Vol. 12. No. 2
Fall 2002



It must have been the summer of 1958.

As a kid living close to the U, I often rode my bike around campus. My big brother and his crazy friends told me and my little brother Tommy (Whitney BA'74) about some steam tunnels underneath the Park Building. One day, the two of us found a big metal door at the foot of the stairs in the building's basement, discovered it was unlocked — and went in.

The tunnel was warm from the steam, and musty smelling, with a little water on the floor. And it was very dark. There were light switches, but we were afraid to turn them on. We eventually came to a lighted intersection where four or five tunnels converged, like the spokes of a wheel.

That opened up a world of options for us. For the rest of the summer, we'd wander the tunnels until we found an exit, only to discover that we were in the music building (now Gardner Hall) or Kingsbury Hall or some other building on Presidents Circle.

One time, Tommy and a friend emerged and found themselves in a room filled with costumes from Kingsbury Hall, and spent the afternoon trying on Shakespearean outfits. Another time, in the math building (Cowles), "We got caught," Tommy remembers. "We weren't doing anything except drawing on the blackboard. So they yelled at us and told us never to do it again."

But we weren't the only ones exploring the U. Apparently this was a long-standing tradition. A few years earlier, another boy from the neighborhood, John Huish BFA'63 BArch'65 — who is now, fittingly, director of campus design and construction at the U — heard about the steam tunnels from some older kids. He and his friends discovered that most of the buildings were left unlocked in the evenings because people were working in the labs.

. "That was back when the School of Medicine was in building 007 (now Life Sciences), right across the street from Stewart School," Huish says.

"We'd go upstairs where the cadavers were and look at the brains in bottles and just play around."

Eventually, they got inside every building on Presidents Circle. "At that time, that was the extent of the tunnel system," says Huish. "But then the Union Building was being built and we noticed that new tunnels were part of the construction, so we got them all mapped out in advance. We had access to those tunnels before the building was even finished!" he says triumphantly.

Today, there's a sign over the door leading to the steam tunnels in the basement of the Park Building that says, "Danger: No Admittance!" Rumor has it that those lucky people who do get access are required to wear hard hats and face masks.

Ann Floor BFA'85 is a writer in the U's public relations office.

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