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Ten riveting true stories of dramatic events in tunnels around the world!
Did you know that tunnels were instrumental in the dramatic rescue of 72 hostages held for over four months in the Japanese Embassy in Lima, Peru? During the Vietnam War, guerrilla fighters known as the Viet Cong created a sophisticated system of tunnels complete with four levels, trap doors, and strategic ditches, slopes, and zigzags that rendered grenades and tear gas ineffective. And in Richmond, ...
Ten riveting true stories of dramatic events in tunnels around the world!
Did you know that tunnels were instrumental in the dramatic rescue of 72 hostages held for over four months in the Japanese Embassy in Lima, Peru? During the Vietnam War, guerrilla fighters known as the Viet Cong created a sophisticated system of tunnels complete with four levels, trap doors, and strategic ditches, slopes, and zigzags that rendered grenades and tear gas ineffective. And in Richmond, Virginia, during the American Civil War, 109 Union prisoners-of-war made a daring escape from Libby Prison after successfully tunneling from the prison cellar, beneath a vacant lot, under a fence, and into a small carriage shed nearby.
In this book young readers will find 10 spectacular tunnel stories from around the world. There are stories of surviving a mining disaster, uncovering treasure in the tomb of an ancient Egyptian king,
smuggling people to freedom, and building transport tunnels deep beneath the sea. Some of the stories are about crooks who robbed banks or smuggled drugs. Others are of the heroes who worked selflessly to save the lives of those trapped in a burning mountain inferno. There are gripping, true accounts of human drama beneath the ground. Each fast-paced story propels the reader to the next one.
Tales from Below
One moonless night in Wisconsin, two hunched figures slipped silently into a log cabin. They raised a trapdoor in the floor and disappeared underground. Bending low, they crept about 12 m (40 ft.) through a narrow dirt tunnel no more than 1.5 in (5 ft.) high. When they reached the basement of a stagecoach inn called Milton House, they collapsed with relief.
The year was 1851. The Underground Railroad — a secret support network for runaway slaves — was thriving, despite a law that required Americans to help recapture escapees. In the basement of Milton House, owner Joseph Goodrich not only hid runaway slaves, he gave them food and protection. At his inn, they had a chance to rest up for the next stage of their daring escape, often heading north to Canada. When the time was right, they would make their way back out through the tunnel, one of few parts of the Underground Railroad that was actually underground.
Tunnels for All Reasons
People have been tunneling since the Stone Age, when they first scraped through rock to enlarge their caves. Since then, they've built tunnels for every reason: hiding slaves, escaping heat, fleeing prisons, launching attacks, robbing banks, burying bodies, drawing water, finding treasure, mining ore, rescuing hostages, smuggling goods, and creating routes for traffic. They've burrowed through mountains, under rivers, beneath deserts, and below cities. They've dug deep into the bowels of Earth and high up where the air is almost too thin to breathe. And they've persisted in the face of life-threatening risks from cave-ins floods, and toxic gases.
Of all the many kinds of tunnels in the world, the most common are those that lie under cities — tunnels that bring in water, cart off sewage, deliver gas, and carry lines for electricity; telephone, and cable. Beneath New York City alone, there are more than 51 million km (32 million mi.) of service lines. And the number and size of tunnels grow with the city. Since 1970, crews have been working on an enormous new water tunnel for New Yorkers, and they're not finished yet. It's a project so huge it will likely take 50 years to complete.
Beneath cities, there are also some bizarre uses for tunnels. Under the Russian capital of Moscow are large tanks of preserved sea creatures — stored for the Academy of Oceanology — and passageways with stone altars where people in robes carry torches and sing. Moscow's tunnel explorers even found a torture chamber. Ivan IV, czar of Russia in the l500s, had set up a maze of underground passages and rooms where he enjoyed watching wild animals eat people. He wasn't called "Ivan the Terrible" for nothing.
In England, a kindhearted man named Joseph Williamson built tunnels nobody needed because he believed everyone deserved the chance to earn a living. From 1805 until his death in 1840, he spent his life's fortune hiring men who couldn't find jobs in Liverpool. Williamson organized make-work projects, paying men to build tunnels to join the cellars of the houses he owned. He commissioned some passages that went nowhere special, and sometimes assigned work crews to close up tunnels that other crews had just finished building.
Although most of the men Williamson hired were unskilled, many developed a trade — bricklaying or stonemasonry — on the job. Eventually, they were able to find "real" work elsewhere.
Shelters for the Living...
Some people make their homes — temporary and permanent — in tunnels beneath cities. Their doorways are simply grates in roads. The lucky ones have jobs, so they come and go each day, sometimes managing to add a few luxuries, such as radios, to their underground shelters. Many others live in total poverty and most risk picking up diseases from the filth that collects in tunnels. They also have to face tough gangs who frequently patrol the dark underworld.
