By Christian Herrera
WEB BLURB: Students have been rumored to travel along secret “tunnels” beneath HU campus in the veil of night. Investigative journalist Christian Herrera sorts through the facts, the rumors – and the student spelunkers who made it out alive.
[Indiana Jones Introduction Music Fade in, Fade Out]
[INTRODUCTION] KYLEE RENFREW: There is always something mysterious about a tunnel burrowed under the earth. There were tunnels associated with the Underground Railroad during slavery times, the catacombs of the early Christians underneath ancient Rome, and they have been important in bootlegging and smuggling activities for generations.
Little do people know, there are tunnels burrowed beneath the campus of Huntington University. Reporter Christian Herrera investigates.
CHRISTIAN HERRERA: Not only are there tunnels, every year as tradition, students trek through these “secret passageways” that travel beneath Huntington University’s very own campus. For 2 consecutive years, Nate Sullivan, senior and RA to Wright Third, has led excursions through one of these HU tunnels.
NATE SULLIVAN: I think that it’s an adventure. It’s something to do with friends late at night when there’s not much going on. It’s not even that exciting of an activity, but it’s a change up from the norm and it’s something you can do with the people around you.
HERRERA: [Natural Sound: Pouring Water from Tunnels] The tunnel is actually a storm drain that begins near the main entrance to the university by F-lot and ends beneath the fishing dock by the DC. Freshman Stephen Gute and junior Ryan von Lanken recount their experience traveling through the pipes one night with a group of friends.
STEPHEN GUTE: It was dark. We only had one light right there in front of me. It was pretty wet, but after a while [Natural Sound: Wet Footsteps] I just stopped caring and sloshed through. It was long, my back hurt [afterwards]. But it was fun.
RYAN VON LANKEN: Mentality of it all is that it’s just something not everyone really does and it seems like a fun thing to do – or at least try – because for me, I’ve never really gone through a tunnel like that. So I was like, yeah, I’ll try it. But – oh – it was so painful and so exhausting. But I’m happy I did it.
HERRERA: But what is the driving force for going on such an excursion? To Sullivan, it’s the memories it creates.
SULLIVAN: [Sleigh Bells Fade In] I just remember one night my sophomore year when there was a group of many of us. It had just snowed. We just bundled up and went outside and just had fun on campus like snow ball fights. We were sledding. Went through the tunnel and kind of just stayed up all night until McDonald’s breakfast. It’s just nights like that you have a good time with them, that you remember. [Sleigh Bells Fade Out] I guess if I had to think of a memory or a fondness of the tunnel, that’d be a part of it.
HERRERA: To Von Lanken, however, it’s the geocache.
VON LANKEN: There is a geocache in there. If you actually walk through, you can sign your name on it.
HERRERA: At a certain break inside the tunnel, a small black container is tucked on top of one of the pipes. The tiny container easily opens to reveal a small, folded note, tucked away in a small plastic bag. The note congratulates its finder on discovering the container and urges them to continue the search for more. Apparently, this little artifact called a “geocache” is part of a worldwide treasure hunt. The back of the note holds dates and signatures going back to 2009 of those who found the geocache before.
SULLIVAN: I do know based off of the geocache registry down there – the signatures – based off of that, and just word from other students that it’s not just unique to just one residence hall. I definitely know different groups and different people. Men and women, different halls, all of the above, that have gone through it.
HERRERA: Although a thrill for many students, little is known about the school’s regulations towards the tunnels. According to freshman Matt Davis:
MATT DAVIS: It might be a safety hazard. But I don’t know if it’s against school regulations. I would say it’s probably looked down upon at least, as someone could possibly get hurt. I mean, they’re wide open. So, it’s not like they locked it down or anything.
HERRERA: Regardless of the school regulations towards these late night adventures, von Lanken and Sullivan believe that it’s worth the experience.
VON LANKEN: I’m just assuming that it’s illegal, but definitely something that everyone should try.
SULLIVAN: I would say it’s probably not glorified. Probably even frowned on. But I have heard of staff and faculty who have gone through it, even people with their kids…I don’t think it’d be something there’d be [a] severe penalty for going through.
HERRERA: But what if it turns out that traveling through these tunnels would not be against school regulations? Sullivan and junior Tyler Burson thought it could diminish the experience of the tunnel travelers.
SULLIVAN: It could perhaps kinda lessen the excitement or the intensity or the secrecy of it. But, I feel that kind of the mystery behind not knowing what the stance on that kind of adds to that. So even if it is okay, people don’t really talk about it so they’re not really sure. So it’s kinda, like, keep it secret just in case and we’ll just have some adventure in the meantime.
