Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The secret passage in practical terms


A secret passage (or hidden passage or a secret tunnel) is a hidden route that is used to travel stealthily. Such passageways may be inside a building leading to a secret room, or be a way of entering (or exiting) somewhere without being seen. Hidden passages are a common feature of fiction, but have also served a variety of purposes throughout history.


How to Install a Secret Passage in Your Home

'When it comes to adding a hidden door or secret room to your otherwise innocuous home, you essentially have three options: you can build one yourself, you can purchase a premade revolving bookcase from an ordinary wood-working company, or you can opt for a precision hiding system from
Creative Home Engineering.

'Creative Home Engineering is a contracting company which designs, builds and installs fully-automated hidden passageways. It provides its clients with custom security on the cutting edge. Even though these secret doors can be fitted with ultra heavy duty locks, hinges, and armor plating, their greatest security attribute is that they are totally hidden. As company founder Steven Humble puts it, “A thief can’t burglarize a room he never knows is there.”

'“At Creative Home Engineering, there is no fantasy,” insists Humble. “You dream it, we build it.” Clients have requested devices ranging from rotating fireplaces, moving staircases and levitating wall niches to hidden escape slides and emergency exits disguised as fine furniture. Features can be activated by any means the client wishes, such as twisting candlestick, pushing a wall sconce, selecting a favorite book title from the library shelf or even knocking on the wall in Morse code. For the most exclusive access, biometric security devices like fingerprint readers and iris scanners ensure that only a few may enter.

'Priced from $5-$250K, you’ll probably want to make sure you’ve really got something big to protect to make the purchase worth your while. But, even if you don’t, Creative Home Engineering claims that a quality hidden door can make a solid investment from an appreciation standpoint.'

Or ...

'I recently decided to build a secret dungeon into my my pre-existing home. Before converting my basement and building the actual secret entrance, I experimented with a model I bought at a local toy store to see if my chosen method would work. See: illustrations. First I used a fine saw and cut out the secret passage. This was quite simple but the problem here is that I had to make the opposite side as well. By doing so, the stones structure turned out bad because where the natural form of the entrance existed on one side, it did not do so on the other side. Another problem was the possible friction that could occur between the wall and the door itself. The cut of the saw was thin and straight there where actually I would like to have a hollow or round cut when seen from above. To make it more understandable the wall and door section looks like this when seen from above: ===wall===((=door=))===wall===

'Altering tactics was the next step. The door is 4 rows of normal building blocks in height. To make the secret passage I used normal Fieldstone Building blocks and sculpted the sides where blocks from the wall connected with the door (or the other way round) So for the first layer I sculpted 4 blocks to get the connection wall-door and door wall correct I repeated this with the 3 layers that followed. The 4th layer was a bit more difficult since I choose an arch type of layout that actually break while sculpting it.

'The sculpted stones (12 in total) now form a door and the wall that surrounds it. I could make a mold out of these stones to actually make a secret passage mold. But it is still to early so we went on experimenting a bit more. In the exact middle of the door I drilled 2 holes. One at the bottom and one at the top. I repeated this also in the wall so now I have holes in which I can make the door rotate. Unfortunately I could only find out if it worked by simply gluing the whole thing together. After some adjustments on some wall segments the door works.' --


Example: 10 Secret Passages


Five Homes with Secret Passages
by Molly Edmunds

Singer Castle
It was 1896 when Commodore Frederick G. Bourne decided he needed a summer home and hunting lodge. As the president of the Singer Sewing Machine Company, he had the money to build a five-story castle on Dark Island in the St. Lawrence River of New York. In Bourne's lifetime, the castle was known as The Towers, but in recent years has been renamed Singer Castle. Unlike some of the more nefarious purposes that hidden passageways serve in the other homes on this list, Frederick Bourne apparently had a very simple reason for wanting them. Like many of us, Bourne wanted to know what his guests really thought of him, so his secret passageways allowed him to subtly escape a gathering to spy on the party. If fellow self-made millionaires Cornelius Vanderbilt and Vincent Astor were over, Bourne might have slipped through one of the wooden panels in the library to access the stone spiral staircase. From a floor above, he could sit in a corridor and peer through a metal grate at his visitors. From that height, no one would have noticed if a large painting on the wall suddenly tilted a bit; Bourne would have pushed on it to listen in on the chitchat below. If Bourne wasn't in the mood for eavesdropping, a hidden passage also led to the wine cellar.

Singer Castle Official Website

Wolf's Lair Castle
Wolf's Lair Castle in Hollywood, Calif., was named for its designer, art director L. Milton Wolf. Wolf wanted a replica of a Norman castle, complete with a turret designed especially for his pet gibbon. In addition to the gibbon's dwellings, there are eight bedrooms and six bathrooms between the main house and the guest house, as well as a heart-shaped pool and a speakeasy. The house was constructed in 1927, so the speakeasy provided a quick refuge during the bans of Prohibition. From Wolf's Lair Castle, you have an incredible view; you can see downtown Los Angeles, Catalina Island and the famed Hollywood sign. What you won't see is the hidden passageway between the main house and the guest house. According to the gossip of the day, Wolf put a secret apartment beneath the guesthouse so that he could indulge his taste for young Hollywood starlets. The womanizer would take the secret passageway to meet his dates while his unsuspecting wife snoozed only a few hundred feet away. The property went on the market for $7.5 million in June 2008.

