The Tunnels of ESU

I spent three years living in the dorms in college.  The first two years were fine, even good; the last year was a mistake, but I didn’t know that until it was too late.  It’s hard to remember exactly what life was like for those three years.  On the one hand, living in close quarters with other college students created numerous opportunities for numerous kinds of fun.  On the other hand, living in close quarters with other college students could be a real pain in the ass, given the overall ratio of college students I turned out not to like, and who turned out not to like me.  But, bygones.

One bizarre aspect of living in the dorms was the inherent supervision involved.  Your mind tells you have freedom because you are away from your parents, but in reality there are constant authority figures enmeshed in your life, whether it’s your hard-nosed RA, or the roving security guards, or the campus police, or the people next door who don’t approve of your loud party or beer drinking.

All of those factors combined created an atmosphere that put a premium on subversive fun, especially my first two years in the dorms.  During that time I lived with Steve Hunt and Scott Titsworth, and we had, shall we say, an appetite for adventure.  (In truth, it was an Appetite For Destruction something I will address in a future post called “My Life As A Vandal”.)

One of the highlights of our time in the dorms came when we took one of the stairwells in our dorm down past the first floor and found a mysterious set of locked metal double doors.  Obviously, since they were locked, there was something the powers that be didn’t want people to find behind them.  And just as obviously, it was clear we needed to find out what that something was.  The lock was no match for our skills, and soon we were standing in a vast system of underground tunnels.

The tunnels carried all the mechanicals around campus, and best of all, connected to virtually every building.  This meant we had all-hours surreptitious access to all sorts of things, so long as we didn’t get caught, which was totally inconceivable to us.  You have to remember, this was largely in the days before cheap video surveillance, so we were probably reasonably safe from any sort of capture so long as we didn’t do anything stupid.

Which, predictably, we came very close to doing.  Eventually we found the tunnel that led to the library, and to our amazement there was a little door that provided unimpeded access.  I remember pausing in the very dark of the tunnel and evaluating whether we should go inside, and once inside, what we might do, or more likely, take.  But then we came to our senses, or more likely sobered up, and decided to abandon the project altogether.  Plus, I personally had spent countless hours in my capacity as a student and college debater trying to avoid the library, and I didn’t see any reason to start then when there wouldn’t even be cute students or library workers to spy on in the stacks.

Eventually we stopped going to the tunnels; I don’t remember why.  Moving out of the dorms and reaching legal drinking age probably had a lot to do with it.  I had almost forgotten about the tunnels until I read my recent copy of the Spotlight, the Emporia State alumni magazine, which featured a piece on the tunnels of my youth (second story down).  I usually only scan the death announcements, but this story on the tunnels caught my eye.

For the record, we never saw any rats as big as cats, or ghosts, down in the tunnels, but we probably inhaled more than our daily allowance in asbestos.

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4 Responses to The Tunnels of ESU

  1. Sean says:

    There were tunnels at Macalester, too. I explored them a couple of times, but the only “convenient” way to get access was to sneak into a storeroom in the student union, then climb through 50 feet or so of pitch-dark ductwork that made several right-angle turns. Still, once you were in the tunnels there was nothing cooler. Clambering over steam pipes, discovering weird little rooms full of valves and dials, following accessways that gradually got smaller and smaller…totally the place for some late-nite hanky & panky, or at least Dungeons & Dragons. The rumor was that they connected to all the buildings, but I was never able to find the fabled tunnel to the dining hall, where lay the limitless hoard of cinnamon-raisin bagels of song and story.

  2. Jim says:

    You never took me down there; I think I arrived too late for the worst, or best, of your shenanigans. But one of us needs to write about the giant slingshot and the Suzy Q.

  3. pipelineblog says:

    Yes, we were done with that by the time you arrived. I blame the arrival of the Nintendo for that. Truth is, you weren’t missing much. The tunnels held more promise of shenanigans and important discovery than there existed in actual reality. I suspect this is true of all tunnels everywhere.

    The Slingshot and Susie Q is a tale worth telling; in fact the slingshot is an entire column of its own, even though there are parts of it I’m not proud to tell. I was going to blend it into an overall discussion of vandalism and property destruction, but sadly, I have too much content for just one post.

  4. mrfares says:

    Sean, you needed to go with an RA and a Hall Director. Keys made all the difference. My Holy Grail was to cross Grand like the troglodytes do, but I never had the guts after I had a vision of my mummified remains turning up for the ten year reunion. Kirk Hall was a cool safari cool because you could go almost all the way around in the attic as well as the basement.

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