“No trap doors, no secret passages, not even a hidden compartment. What kind of enchanted talisman is this?” –Tangled: The Series
Much like Rapunzel, I like to be surprised by quirks and hidden traits. The time I identified with Iron Man most was in Avengers: Age of Ultron when Tony goes around a castle hoping to find secret doors and exclaims with glee when he finds one.
The more history I take in, the more I hear about cool secrets. Scottish architects would create a Laird’s Lug, or a “Lord’s Ear”; an alcove above dining rooms where the master of the house could eavesdrop on the conversation before entering the room.
Due to superstition, many buildings do not have a thirteenth floor. Or if they do, it is used for maintenance or storage; spaces that residents would not normally access. Superstition dictates that a tiny floor be created between the twelfth and fourteenth floors to contain the bad luck. Personally, I want to see those non-floors. (Some areas are making laws against having a floor missing. It makes it confusing when firefighters need to get to a floor and they have to deal with subjective numbering.)
Disney World may be all well and good for the family. But if Brad Meltzer is to be believed, the real fun takes place in the tunnels beneath and around the parks. He wrote about his characters running through the area in The Millionaires and according to him, his research was all kinds of fun. I would much rather run through miles of tunnels than ride a log through water.
New York’s underground is a whole other world. Subway lines closed off. Buildings with basements linked for blocks. Even the Nazis wanted in. What sort of odd planning designs and sequestered sections could I see? (Less secretive, but in the same vein; one wonders what the storage facilities for the Vatican and the Smithsonian look like. Oh the treasures.)
Thankfully, Seattle has one or two surprises to keep me happy. The first and most publicly touted one is the Seattle Underground. You can take the tour and everything. There was a fire around a hundred years ago and instead of cleaning up all the buildings over dozens of blocks, Seattle simply took it up a level. Many things were left as they were and the city started over on top of what remained. I am grateful that I can see pieces of the past to this day.
Less publicly, and my personal favorite, is Seattle Center. Right next to the Space Needle is the Center House. (They changed the name a few years ago to The Armory for reasons you will soon understand.) The Center House is a food court. They have performances there, several theaters are located within, and plenty of coffee and sandwich options are available. Even before the World’s Fair of ‘60’s, the grounds were being used.
As it was explained to me, The Center House was created as the Washington State National Guard Armory. It is about a half mile from Lake Washington. It was used for storage, certainly, but it had many other facets. For one, there was a shooting range. There are still notes scribbled on walls regarding the kind of ammunition allowed to be fired. There are marks where the bullets hit the metal backdrops.
Then there was the story that I honestly thought was an urban legend or a high school rumor taken out of context. But no. Underneath the grounds there is a swimming pool. A frickin’, unfinished, large as you could need swimming pool. Well, the intent for one at least.
The prevailing theory as it was explained to me was that the armed forces were offered the space. Better to have your methods down and worked out in a contained environment. But they ran out of money and interest as World War II took precedence. Thus it has sat there for eight decades, invisible to most and unfinished. Seattle Police Department utilizes some space including a holding cell there.
I love the idea of that gigantic pool sitting there behind locked doors. Millions of people walk over and around it every year. It is under the shadow of the Space Needle, but few realize it when they are walking over it.
With the way things have been going this year, I thought of something that might kick the Center House pool down to number two of my favorite secrets. I pondered, “What if my family had been part of the Underground Railroad?”
I was not blindly hoping on this point. My family has a long line of Quakers in this country. We had relatives living in Ohio during the 1800’s. It was within the scope of reality to imagine my family had housed refugees trying to escape to freedom.
However, that was not the case. The closest I can claim is that my great grandfather owned a house that was once used for that purpose (but not by him). The floor boards were built higher in an area next to a wall. Imagine lifting the floor like it was a treasure chest. Slaves crawled a short distance and then stood up in a narrow space between the walls. They were sandwiched in the architecture like human insulation when the houses were searched.
In prodding a bit deeper, I found another secret house of a kind that my parents did have a part in. Back in the 60’s, carrying a child out of wedlock was a much bigger scandal, especially in Ohio. In response, some Quakers in the area set up Friends Rescue Home. It was a large house. Inside were those that could not return home. The Quakers wanted to help those that needed a roof over their head.
In a dorm like setting, women would live out their pregnancies. Some women had nowhere else to turn. Some were afraid of what others would think. Apparently the common lie was that the girls was, “visiting her aunt” for a stretch. The children were often given up for adoption and the girls went home with whatever story they created.
We could discuss former attitudes of society for days. What I want to focus on here is my mom. She was a nurse who worked in the house with the girls. She would go with them to medical appointments. She would be assigned different shifts to be sure that there was a nurse on duty at all times. Those that society deemed unworthy had an ally in my mom.
When I was a kid, the main reason why I wanted a house was so that I could build secret rooms. (It did not hurt that our house had a tiny crawl space under our stairway that I took over. I had my own secret door all to myself!) I wanted a bookshelf to hide a door that went to my clandestine reading room where no one could disturb me. Every house that I built out of LEGOs had a secret door somewhere. Sometimes it was a two-story plan and I had a secret trap door with a hidden ladder. I have long been fascinated by disguised spaces.
The reasons for the secrets are as varied as the spaces. We choose to close off old areas to make way for the new. We do not look too closely at a place that might contain objectionable sights. We go out of our way to build rooms to keep people or objects safe.
I still find myself peeking whenever a door is left even a tiny bit ajar. I keep reading history books hoping for another secret to be discovered. (Ideally attached to a story about helping others.) I hope that all of the hiding places and concealed spots have not yet been revealed. I could use a few more fun surprises in life.