Coober Pedy is different, though. It's a small mining town in Australia's dry central region, called the Outback. Summer temperatures there soar to 45degC (113degF) in the shade and dust storms blast through the streets. Thick swarms of flies force residents to do the "Outback salute," waving their hands around wildly to keep the insects out of their ears, eyes, and noses. But since 1915, when teenager Willie Hutchinson tripped over some valuable rocks called opals, miners and their families have settled in Coober Pedy.
To escape the harsh conditions of the Outback, many residents tunneled out large homes in the sides of hills. Some of them even boast indoor swimming pools. Today, about half the town's 3,500 people live in these fancy "dugouts."
Coober Pedy also has underground stores, restaurants, and churches. Its name, which means "white man in a hole," reflects the town's dugout lifestyle. As the story goes, Aboriginal people who noticed opal miners tunneling into the sandstone called the spot "kupa piti." English-speaking tongues twisted that into Coober Pedy.
...Tombs for the Dead
Most people who inhabit tunnels are dead, not alive. Many rest in underground burial sites called catacombs that lie beneath several of the world's great cities. In Paris, France, catacombs hold the remains of millions. Their skulls and other bones are stacked along the walls of damp, narrow passages in areas once mined for rock to build the city. When cemeteries in Paris became overcrowded in the 1700s and lSOOs, the bones were shifted to the catacombs.
Today, a few of the hundreds of kilometers of catacomb passageways are open to visitors. At the official entrance, there's a notice that reads:"Stop. This is the empire of death." Yet the site attracts thousands.
Of course, sneaking into the catacombs through street vents is discouraged as it's easy to get lost in the maze of passages. Guides are quick to point out that one man went missing for 11 years before turning up-dead. He was then buried in the catacombs.
Spying from Below
Keeping a hidden eye and ear on the enemy is a practice as old as time. And it's sometimes done from the dark privacy of an underground tunnel. Spying often goes undiscovered, but in the spring of 2001,one possible episode came to light with the arrest of a double agent in the United States. Robert Hanssen, who had been working as a spy for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), was caught selling American security secrets to Russia. One of those secrets supposedly revealed the existence of a spy tunnel beneath the Soviet Embassy — now the Russian Embassy — in Washington, D.C.
Such a tunnel would have allowed American agents to eavesdrop on the embassy during the 1980s and 1990s. They might have used high-tech spying equipment, such as laser beams that detect vibrations from the keystrokes of machines sending coded signals. But if Soviet officials knew about a tunnel, their communications would surely have been either "empty" or loaded with misinformation.
The American government has never confirmed the existence of the Washington spy tunnel.
Streams of Life
Not all unusual tunnels are the stuff of spy plots and creepy catacombs. Some simply support the struggle to live. In 1844, missionary William Philip and his congregation of Khoisan farmers built South Africa's first irrigation tunnel. Using the simplest of hand tools — pickaxes, hammers, and chisels — they labored for more than a year to cut through a mountain of solid rock. They hauled the pieces off in baskets until they had created a passageway that stretched 102 m (334 ft.) — long enough to divert river water to the land they wanted to farm.
For more than 1,000 years, the people of Bali, Indonesia, have cut tunnels through rock to tap water from mountain streams. They channel it through a system of aqueducts and bamboo stalks to the top of their terraced land. From there, the water flows downward, falling from farmer's field to farmer's field and giving life to crops of rice, the primary, food for most Balinese.
The people of Afghanistan have channeled water through tunnels for more than 2,000 years. Many of their rivers dried up during hot seasons, so farmers in parts of the country built a vast network of underground tunnels. In the Afghan foothills, they dug shafts — some more than 30 m (100 ft.) deep — to reach ground water. The shafts connected with the network of tunnels, letting water flow across the desert. When it reached towns and villages, it poured into irrigation ditches and onto fields, making farming possible.
War and the Underground
The Afghan system of underground water tunnels has also been used to escape enemies such as Genghis Khan, the formidable 13th-century Mongol invader And from 1979 to 1989, villagers and local armies hid from invading Soviet soldiers by disappearing into the tunnels closest to their towns. Unseen, they traveled through the network from one place to another. They also dug holes into the sides of water shafts, where they could hide, store weapons, and launch attacks.
It's no wonder that world terrorist Osama bin Laden, who set up camps in Afghanistan to train his followers, used this vast tunnel system, too. In 2001, when armed forces from several nations, including Afghanistan, attacked the terrorists, they fled to the country's tunnels and natural caves to escape and return fire.
Although some tunnels have served more than one purpose, others have been built only to support warfare. Germany even built underground passageways on Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands and the only British land occupied by Germans during the Second World War. Dictator Adolf Hitler moved his soldiers to the island to form part of an "Atlantic Wall" that would help hold back his enemies.