Wolf's Lair Castle Photo Set

Franklin Castle
Franklin Castle, in Cleveland, Ohio, was built in 1865 by a German immigrant named Hannes Tiedemann. Tiedemann had done quite well in various businesses that included barrel-making, banking and grocery stores, so he spared no expense in building the home for his wife. Once in the home, the family quickly grew to include several children. Then the children began to die. As the whispers started circulating through town that perhaps there was more to these deaths than met the eye, Tiedemann decided to build on to the house to distract his wife from her grief. Apparently Tiedemann thought that what his wife really needed were features like turrets and gargoyles, which made the home look even more like a castle. He put in hidden passageways and secret rooms all around the house, as well as a ballroom that spanned the entire length of the structure. But the redecoration didn't stop the deaths. One legend has it that Tiedemann hung his teenage niece from the rafters in a hidden passageway off the ballroom, either because she was insane or promiscuous. Tiedemann may have also murdered a servant on her wedding day because she would not return his amorous advances. The home was later used by the German Socialist Party. It's said that the voices sometimes heard in the halls might be those of the 20 party members who were supposedly gunned down in one of the secret rooms. When the home was used as a boarding house, one occupant found a secret room that contained dozens of skeletons of human babies. A doctor could only conclude that the bones were indeed human and very old, but some speculated that they had been victims of botched medical experiments

The Story of Franklin Castle

Broderbund Manor
Doug Carlston's Aspen, Colorado house is 4,500 square feet (418 square meters) and includes not just a maze of hidden passageways but also a fully functioning observatory, a moat and a swimming pool with artificial rain effects.About 1,700 feet (518 meters) of secret passageways and 1,100 square feet (102 square meters) of catacombs are hidden throughout the home. Carlston told his designers that he found these features, along with a secret escape hatch, to be "vital" to his home's operation. Treasure chests of costume jewelry may be discovered in the home's grottos, and other cool features include caverns complete with fake stalactites and bats, as well as a "room of doom" that must be exited by swimming through a chute or jumping through a waterfall. Carlton, best known as the designer of the legendary Myst computer games, once compared his house to a piece of interactive software, and a trip through the home does seem to involve the same skills as a computer game. To access one hidden passageway, the user must pass a magnetized piece of pottery in a certain pattern over the sensors hidden in a shelf to unlock a secret passageway.

The History of Broderbund

Sessions House
The house was constructed by Captain Jonathan Hunt in 1710, outside the well-protected stockade of the day. To provide protection from the local Native Americans, Captain Hunt installed a secret passageway in the home as a family hiding spot. The secret passageway is well documented as existing, but no one in recent centuries has been able to locate it. Each year at Halloween, the new residents of Sessions House, which is now used as a student dormitory, try to find the secret passageway. In the 1930s, two girls in search of the secret passageway disappeared one Halloween, and it is believed they happened upon the secret passageway and were trapped inside, eventually dying of starvation. Before the home was given to the college, legend has it that a woman with two young children was staying in the house. The mother thought she heard intruders, so she took an axe and searched the house. She mistook her children for the intruders, however, and killed them. When she realized what she'd done, she dragged their bodies into the secret passageway and killed herself.

Sessions House Official Website


Mat said...

Too cool. I've always wanted a secret tunnel. I have no idea why, it just seems like something i'd really like.

Mieze said...

franklin castle... that brings back stupid college memories. ah, cleveland. how i don't miss you....

heliotrope said...

Maybe it (my overwhelming attraction to the idea of hidden passages) has something to do with how easily you can hide when you're kid...and what an impossibilty that becomes when you're an adult...a certain fantastic ability to "just be", even if just for a bit...or perhaps it is just a consequence of too many Raphael Sabatini books...great post.

Vic Nebulous said...

When I was a kid, there was a cool old stone house across the street. Never knew the kid who lived there, because he went to some private school. But a buddy knew him, so we went over one day. the house a bookcase that opened to reveal a ladder that led to the basement. I always thought that was the coolest thing I'd seen in a house.

Robin said...

Thanks for posting those wonderfully creepy stories about castles/secret passages in America! Sometimes modern architecture bores me, but I sure got the heebie-jeebies when reading about Franklin castle. [via Things Magazine]

Joel said...

UT-Austin's secret tunnels weren't always so secret. My friends and I use to smoke pot in them and explore them when I was a student there back in 1969-70. One particularly noteworthy event was the time we got totally wasted and went exploring tunnels on the east side of the campus. Upon finding an unlocked door, we opened it only to find ourselves staring into the baseball stadium from dead center field. The center field "wall" was actually a rock outcropping with a metal door in it -- precisely where we were standing. It was completely surreal, especially for a stoned person.

One of the explorers, Tom M, was a bit more intrepid. He found entrances to the tunnels in grates under hedges, in building basements and various obscure locations. One Friday evening he returned from a subterranean prowl to breathlessly recount how he found the basement under the UT Library Tower, a square room accessed by an elevator from above and with tunnels entering on each side. The room was occupied by a security guard totally caught up in reading and unaware of Tom's intrusion.

I later concluded that infamous tower sniper Charles Whitman (1966) must have entered the tower from one of the tunnels. His access to the observation deck at the top of the 307-foot tower was never documented. It is highly unlikely he would hauled nearly 200 pounds of weapons and ammunition up the stairs, and none of the attendants on duty saw him enter the front door through the main lobby. An elevator ride from the basement makes the most sense.

Jack Page said...

Great idea, tunnels is really a great way to protect oneself, loved the idea and the way they are made.

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