelgazer at 12:17 PM on July 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


He's got nothing on Dick Cheney.
posted by crunchland at 12:17 PM on July 8, 2011


A Shorpy user posted an interesting diagram of one of Dyar's tunnels from a 1932 issue of Modern Mechanics and Inventions when they discussed them last year.
posted by ryanshepard at 12:41 PM on July 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


What did he do with all the mother earth he removed to make the tunnels? Just a huge pile in his (1st) wife's garden?
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:49 PM on July 8, 2011


Hit enter too soon. He carried the dirt out in pails. One at a time according to the link from ryanshepard.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:51 PM on July 8, 2011


I'm pretty sure that the tunnel was used by German spies that were smugglers. Naturally their plot was foiled by two plucky and inquisitive teenage boys.
posted by happyroach at 1:06 PM on July 8, 2011 [7 favorites]


Did he hide the tunnels with a movie poster from the The Great Train Robbery?
posted by stevis23 at 1:08 PM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


...What kind of flowers was his wife planting?

Corpse flowers from the sound of it.
posted by Naberius at 1:11 PM on July 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


It took me an embarassingly long time as a kid to figure out that the Underground Railroad was not, you know, an underground railroad.
posted by miyabo at 1:34 PM on July 8, 2011 [19 favorites]


I wonder just how difficult the engineering involved in this was.
posted by adipocere at 1:59 PM on July 8, 2011


I'd do something that crazy, given half the chance. I seem to love digging
posted by five fresh fish at 2:09 PM on July 8, 2011


Everytime I worry that I might be a little too crazy, something comes along and makes me feel good. The internet has been a great boon to my life.
posted by Bovine Love at 2:37 PM on July 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


Who is 'Dr. Otto von Golph'?
posted by justkevin at 3:06 PM on July 8, 2011


All the google results for 'Dr. Otto von Golph' only refer posts of the same tunnel article. Heh.
posted by yoHighness at 3:19 PM on July 8, 2011


Fascinating.

Like a tiny version of Williamson's tunnels under Liverpool: no one knows why Williamson, a 19th century tobacco magnate, spent 35 years building his complex of tunnels and chambers, including a 70 foot long dining hall. I like the theory that the whole thing was a means of providing jobs to local people in a time of high unemployment, but he may have been building an underground bunker to save Scousers from an impending apocalypse, or generally just a bit whimsical (he also built houses with ridiculously oversized windows).

All the google results for 'Dr. Otto von Golph' only refer posts of the same tunnel article. Heh.

Which immediately made me think this whole thing is the opening salvo of an ARG, and the game designers forgot to put the von Golph content online.
posted by jack_mo at 3:31 PM on July 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


When I was quite young me and my buddy had a tunnel and were headed towards the street (what could possibly go wrong) when my father discovered it. I think he really hated the little bit of work it took to fill it in. We where being responsible and shoring the sides up with boards and everything.
posted by sammyo at 4:21 PM on July 8, 2011


It took me an embarassingly long time as a kid to figure out that the Underground Railroad was not, you know, an underground railroad.

That's okay, I knew it wasn't a LITERAL railroad but I had imagined they tunneled these elaborate networks to the north and that's why you always heard about cellars cause they would tunnel into them and use them as shelter.
posted by The Whelk at 4:36 PM on July 8, 2011


I have always wanted to dig a secret warren of tunnels. I thought it was a pretty odd thing to want to do, but maybe now I have found my inspiration...
posted by Xoebe at 4:43 PM on July 8, 2011


First documented man cave, perhaps?

It took me an embarassingly long time as a kid to figure out that the Underground Railroad was not, you know, an underground railroad.

Around here, we have the Milton House, built and run by an abolitionist, which actually does have a tunnel, which the man's diaries attest was occasionally used to hide the Underground Railroad passengers he would assist. Nearby, we ave the Tallman House, on the other hand, which although built by an abolitionist (who had a portrait of John Brown, and hosted Lincoln on one of his pre-Presidency speaking tours), has no attested link to the Underground Railroad. Nevertheless, before my dad arrived in 1964 and began teaching the volunteers from a professional historian's standpoint, tour guides would tell teeming throngs of schoolchildren that a tiny sewer drain leading down to the river was an escape route (when excavated, it turned out to be just 6" across), a shelf/stair roof access was for slaves to hide from the sheriff by lying flat on the tin (and burning hot in sunshine!) roof, and a fashionable multi-colored stained glass window [similar] was used for signaling passengers by lantern when it was safe to cross the river. It took years for the community-wide false "knowledge" of Underground Railroading to dissipate.
posted by dhartung at 4:53 PM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Seymour Cray also liked to tunnel.
posted by plinth at 5:04 PM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I used to stay at the Palomar Hotel a lot, back when it was a Radisson. I had no idea there were tunnels under it!

A friend of mine and her husband recently bought a house that had previously been a marijuana grow operation. They still have an escape hatch from their bedroom closet, she says. Perhaps that's our modern version of tunnels.
posted by gingerbeer at 6:38 PM on July 8, 2011


They still have an escape hatch from their bedroom closet...

Tunnel or an escape hatch?

Decisions, decisions....
posted by BlueHorse at 6:58 PM on July 8, 2011


In Fresno, California, Baldassare Forestiere dug out at least ten acres (and possibly many times more than that) of underground rooms, grottos, gardens and secret passageways down into the hardpan, using only hand tools, and harnessing mules to a scraper to help haul out the dirt. When he started in the early 1900s, he said it was to get out of the heat. He continued digging for forty years, and built three levels, including sub-basements some 25 feet down. There are repeated references to the holy trinity throughout (three planters, three shelves, three arches), and numerous niches carved for religious statues, and a tiny underground cathedral.

The land that is still owned by the family only goes so far - long before they thought it might have historical worth or might attract tourists, acres were sold off to developers when the major highway (99) was being built. One of his hand-dug catacombs is now an extra basement for the nearby Carl Jr's.

He lived in his own little area down there, with a sleeping nook and kitchen (including a working stove), and peep holes to he could see if anyone was approaching, so he could bolt. The tour guide admitted to me (reluctantly, away from the others on the tour, when I asked if he had what one might consider an unusual personality), that he was dearly loved, but the family did find him a little odd.
posted by Ink-stained wretch at 8:39 PM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Dear mefi: My son is always digging holes in the backyard and garden, and I think he wants to tunnel. I bought Minecraft, but I fear this is only encouraging him. Why, just yesterday he asked for a pickaxe for his birthday.

What to do? (Please, no links to the Lee Valley shovel page.)
posted by sneebler at 11:59 AM on July 9, 2011


So that's who built The Tunnel Under the World.

So where did he get/why did he have the German Newspapers?
posted by marienbad at 12:25 PM on July 9, 2011


I dug another hole. It's filling with water.
posted by polyglot at 4:34 AM on July 10, 2011


filed under 'Unknown Armies campaign ideas'.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 12:51 AM on July 11, 2011


That's okay, I knew it wasn't a LITERAL railroad but I had imagined they tunneled these elaborate networks to the north and that's why you always heard about cellars cause they would tunnel into them and use them as shelter.

We had tunnels in our basement in Connecticut. We assumed they were used by the Underground Railroad.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 12:52 AM on July 11, 2011


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