The Germans forced hundreds of laborers — including Russian and Polish prisoners of war — to dig tunnels out of the solid rock on Guernsey. The workers slaved long hours with very little to eat. Some of them died from the labor and are believed to be buried in the tunnel concrete. But despite such losses, the Germans had constructed 29 tunnels on the island by the end of the war. The largest held a military hospital with wards for injured soldiers, operating theaters, an X-ray room, a cinema, and a mortuary for the dead.
During World War II, the German army also played a role in one of the most famous escape dramas of all time. The Germans ran a prisoner-of-war (POW) camp, called Stalag Luft III, which they thought was escape-proof. But in 1944,76 POWs crawled through a trapdoor under a stove and out through a long, narrow tunnel they had secretly dug beneath the camp.
Only three of the POWs made their way to freedom. The others were recaptured and either taken back to the camp or shot to death on Hitler's orders. Still, the tunnel they had created — right under the noses of the German guards — was nothing less than amazing.
Not all such tunnels have been built for mass escapes. Many were created so that just one person could flee — a prisoner kept in a jail cell or a victim held by a kidnapper. Former Peruvian spy chief Vladimiro Montesinos used an escape tunnel to vanish from his luxury beach house in October 2000. Wanted on charges of theft and torture, he had a $5-million reward on his head. When investigators searched his home, they found a trapdoor under his pink bathtub and another by his indoor swimming pool. Both doors opened into a tunnel that ran under his property to a hatch inside the garage of a neighboring house. Montesinos's bodyguards claimed that the trickster fled Peru on his yacht, Karisma. He simply slipped away among sailboats that were taking part in a race to Ecuador. Once all the boats were out at sea, he made his escape, unnoticed.
Art, Adventure, and Tall, Tall Tales
Even if their original purposes were practical, tunnels aren't always put to serious uses, such as carting water, burying bodies, or running away. Along one wall in a passageway beneath the Organization of American States building in Washington, D.C., there's a painting that's more than 162 m (532 ft.) long. The artist, Carlos Paez Vilaro, created the longest mural in the world. He painted the semi-abstract Roots of Peace in 1960 with help from students attending the Corcoran School of Art and the University of Maryland. They worked for four weeks, brushing 400 kg (880 lb.) of paint on the wall.
In 1998,a father and son foolishly used an abandoned gold mine in California for an adventure in climbing. They were 120 m (390 ft.) down a steep shaft when they decided to return to the surface. As they were climbing back up, the father fell 15 m (50 feet) and landed on a ledge below. His rescue took more than seven hours and the help of 70 people. The man survived — unlike many adventurers in abandoned mines. Sometimes, not even their corpses are recovered.
On the Canadian prairies, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, draws thousands of visitors to its underground. Remnants of passageways between the basements of old buildings have inspired many rumors. There are tales of Chinese immigrants escaping racist hysteria and of bootleggers smuggling alcohol into Moose Jaw during the "dry" early 1900s. There are even stories of big-time gangster Al Capone hiding out in the tunnels. No one really knows who built the passageways, how they were used, or how many exist. But that hasn't stopped people from guessing or even building new tunnels to represent the ones they believe are there.
Reports of ghosts can add to the attraction of tunnels. Visitors to central England hope to spot the phantom of an old lady in two canal tunnels that boats pass through. The spirit of Kit Crewbucket, who was murdered and dumped in the water in the 1800s, supposedly haunts the passageways today
Boatmen at Crick Tunnel claim Kit is a friendly ghost who sometimes cooks breakfast on board for crews that she fancies. But at Harecastle Tunnel, she has a much darker reputation. Her ghost is said to appear headless as a warning that someone will soon drown. In the 19th century, horrified boatmen often took long detours to avoid passing through Harecastle Tunnel.
Ten Dramas More
Every country has its tunnels, from the famous spiral tunnels along Canada's railroad in the rugged Rocky Mountains to the amazing Chunnel that links England and France beneath the English Channel. And every one of them has a story to tell.
The rest of this book focuses on 10 dramas — from around the world — in which tunnels have played leading roles. There are stories of fighting the Vietnam War, fleeing East Germany beneath the Berlin Wall, freeing hostages in Peru, surviving a mining disaster in Canada, and escaping from an American Civil War prison. Some of the stories are about crooks, who robbed a bank in France and smuggled drugs from Mexico. Other stories concern heroes, who fought a fire near Italy, dove into a flooded tunnel in Britain, and discovered the ancient tomb of Egypt's King Tutankhamun. Extraordinary dramas. All underground. All true.
A Note from the Author
Tales from Below
Rescue in Lima
Survival at Springhill
War in Cu Chi
Escape from Libby
Fire at Mont Blanc
Courage Under Water
The Great Bank Robbery