Mysterious tunnel found

SANDUSKY "You guys OK down there? You need something to drink?" Bob Whetsto
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

SANDUSKY

"You guys OK down there? You need something to drink?"

Bob Whetstone yells that down the cellar stairs a lot afterdiscovering a tunnel under the floor.

He does it for his own amusement and that of visitors who view the unearthed passage.

"You stay down there!" he hollers to its imaginary occupants. With a deadpan expression he confides, "They like to come up and walk around at night."

It's the novelty of his discovery that Whetstone, a colorful character at 73, enjoys more than its potential history.

When he purchased an aged Putnam Street house in July he couldn't have predicted finding a walled sub-level tunnel rumored to be a leg of the Underground Railroad.

The mystery began as he shored up a buckling floor in the claustrophobic basement. The jack broke through, and when Whetstone dug further he saw dirt sifting through a crack.

He excavated an adjoining room, where, under cement and a stone slab, the tunnel revealed itself.

"I thought, 'What's this doing here?'" he said. "When I shined a flashlight down there I knew what it was."

A friend who volunteered to wriggle through the narrow opening and explore the cramped space emerged later with an old wine bottle and two golf balls. He said the tunnel extends in two directions, although one eventually becomes blocked.

Whetstone mentioned the tunnel when he purchased a city building permit, and was referred to Nanette Guss of the Old House Guild of Sandusky. However, her limited research has left its purpose unsolved. The passage could be one of numerous tunnels reportedly running underground throughout the city. Whether slaves passed through it to freedom or bootleggers used it to ferry illegal alcohol is uncertain.

"At this point I can't say anything, because I don't know," Guss said. "We're looking at Prohibition. Whether it was an Underground Railroad site I don't know. At this point, there is no evidence that it was."

A member of Sandusky's Friends of the Underground Railroad doubts the tunnel was part of the operation.

"It was probably to store food in the winter time," Elaine Lawson said. "It probably could also have been used for Prohibition smuggling."

In fact, in spite of years of speculation, "I'd stick my neck out and say there are no tunnels in the city built for the Underground Railroad," she said. "They didn't have them in the city. They didn't need them. Sandusky was very free."

It was boats that were crucial in Sandusky, she said, to transport slaves to Canada.

The house's co-owner, Marie Robinson, finds the tunnel both fascinating and bizarre.

"I could hardly believe it," she said. "I tell people, and they don't want to believe me. Everybody is curious. You just wonder how the heck they dug the hole and put the walls in."

While he enjoys the celebrity of owning the mysterious passage, Whetstone plans to seal it up while remodeling the house.

"What am I (going to) do with it?" he scoffed. "Let people go down and look in it? That's all I need is for someone to die down there, and I'd get sued."