Many old small towns have stories of hauntings and proverbial skeletons in the closets of their past. Kimberley is no exception to this, and with Halloween upon us, the time has come to explore these stories and lore.
The stories of these ghosts are hard to write without a sense of something watching, and I entirely refused to write this at the Kimberley City Bakery where the proof had been irrefutably laid before me, and I had heard the ghostly voices calling only to see nothing.
We have many resident ghosts in our lore. The high school has a student that is said to walk the halls at night. The newspaper building has the ghost of an old newspaper writer, Charlie Wormington, that has often been sighted in the basement, and even City Hall is said to have a ghost who visits. Although that could be just a disgruntled mayor…
And of course, there are the alleged tunnels that are supposed to go from building to building beneath the Platzl. The bakery highlighted the tunnels with their April Fools joke. After that, many people started asking questions. Are there really tunnels under the Platzl? Are there ghosts? Is there some mysterious unknown past here that might still haunt our present?
Deciding it was high time to put some facts to the stories to separate history from fairy tales, I started looking at the Platzl. Are there really tunnel under the Platzl?
As tunnels are easier to verify than ghosts, I started making my rounds to visit various shops to see if anyone knew any more than what was alluded to during the famous April Fools’ Day story, and implications that accompanied it. The bakery does not have any tunnels that anyone has accessed in the recent past. Under the layers of floor, no one knows what might lie beneath, other than the original sidewalk that used to be at the edge of town under the outer edge of the tea room. Many other buildings are in similar situations, without any basements or with basements that do not appear to have any tunnels.
Built by minors several decades ago, what use would they have for tunnels? Why would they build tunnels? And if they did, where would they go? Which buildings would they connect? Who would know the answers to these inquiries, and are there any tunnels still in existence?
The inquiries were not in vain! Visiting the Dollar Store, to follow up on employees claims that the basement was haunted, with some employees flat-out refusing to go into the basement ever, due to their certainty of some unearthly being having taking up residence below, I discovered my first glimpse of actual tunnels.
Following John below into that strange basement space, more reminiscent of a barn than a basement, with its wide, rustic floor boards, large stall type storage rooms, and staircases and doorways to nowhere, a deep, dark silence descended upon us.
The owner, it was explained, was the only one with the keys to these strange doors heading into the nether regions of Kimberley, which he had for maintenance, from some ancient contract, giving him access to all the other buildings they connected to. He had once taken John with him on one of the trips, and showed him the tunnel that connected it up with Our Place, and showed him another tunnel, connecting it up to the former Trickle Creek Art studio. Did the tunnels go further? Did some of the other perpetually locked doors lead off into other tunnels connecting with other buildings? Perhaps we will never know.
I do know that the basement had a very unearthly silence to it – no hum of lights or equipment or anything – just a continual perpetual silence. The space ended in a wall that looked as though it had been fashioned out of the earth, and just stopped. The earth walls, the stable-like floors and storage areas, and the heavy, dense silence would make a perfect setting for any horror movie, and I could see why people would be squeamish going down alone in the night. Tunnels? Check. Ghosts? Uncertain. Eerie silence? Definitely.
I happened upon one of our older residents with firsthand knowledge, recounting another tunnel that he remembered. When he was young, he started, a friend’s father owned the building that is now The Back Door. He remembered being down in the basement, and seeing the door, which now opens into a brick wall.
The friend’s father would tell them stories about the time, years before, when that door opened into a room under The Gasthaus (before it was the Gasthaus), where people would gather to play cards – when gambling was illegal – and drink alcohol. During the age of prohibition, this was one of the only places to do such illegal activities, beyond the scope of prying eyes, tucked away where they would never be found. Tunnels? Check. Ghosts? Only of our past.
Further tunnels were evidenced by a door discovered under the new dance studio at the end of the Platzl. As they renovated the old Black Bear video store building to turn it into the new dance studio, Leslie spent some time in the basement, which set everyone on edge, especially when they, too, found a door, leading away from the building.
She admitted that ghosts were not far from her mind as she explored the space. Images of what might be down there haunted her as she worked. The basement was eerie at best, the tunnel through the door, even more so. The photos are deliciously creepy enough for any imagination. What might be down there further? Would you have dared to explore? Leslie did not explore it further, and has absolutely no plans to, but some sources suggest that it originally connected to the yoga studio and that it connected up with a brothel. Again, tunnel? Check. Ghosts. Who knows? Creepy factor? Turned way up.
So to answer the unanswered question as to whether or not there are tunnels under the Platzl, there is enough evidence of tunnels under various buildings in the Platzl to verify that yes, tunnels once existed, and some are still there. Does everyone believe it? No. Some people categorically stated that there is no use for tunnels, as we were not close enough to the border with the States for Rum Running, and there would not be any other need for them – the alleged tunnels, according to these sources, were only vaults from days when the buildings, such as The Black Bear, were banks.
Whether they were for rum running, brothels, or just drinking and playing cards away from the eyes of the authorities, or whether they were just old forgotten bank vaults, that is lost to history and stories, and gives lots of scope for the imagination.