Cat Scans—Nostalgia

 

 

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Amazing Places: A Local Adventurer Reflects on the Secret Expeditions of the East High Tunnel Club

by Rich Stowell

One of Salt Lake City’s most recognizable landmarks has been gone... (since the early 1970s), but its memories live on in hearts of thousands of graduates from Salt Lake High School East, built in 1914.

In the fall of 1990, East was a school in transition, as represented by a group of boys who began their high school careers as freshman that year. The one interest that kept them together was the pursuit of finding the swimming pool in the basement of their grand old schoolhouse.  That fall they formed the “East High Tunnel Club.”

The tunnel, known as the “Spider Hole”, was located underneath the old Boy's Gym.  It began with a rumor, promoted in part by then-Principal Kay Peterson.  Many students claimed to have knowledge of the pool, but it was more likely an entertaining bit of urban lore.  The six frosh were too unsophisticated to know any better, and they set out to prove its authenticity.

Their first milestone was the discovery of burned-out stairwells.  No secret to most seasoned people on campus, the four unused, sealed-off sets of stairs motivated the young men, who quickly figured out how to gain access to the few doors that led to them:

An arsonist’s fire in 1972 gutted much of the main building, leaving the marble stairs a sooty mess.  Modern fire codes required the school district to construct a stairwell on the exterior of the building, which could be closed off to prevent flames from spiraling upward.

For the members of the Tunnel Club, the stairs were a link to the past, and a passage to their ultimate aim—a hole blasted in the concrete at the bottom of one set of stairs led to a network of tunnels under the main building and in the Science Wing, which had been added in 1964.

By their sophomore year, the tunnelers had discovered passages and caverns in the ancient structure that most students never imagined.  However, the fabled pool remained elusive.  Secrecy, at this point, was paramount, even though they had registered the club with the school. The stated aim was to “explore the caves in and around the Salt Lake Valley.”

These charred steps were part of the secret tunnel complex under East High.  School hours afforded little time for Tunnel Club activities, so members began breaking into their school at night.  Keys were acquired surreptitiously; two students began to master the art of lock picking; and, routes were planned to avoid night-time motion-detecting sensors.  Tunnel Clubbers became experts navigating the subterranean corridors and continued to find things that amazed them, hoping to get nearer to the swimming pool with each mission.

Of course secrets, to high schoolers, are no good unless one can share them, so the Tunnel Club began inviting classmates on their midnight expeditions. C rowds composed of 20 or more would gather, including student government leaders, upperclassmen, and kids from the most elite of the community.  By their junior year, the pragmatic implications of breaking into the school became clearer. Before the ubiquity of computer systems in classrooms, simple paper gradebooks contained records that could determine academic futures. The situation and its possibilities were not lost on the students.

On one occasion, students in the choir signed up for bus assignments for an out-of-town trip.  After class one day, a girl had crossed out the name of a tunneler to give herself a more favorable bus with her friends.  Breaking in one night to the choir room, the Tunnel Club members discovered the switch and rectified it, putting the offending girl on the third bus, with none of her friends.

It was also apparent that the Tunnel Club had quite a bit of social cachet, and members were known to take dates there to impress them.  It seemed to work.  Nighttime outings revealed old fallout shelters, secret passageways to parts of the building long ago gone into disuse, and clever observation points into classrooms through grates and vents.

By their junior year, the ring of Tunnel Club confederates was huge.  Some 30 students had gained unauthorized entry into the school at some point.  School officials suspected something was amiss and installed a motion-sensing, infrared camera in one of the underground thoroughfares.  Culprits were caught on video tape in clear view, and the ring was finally exposed.  Perpetrators included students at the highest levels of student government, athletics, and academic honors.

After that, Tunnel Club ceased official operations, but the original six continued to make forays into the school, their eye on their original objective—the swimming pool.  Time was running out and they still hadn’t met their goal.  During their senior year (Spring 1994), demolition crews began knocking down the walls that hid so much.  By 1996, all parts of the school built before 1975 had been razed along with any firm evidence of the swimming pool ever existing.

