Secret passages
March 23, 2009 10:51 AM   Subscribe

Author Dennis Cooper discusses the secret passage in practical terms. With practical examples for the handyman and notable buildings featuring secret passages in the United States, such as Doug Carlston's Broderbund Manor.
posted by boo_radley (25 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
I was halfway through building a bookcase-door secret passage for my room, when I realized that I didn't have enough enemies or enough secrets to justify it. In fact, it really just was going to lead to another bookcase.
posted by Damn That Television at 11:14 AM on March 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

*packs up his fifty feet of rope, 10 foot pole and iron rations, warms up his infravision, and heads to Broderbund Manor*
posted by dersins at 11:14 AM on March 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

How cute. In the first video, the book that opens the secret passage behind the bookshelf is Michael Crighton's 'The Lost World'.
posted by mannequito at 11:17 AM on March 23, 2009

Neat stuff, but once you blog about your secret door it stops being a "secret" door and becomes a "difficult to open" door.
posted by bondcliff at 11:18 AM on March 23, 2009 [5 favorites]

The secret passageways were one of my favorite things about Webster's house. Especially the episode where he used them to evade the burglars. You're always thinking, Webster!
posted by inigo2 at 12:14 PM on March 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Victor Kugler's bookcase passage on behalf of the Frank family.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 12:15 PM on March 23, 2009

With a secret passage through the fireplace I could be in the side yard covered with soot. Then what? A secret passage into the shower?
posted by Cranberry at 12:35 PM on March 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

Somehow I get feeling that the secret latches for the secret passageways in Dennis Cooper's house are all hidden in the bottom of each room's teenage corpse.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:46 PM on March 23, 2009

Then what? A secret passage into the shower?

Don't do it. I tried it already and just wound up ruining my book collection.
posted by mannequito at 12:49 PM on March 23, 2009

''May I take your coat?'' asks the owner, who steps into the hall closet only to reappear mysteriously in the dining room. His wife leads you to a loft bed with a chest of drawers tucked beneath. She unlatches one, climbs in. Then the lady vanishes.

Wowee-wowee-wow! You guys are COOL! Hey I think I left something in my car.
posted by longsleeves at 2:31 PM on March 23, 2009

I actually helped design and build a rotating book shelf for a set years ago. One of the hardest things I've EVER had to build - particularly without being able to put holes or braces into the stage floor. The end result was very hard to turn, but since all turns were done with the help of back stage crew, this wasn't a problem.

I've always wanted to build a proper one, with both top and bottom pivots, so that the above issues would be addressed.
posted by strixus at 3:24 PM on March 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I collaborated on a memoir with Brent Jeffs, nephew of polygamous "prophet" Warren Jeffs who was raised on the FLDS compound in Salt Lake City. Brent's grandfather-- prophet Rulon Jeffs-- had two homes built for him on the compound, both had secret passageways that were supposedly intended to hide wives and kids in case of a raid on polygamists.

The doors to the passages looked like closet or storage doors-- but when you opened them, you could see how they connected to each other and that there was room to crawl in.

One passage was clearly there so that you could sneak out if authorities raided, too. Rulon had two houses because the first became the private school for the group, so he moved into the second.

I went around with Brent into these buildings, which are now decaying. They are located in a highly affluent area of Salt Lake. We were taking video and photos for use with the book. The first time we went, we snuck in because we couldn't find the current owner and got intensely spooked.

For one, Brent had been abused there, so we were already emotional. Secondly, the buildings are dark and creepy and seem to have been that way even before they were left to rot. The only sound was the eerie beep of dozens of dying smoke-alarm batteries and the odd drip of leaking water. The secret passages are carpeted and wired to have lighting, which didn't work because the electricity was off in the entire place. So, we moved around with our flashlights while he talked about what he remembered. A few times, my hairs just stood on end, especially in the former birthing center.

Then, we heard a dog barking-- and we knew that the dog had previously been inside another building on the compound. We freaked and ran out of there! I felt like Nancy Drew or something...

So, that's my experience with secret passages. I bet they were mostly used to sneak from one wife's bedroom to another.
posted by Maias at 3:26 PM on March 23, 2009 [13 favorites]

Conservatory to the lounge, and kitchen to the study, if I remember correctly.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 3:42 PM on March 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

When I was a kid, at one point, I was completely convinced that all houses had secret rooms and passageways. I would dream of finding one at a relative's house, and completely puzzle/freak them out on my next visit, peering in corners and in the back of closets.
posted by Halloween Jack at 3:52 PM on March 23, 2009

P.S. Still not quite convinced that I was wrong about that.
posted by Halloween Jack at 3:53 PM on March 23, 2009

Christ, what a preisthole.
posted by Artw at 4:13 PM on March 23, 2009

A few years ago, I got a job working with Doug's wife Tomi at Applied Minds. Our group had a work retreat at their place (the one with the secret passages) and they told me that I had my own room, but I'd have to find it.

It took me 20 minutes to figure out where it was, and another 4 - 6 hours to figure out how to get in, with hints from Doug and help from an engineering friend.

Each secret door is its own puzzle. After I figured out a few, I started to get into the mind of the designer, but I never had a single strategy that worked for each door.
posted by zippy at 6:04 PM on March 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

So, just like Myst, you had to randomly click on things?
posted by boo_radley at 7:02 PM on March 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Cooper's description of Doug and Tomi's place has a lot of inaccuracies in the first sentence:

Doug Carlston's Aspen, Colorado house is 4,500 square feet ... and includes not just a maze of hidden passageways but also a fully functioning observatory, a moat and a swimming pool with artificial rain effects.

There's no moat, no observatory, and no artificial rain effects. I think the sq footage is off too.

The NY Times article on their house is much better.
posted by zippy at 7:26 PM on March 23, 2009

and Zippy, do you have any idea if it's open to the public at all?
posted by boo_radley at 7:36 PM on March 23, 2009

Hidden rooms? Pfff. Secret walk-ways inside the walls, for observing those in other rooms. That's the ticket.
posted by paisley henosis at 9:42 PM on March 23, 2009

Dr. Venture: Hmm, how you fit a stairway behind this bookcase, I'll never figure out. Heeey, if I pull this candle down, will it...?
Dr. Orpheus: ...get wax on my carpet? Yes.
posted by FatherDagon at 11:15 AM on March 24, 2009 [4 favorites]

No mention of Lord British's house?
posted by Samizdata at 1:14 PM on March 24, 2009

I lived in a house with a book shelf door when I was a kid. There was a bookshelf in the living room that opened into a stairway to the attic. I think this is great and I still want one.

If I were designing a house to be built, the first thing I would do would be put in something like that.
posted by jefeweiss at 6:30 AM on March 27, 2009

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