It was in September 1924 that a truck near Dupont Circle in Washington DC sank into the ground.
And when it did, it revealed a long network of hidden tunnels, with a backstory that was pretty baffling.
The tunnels had actually been found once before, in 1917, but by the time people started to read about them in the newspapers, the U.S. had entered World War I.
When they made headlines again in 1924, there were rumors of every kind about how the heck the tunnels had gotten there, and who had been using them.
Were enemy spies using the tunnels to sneak through the nation’s capital during the Great War?
Or were the tunnels one of the ways that bootleggers moved liquor around in the early years of Prohibition?
The actual explanation for the tunnels was both bizarre and kind of mundane.
An entomologist with the Smithsonian, Harrison Dyar, had been digging the tunnels himself for years.
He said one day he’d been digging a garden bed for his wife when he was “seized by an undeniable fancy to keep on going.”
He sure did.
Not only did he dig the tunnel for like ten years, he even put up brick walls.
And rather than spies and liquor runners, the people who were going in and out of the tunnel were Dyar’s kids and some neighborhood friends.
When the scientist moved away from the area, he started new tunnels near his new house.
Those were 24 feet deep in some areas, the walls were concrete, and some passages even had electricity!
Dyar was, let’s say, an unusual character, for a lot of reasons we won’t go into here.
But when asked why he was so interested in digging tunnels, he said it was just for exercise.
He said some people golf, other people dig huge secret tunnels.
By the way, the tunnels were filled in afterward, so you can’t walk through them today.
You could try to dig your own, but these days they probably won’t stay secret as long as Dyar’s tunnels did.
There have been some amazing projects lately looking at abandoned buildings.
There’s a new one from photographer Enda O’Flaherty called “Life Is Elsewhere.”
It features abandoned schoolhouses in rural Ireland, some of which were basically left intact decades ago, when entire Irish communities were evacuated during World War II.
Some of the images are spooky. Some are moving. Some have lots of graffiti.
Smithsonian Bug Expert By Day; Eccentric Tunnel Digger By Night (Architect of the Capitol)
Inside the tunnels of Washington’s mole man, Harrison G. Dyar (Washington Post)