['Regarding the elusive swimming pool--my Dad (East, 1931) told me it was located under the cafeteria and had a retractable cover like the one they all fall into in "It's A Wonderful Life." '— Terri (Jacob) Trick, Dec 2010]

They all still have vivid and fond memories as members of the East High Tunnel Club, when they learned a lot about friendship, themselves, and the historic, noble building where they all went to school. § 

                                                                                                                                            Thanks to EHS'71  Lori Thomassen and her husband who found the above account of the tunnels.  __________________________________________________

EPILOGUE:  Access to the tunnel system was discovered long before the above story took place.  During the 1970-71 academic year, students "studying" during flexible schedule free periods in the often unsupervised Student Resource Center in the basement (across and down the hall to the south from the Cafeteria) discovered a floor access door crudely camouflaged by the green carpeting.  They quietly shifted tables and chairs out of the way and an enterprising group of ~six "explorers" descended into the abyss.  Mischievous classmates quickly sealed the opening behind them and moved the tables and chairs back over the access spot.
 
Faced with no retreat route, the explorers proceeded, sometimes at a crawl, in the light dirt alongside steam pipes, descending still further into the depths of old East High.
 
Finally, in the far southwest corner of the old building they located a rectangular metal access door above them that appeared to be removable. Problem was, they could hear giggling voices and locker doors slamming over the heads. Then they realized the horrible reality — they were under the girl's dressing room in Connie Jo Hepworth's dance studio just as class was about to begin!
 
After several agonizing minutes the many laughing voices faded away and the stranded subterranean students risked gently lifting the heavy metal lid out of the way from over their heads.  The coast appeared clear.  Nothing but carelessly thrown tutus and other assorted unmentionables in an otherwise empty dressing room.
 
The lead escapee (there was no group leader) carefully peeked out into the quiet dance studio, first right, then left.  No one was in Mrs. Hepworth's Office, a good sign.  But, to the left, she and the entire class were practicing pirouettes close by in front of the large mirrors surrounding the studio!
 
Spotted, the escapees quickly bolted up the metal spiral staircase, out the door, and split in all directions, hoping they weren't actually recognized by any of the now shrieking-in-horror dance students watching them emerge from the very dressing room where they had just disrobed!
 
Later, the first escapee innocently approached the usually amiable Mrs. Hepworth and mentioned hearing a rumor of the incident and of the innocent "explorers" (who smartly claimed they hadn't seen a thing), trapped under the school, making their way to freedom.  Mrs. H. wasn't pleased, but seemed to agree the unidentified students meant no harm and confirmed she was letting the matter drop.  On his way out, Mrs. H. smiled almost knowingly,  and intuitively mentioned he had missed brushing the dirt from a spot on the back his Levis...  d'Oh!

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Click to "Berry" at:   www.easthigh71.com/class_profile.cfm?member_id=3127483

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EHS71 Junior Choir with Director Ruth Funk at Cottonwood Mall, Dec 1969

 

   

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Can you solve this half century-old mystery?

In Eastonia 1967 a young sophomore appeared

named "Eric Nord".

He then vanished — only to reappear in our class!

Who is Eric Nord?

Is he the "love-child" of our classmates:

Nancy Jensen & Berry Maple?!  

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Origins  of  Utah's  First Two  High  Schools

 On July 19th, 1890, Salt Lake City Mayor George W. Scott organized the first Board of Education.  In that same year Salt Lake High School became the first public high school, held in the old Fourteenth Ward building (which later became the Fremont School building).  E. M. Collins was Principal and 21 students attended that first year.  In 1891, Salt Lake High School was officially organized with William R. Malone as Principal and 91 students enrolled.  The first graduation was held June 9, 1893 at the Salt Lake Theater; six girls and four boys received their diplomas.

Salt Lake High School rapidly grew out of its first home.  To accommodate the increasing number of students, Salt Lake High moved to the Clayton Building on South Temple, then to the Utah National Armory on Pierpont Street  in  1898.    A. O. Clark  was Principal at this time.  By 1900, enrollment had grown to approximately 675 students and George A. Eaton was Principal.

The day before school opened in 1900, the Pierpont Street building was destroyed by a fire that began in the building next door.  Governor Wells and the Utah State Land Board offered the use of the old University of Utah building on the block now occupied by West High School.  The city later bought that property; first the Union Building, then the George Eaton Gymnasium, and finally in 1912, the Technical Arts Building was constructed.

By 1912, there was need for a second high school.  Salt Lake High School became West High School (school colors red & black), and East High (school colors red white) students attended Bryant Junior High until their building was completed in 1914.

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