TYLER BURSON: The stuff that’s kinda a little risky…stuff to get out of the room and like go exploring adventures is just a little more exciting. It’s just something fun for people to do.
HERRERA: If you wish not to ruin the mystery behind the legality of traveling through the tunnels, the following contains spoilers. According to campus police officer Barry Cochran, students would not be prosecuted for traveling through the tunnels.
BARRY COCHRAN: If I saw somebody going in there, a kid or one of the students or something – if they’re dumb enough to go in there and stuff – I’m not gonna go in after them … Probably be a good idea, maybe, if they put bars on it or something so somebody couldn’t gain access. I just can’t see an adventure in that. But whatever.
HERRERA: Officer Barry had quite an unpleasant experience with tunnels once when he used to work for Huntington’s city police. In another part of town, Cochran was forced to travel through a separate tunnel because a suspect had stashed stolen goods in it.
COCHRAN: I bet you we went probably half or three-quarters of a mile back in there. All bent over and stooped over and walking through yucky water and everything else to get to this stuff he had stolen and everything. And that wasn’t fun.
HERRERA: There’s actually another tunnel beneath HU grounds that has sparked a bit more controversy. Campus archivist and HU alumnus Randy Neuman says there’s a tunnel beneath Becker Hall that used to attach to heating conduits. They were designed to heat various buildings throughout the campus in the late 1920s.
RANDY NEUMAN: It ran from the heating plant that went between Becker Hall and Loew-Brehn. There was another building in between there which they tore down a long time ago. It ran from there to Becker Hall and then also to the Administrative Annex, which is the old library…The heating plant provided heat to both of those buildings, and the heating conduits would run through those tunnels.
HERRERA: They were discontinued around the early 1960s when each building installed their own heating system. The entrance to the tunnel had since been nailed shut behind a panel in Becker basement. Neither students nor faculty are allowed into this tunnel.
NEUMAN: There was access from the old library. I would never go in there because it was too gross. But there was a door at the bottom of the stairs that you could get into and access it. From when I was a student, they were still there. And I’d hear about people trying to get into them, but I never heard of anybody actually going through them.
HERRERA: Nobody…until recently. The entrance begins in Becker basement in room 005, labeled Usable Materials. Another door inside – which is currently padlocked –leads to the boiler room, which contains the now-paneled entrance to the tunnel. Around mid-fall semester of 2013, a small group of students were caught breaking into Becker tunnel.
COCHRAN: [Sound Effect: Door Lock Effect] They had to gain entrance to it, which meant they had to unscrew and take the hasp off the door that was padlocked. And then once they got in there, they had to unscrew the panel off the wall, which covered this tunnel. So it wasn’t just a matter of just walking in there, you know. They did several things which were technically illegal.
HERRERA: One of the other officers working that evening pulled up to the scene when he noticed the students running out of the basement entrance to Becker. Needless to say, they were all caught. The officer called city police and, according to Officer Barry, the students were most likely hit with a fine for property damages.
COCHRAN: There is no written regulation or policy or anything because nobody ever thought anybody would be dumb enough to go down there and break into the place and crawl through this filthy, dirty, little tunnel that’s about [3 feet] because they were bored and had nothing else to do! Go play a video game or waste your time that way, not something like that! So, no, nobody ever wrote a policy or a rule out. It’s just common sense. You don’t do dumb things like that.
HERRERA: Besides common sense, Julie Hendryx, vice president of business and finance, and Jerry Gressley, director of maintenance and physical plant, felt that there were certain safety issues at hand.
JULIE HENDRYX: It was never a manmade tunnel for human passage.
GRESSLEY: I think there could be some safety issues because it was never built for people to actually travel through. It was just for utilities.
HERRERA: According to Gressley, he and maintenance aren’t allowed in Becker tunnel due to OSHA law, which provides information on the rulemaking process used to develop workplace health and safety standards. They require specialized equipment and training in confined space in order to gain access.
However, it’s all fun and games – until a student pokes an eye out.
HENDRYX: I would just not encourage it for student safety. If it becomes a safety issue, and we really are pushed to the point where we need to make permanent changes to it, then we’ll do what we’re forced to do in order to keep the campus safe.
[Indiana Jones Fade in, Fade out]
HERRERA: This is Christian Herrera, reporting for the Huntingtonian.
SLIDESHOW: THE STORM DRAIN TUNNEL
SLIDESHOW: BECKER HALL TUNNEL