An Exploration of the Tunnel of Terror and its Hidden Treasures.
Under the cover of darkness, we headed to a secluded area near the river to begin our exploration for the evening. The snow crunched under our feet as we made our way through tall dead grass until we reached a solitary manhole. My friend pulled away the cover to reveal the shadows below. Slowly we climbed down only to land on a solid sheet of ice- slanted and leading straight towards the river for effectively draining excess water and unwanted visitors. It was quite a precarious maneuver to reach the ledge up to the sewer tunnels and required much care and precise footing. I had told my friend I was a bit wary of missions through claustrophobic passages, but this seemed alright. There was plenty of space to walk further into the unknown with room to spare. My relief however, was short-lived as we came to a small crumbling opening towards the top of the tunnel wall which would lead us to our destination. The thought of squeezing through an area the size of a snake’s belly, the walls slowly constricting the air out of me until I blacked out, had been my biggest fear.
Luckily for me, it was only a short distance to traverse until we were birthed into a massive cave. The air felt immediately different- warm, stale and slightly hard to breathe but as soon as my eyes started to adjust, my heart began to race with excitement at what lay before me. Massive towering stone walls, a sandy ground beneath our feet, crude graffiti, and the most wonderful collection of debris…
Old mannequins, broken furniture, skeletons, trap doors + guillotines, amorphous mold, old dolls + body parts, the remnants of a castle and a whole boat…
The caves had been excavated and mined during the 30s and 40s by the Ford Motor Company whose factory sat atop the lucrative sandstone bluffs. They stretched for several miles beneath the operation where valuable silica-rich sand was extracted to make glass for windschields and headlights. The prime location on the Mississippi river made it ideal for harnessing hydroelectric power and transporting finished vehicles for distribution.
Once Ford stopped mining the caves, the city tried to use them for various other things such as storage. Boats from the marina nearby were kept in there at one point which turned out to be a terrible idea due to the prolific growth of mold on the hulls. A similar cave in the city had been used to farm + harvest mushrooms for sale… The haunted house known as ‘The Tunnel of Terror’ found its home there for 2+ decades until the fire department closed down the event due to safety concerns. The Tunnel of Terror was a huge fund-raising event set up by the United States Junior Chamber or ‘Jaycees‘ (an organization involved with community projects and raising money for charities.) Every year, passionate volunteers assisted with the sets, performances and organization. 2004 was the last year the event took place in the caves and since then, nature and troves of people have added to the gradual decay of the remaining sets + props abandoned within.
In recent years, several groups of teenagers have had to be rescued from the belly of the cave by firefighters and main entrances have been tightly sealed off. Fires set alight some of the surviving structures and parts of the cave have become flooded. I imagine that the alien-like mold which snaked its way up the walls and ground is happy to finally have its domain back, reclaiming it from us pesky humans.