Places Not On Your Freshman Orientation Tour

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You've heard the saying, "Where there's a will, there's a way"? Well, where there are bored college kids, there are ways. At many campuses across the United States, students have managed to wiggle into underground maintenance tunnels or skulk up roof access ladders. This practice is known in some circles as tunneling, roof and tunnel hacking, urban spelunking or vadding. The tunnels, set up to channel steam and other utilities (that T1 line has to come from somewhere) are filled with pipes and machinery and typically lined with scrawls of graffiti from past travelers. Stories of these tunnels are made of both truth and legend...

Miskatonic (Bradford)

The ghost hunters at HollowHill.com claim that the tunnels at Bradford College (now defunct) are not only haunted, but also have a famous connection with H.P. Lovecraft. According to legend, Lovecraft dated a girl at the college who helped him bury the real Necronomicon in an unused tunnel that ran under the pond. The tunnel was sealed off and the exact location of the evil book is unknown.

Hey, Free Uranium! (Columbia)

Columbia University continually vows to lock and guard their extensive underground tunnel system. Understandable, given that in 1987, freshman Ken Hechtman and his merry band of tunnel hackers (known as ADHOC: Allied Destructive Hackers of Columbia) used the tunnels to steal uranium-238 from Pupin Hall. Despite the tunnel lockdown, student spelunkers still manage to sneak into the labyrinth - which winds around the 19th century Bloomingdale Insane Asylum, abandoned bomb shelters, and Manhattan Project research facilities - to throw parties.

Exterior Decorating (MIT)

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Freshmen at MIT can take an Orange Tour led by upperclassmen who know their way around the roofs and tunnels. It's an important tour to take, because MIT students are infamous for the pranks they pull by hacking university buildings. The IHTFP Hack Gallery documents all types of structural hacking. The Great Dome on the McLaurin building, for instance, has been transformed into a giant R2D2, the one ring to rule them all (above), and most famously, a parking spot for a police cruiser.

Underground Creek (UCLA)

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UCLA's six mile network of tunnels is allegedly one of the cleanest, and connects to all major buildings on campus. The tunnels mask an underground room 100x200 feet wide with a thirty feet drop lined in brick, dubbed "The Bridge" because it once served as one. A creek used to run across campus, but was later dammed up and filled in for construction purposes. When it rains, the tunnels sometimes still flood with water. Rumor has it that the system was so extensive it even reached the residence halls, but that these tunnels were sealed up for security reasons when UCLA's dorms served as the Olympic Village during the 1984 summer games.

Be the Ultimate Underground Dungeon Master

Due to sensationalist journalism in the late 1970s and early 1980s, skulking in steam tunnels is also associated with Dungeons & Dragons and Live Action Role Playing (LARP). These urban myths claim that hardcore role playing gamers traipse into the steam tunnels while prancing about hitting each other with sticks and pretending to be paladin elves and sorcerer dwarves. The disappearance of Michigan State student James Dallas Egbert is often used as an attack on RPGs. Many misconceptions about the dangers of roleplaying gaming and LARPing stem from stories of these steam tunnel incidents.

The alt.college.tunnels newsgroup and defunct sites Steam Tunnels and Infiltration all have information about college steam tunnels. Specific campuses have student-run sites as well, which can be located on Facebook and through Google searches.

Oh! The places you'll go! (Or not. You're not really supposed to.) Obviously, the areas hacked are restricted, so you'd be, er, trespassing and definitely violating university policy. That said, if you do ever venture down the campus hidey holes, be sure to wear long sleeves and the proper footwear, and take plenty of water and a flashlight. Do not go alone, do not go inebriated, and understand there are dangers like sudden drops, heatstroke, burns, electrocution, and asbestos, just to name a few.

These are just some of my favorite stories about little-known places and tunnels at universities "“ I know every college has its secrets. Does your school have any interesting tunnel lore?

January 12, 2009 - 3:45am
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