Thursday, May 15, 2008

Secret Passages

I've always loved mystery stories involving secret passages. My favourite Nancy Drew was #2: the Hidden Staircase, about an old lady who lives in a house that's riddled with passages behind the walls, and staircases everywhere. Another one of my favourite stories was something that landed in my lap after the elementary school library decomissioned it. It was called The Hidden Cat, by Brent Locke, about three little girls who discover a hidden treasure trove in the passage ridden walls of their friends' Victorian house. The story came complete with the girls having to solve a puzzle to gain access to the final room. (Says something in a fake old-person voice about not having video games and having to read when I was a youth!) The Hidden cat is long out of print, and even that sage of human knowledge, the Internets, doesn't seem to know all that much about it except that Brent Locke was a woman and that the book is rare, and holy crap! The only copy on Ebay is $80!
The internets doesn't seem to know much about secret passages in general. To be honest, I was not looking for real, purposeful secret passages, such as the ones on the underground railway used to hide runaway slaves, or the ones used to hide Jews during WWII.
I was looking for secret passages built by eccentric lunatics with way too much money. Secret passages like the ones in H.P. Lovecraft, used to hide nefarious doings, or maybe a dark secret, at the very least a hiding place for someone's stash! Hell, I would have settled with a nook providing habitation for the occasional hobo.
When I was a kid, I used to want to be Nancy Drew. I went around tapping on the walls of our old house, convinced that the area between my room and the adjacent room contained a secret room. In reality, it was probably a chimney. But that did nothing to hinder my dream that someday, I'd find a secret passage in our house.
Typically, of the internet, most of the hits I found when I was looking up secret passages were pages for companies that will install one for you. Subtly. Behind a bookcase. THAT's never been done before. I think the whole concept of panic rooms is self-indulgent...what makes you so special that a gang of weapon-bearing criminals would invade your house? But I suppose that we can add panic rooms to the list of things that the idle wealthy use to massage their own egos.
So, any prospective constructors of secret rooms, here's my two cents. You're lame. Unless you're going to hide a treasure in there, or puzzles, or a dark secret worthy of a secret room, you're just a posseur. Really, what are you going to put back there? An office with a computer? Where you can do your "secret 9:00 am phone-in meetings?"
The idle rich have been installing secret doors in their mansions for hundreds of years now, for the sake of paranoia, midnight trysts, or keeping the filthy prole servants out of sight.
I'll depart with telling you of the only secret room I've ever managed to find. In Machado House, at Brown University, there's a foyer that the resident programme club never uses. It has an old piano, and a marble fireplace with the most expressive head of Medusa carved into it.
To the left and right of the fireplace were mirrored panels. Behind the one on the left, there was nothing...but a little tug on the mirrored panel to the right of the fireplace revealed a hidden door. There was a small passage to the dining room behind it, with shelves set into the walls. This was one of the "keep the dirty servants out of sight" passages....but it was still pretty damn cool. I felt like I'd finally lived out my childhood fantasies of being Nancy Drew.

No comments: