Southern Illinois University at Carbondale

Steam Tunnels, Stories, Memories, and More



As a proud SIU graduate I have posted this web page for entertainment and historical purposes. Although there is a lot of information here about the SIU steam tunnel system, the author does not encourage exploration by unauthorized persons. If individuals use the information for such purposes they do so at their own risk and assume all responsibility.

In the past, persons caught exploring campus steam tunnels were only briefly detained for questioning and were not severely punished. The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks have increased paranoia in our society. Therefore, any persons now caught exploring might be detained for longer periods of time and face harsher penalties.

WARNING: I was contacted in December 2005 about an alarm installed in the tunnels. Anyone who intends to explore the system should read the Updates section near the end of this page.


Steam Tunnels at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale

Like many college campuses, SIU has a network of utility tunnels beneath it. A few years ago I posted some information on the news group Here is a copy of my posting:

Here is a list of good entrances to the steam tunnels at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. As a proud graduate of SIU-C, I post this information for entertainment purposes only! Anyone who tries to use this information to gain access to the steam tunnels is doing so at their own risk!

At the west end of the pedestrian overpass from Brush Towers is a small brick building. This is a pump house for a condensate pump and it is sometimes left unlocked. The doors were hidden by bushes when I graduated in 89, so it made for a good entrance and exit even at dusk.

There is another pump house in one of the turnarounds at Thompson Point. It is usually locked since it is close to the dorms. Some friends of mine that lived at Thompson Point once removed the window frame on the door so they could reach in and unlock it. They replaced the window before going on their adventure. Although this took some time to remove and replace the window, the door is at the base of a flight of stairs and is well hidden.

Behind the Ag Research labs (now the Center For Public Policy. If this building has changed names again, it is the one between Neckers and Ag) there is a "back yard" between the buildings and the woods. Near the woods is a manhole on a raised concrete base. The manhole cover has a ring attached to it's underside so it can be locked with a hook from below. Tunnelers usually unlock it and flip the cover over so the ring is on the top, making it easy to pull open. You can see the manhole from a path in the woods and if the ring is on the top you can get in that way later that night.

Another good manhole is on the south lawn of the Ag building, halfway between the building and the sidewalk. It is almost flush with the grass so you have to walk across the lawn to find it. Sometimes it is flipped over so the ring is up.

At the south end of the Student Center, by a curve in the driveway to the loading dock is a manhole similar to the one behind Ag Research. This is a heavy traffic area at all hours so be sneaky!

Life Science II has a large grate near it's SW corner. You can look down the grate into a major tunnel intersection. Most grates on the campus are tunnel air shafts and are barred at the bottom. This one is different because it is used for access and even has a ladder that goes down to the bottom. There are two hooks that latch the grate from below. If the grate is latched you can sometimes unlock it by snagging the latch handles with a belt lowered through the grate.

Other stuff: There are gates across the tunnels in various locations. Some are left unlocked and most others you can crawl under or around by the pipes. Some gates are impassable and you will have to use another entrance to explore tunnels beyond them. Purdue has motion sensors in their tunnels and a friend of mine was busted up there. When I graduated in 89 there were no sensors at SIU but that may have changed by now so watch out! Some tunnel intersections have chairs at them and these are rumored to be guard posts used around finals week for catching test thieves. Rumor or not, stay out during finals week! Lights are on in most tunnels and if they aren't you can usually find the switch. Just the same, a flashlight should be carried by at least one person.

Some friends and I got busted in the tunnels and I'm sure you want to know how and what happened to us. We thought we had passed the Physical Plant but were right under it. We happened to make a lot of noise while trying to get around a gate and were heard by a worker who called the cops. We tried to find a good hiding place but there wasn't one and we were picked up soon after that. My friends were put on probation and I got Disciplinary Censure since I appeared to be the leader of the group. All that meant was that they could possibly throw me out of school if I got in trouble for anything else. I didn't get in any more trouble, so there was no problem.

After posting the previous information, I was contacted by a few people who wanted to know more about how I was caught and what the penalty was. I wrote a story about that adventure, a slightly edited version of which was published in Infiltration Issue 10, "Caught". Visit their web site for lots of information on urban exploration. Following is the original story:

Caught In the Tunnels

In 1987, my junior year, I was caught with two friends in the steam tunnels under Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. This is not old college lore, but a true story. My purpose in writing this down is not to discourage or promote exploration of campus steam tunnels, but to inform others. I hope they may learn from our mistakes and be more cautious should they decide to go on similar adventures. The names of my friends have been changed, but places and events are factual.

I was first introduced to the SIU steam tunnels my freshman year. There was a large group of us that ate supper together at Grinnell Hall, the cafeteria for Brush Towers residence halls. We usually got there early and stayed until they kicked us out. It was an eclectic group. Young men and women of different majors, races, nationalities and sexual preferences. The topics of conversation could be anything from intellectual to idiotic, and it was always a good time. One night the subject of steam tunnels came up.

Norman, an upper classmen, claimed to be an expert. He shared several tales of his adventures and even offered to take a few of us down. I had heard about the legendary tunnel system under the campus but didnít have a clue as to how to get in. Needless to say, I was took him up on his offer.

That same night, about four of us walked across the pedestrian bridge to the main campus with Norman in the lead. At the west end of this bridge is a small brick building partially hidden by shrubs. I had seen it many times but never suspected it was a steam tunnel entrance. There are large metal doors on one side, and they were unlocked that night as Norman said they usually were. The heavy shrubs and small trees around the building allowed us to enter unseen although there was a sidewalk very close by.

The building has no floor inside. There is simply a small landing inside the doorway and stairway going down. This is one of two pump houses. The building covers a shaft with a large condensate pump at the base.

Although the pump house was dark, a lighted steam tunnel ran off from the small room at the bottom. The tunnel was perhaps four feet wide and six feet high. Two large pipes were mounted to a rack along one wall. I had previously envisioned a brick tunnel with a curved ceiling, but this was just plain concrete walls and a flat ceiling. The tunnel sloped gently with the contours of the ground above.

We didnít get far on my first trip. This tunnel only goes a short distance to the south where it is blocked by a rusted steel gate. Norman said there were a lot of these gates in the tunnels, most likely to stop explorers. He showed us that the gate merely blocked the passage, and there was an opening between the top pipe and the ceiling. We weaseled through one at a time. The steam pipe was well insulated so it was only warm to the touch.

Iíll also mention that there were similar gaps between the bottom pipe and the floor, and also between the two pipes. These openings had steel bars welded across them. At one time there had probably been bars at the top but someone removed them.

On the other side of the gate was an intersection, located roughly below the west end of the pedestrian bridge. A gate closed off a lighted tunnel to the south, and the openings around the pipes looked well sealed. A second tunnel ran towards the west, but the lights were out. Since the trip had been spontaneous, no one had brought a flashlight. One at a time we squirmed past the gate and went back to the dorms. It was been a short journey, but enough to get me hooked.

Over the next few days I was able to get a lot of useful information from Norman. Where other entrances were, interesting places to visit and so on. Evidently he had done a lot of tunneling his freshman year and was a little burned out on it so he wouldnít offer to guide any more tours.

Al was another member of our "meal club" who had been on that first trip with me. He also had a case of tunnel fever and so one night we set out to do some exploring.

There is a large grate near the southwest corner of Life Science II. It doubles as an air vent and entrance. A convenient ladder takes you down to a large chamber where a tangle of pipes and valves intersect. We used this entrance because the pump house was locked.

That night we were able to cover most of the campus. We basically crossed it, underground, to the pump house by the pedestrian bridge, exploring every branch tunnel along the way.

Some of the newer tunnels are made from round concrete pipe, about seven feet in diameter. Most of the lights were on, although we did bring a flashlight. There were a lot of places where water leaked in and some areas were flooded ankle deep. You can see a lot of air vents for the tunnels when you walk across the campus, but you canít get in through them since the shaft is barred at the bottom. They provide excellent ventilation, although the temperature gets high in some areas. We saw a few dead cockroaches and no rats. Some graffiti was on the walls, most done with chalk or marker and the earliest dated back to the sixties. I remember that the "Wildman and Crew" left their mark in many places.

Most of the tunnels run beneath sidewalks, so it would be tough to get lost down there, but it is easy to get disoriented. Since you are walking in a narrow passageway it seems like you have walked further than you actually have. Although there were some directional signs painted on the walls, they werenít very helpful.

There were a lot of gates, but you could squeeze under some, go over the pipes on others, and some were even unlocked and left open. A few gates were impassible and they kept us from exploring the whole campus.

That became the challenge over the rest of the year. We would try to find other entrances so we could get into sections that lay beyond the impassible gates. On occasion I played the role of tour guide and took some first time explorers through sections I had already visited.

At the end of my freshman year I had been through most sections of the tunnel system, and even had a nice map drawn up. My sophomore year, I lived off campus and only returned to the tunnels a few times. One of those times was with a co-worker from my student job. An impassible gate had been left open that night and we were able to explore previously uncharted territory from Woody Hall to Pulliam. About the only place I hadnít been was under the east campus residence halls.

My junior year I was talking with a new friend, Bob, when the subject of the tunnels happened to come up. He claimed to be an old hand at tunneling, but I was skeptical because he was somewhat of a kidder. As it turned out, he was able to rattle off enough facts to convince me that he had been down there at least a few times. He wanted us to get an expedition together and I told him I was interested as long as we tried to get to the east campus.

When I met him a few nights later, he introduced me to one of his friends who would be joining us. I donít remember the guyís name, and he said only a few words the whole time we were together. As usual, I had brought my oversized Maglight. It uses five D cells and I dubbed it "the electric torch." That night I also brought a pen and paper for mapping purposes. As I explained earlier, I had a map at home but it was drawn from memory. I had meant to sketch a map while in the tunnels before but always forgot the pen and paper.

We wanted to enter through a manhole behind the forestry labs but it was locked. Instead, we got in through another manhole on the south lawn of the Ag building. This meant that we would have to get around a gate that was thought to be impassible. I didnít think it was possible, but somehow we squeezed by on top of the pipes. I think some bars had been removed by recent explorers. It was probably during that tight squeeze that I lost my pen and paper, and that may have been a good thing as youíll understand later.

When we passed under the manhole behind the forestry labs, we unlocked it and flipped the cover upside down so a future explorer could open it easily. Most tunnel manhole covers are lightweight and have a steel ring welded to the underside. A hook passes through this ring while a lever and cable on the wall secure the cover down.

For the benefit of Bobís friend, a rookie, we took him down a long side tunnel to the arena. We then doubled back and continued towards the east campus.

Up until that night, friends and I had always stayed away from the east campus because you had to pass by the physical plant to get there. Boiler operators worked around the clock so the risk of getting caught was increased. No one was certain if the tunnels opened into the plant or just passed by it. Since the east campus is mostly residence halls, all air vents and other potential entrances were always locked. Getting there from underground was the only way to go.

We followed the tunnel east for what seemed like a very long time. The lights were out and there were many gates in that long passage, but we were able to get under them all. At one point it got very hot in that tunnel and we were certain that we were close to the physical plant. Eventually the tunnel cooled and we thought we had made it to the east campus.

We came to a large, lighted intersection. A gate and section of heavy bars crossed the middle of the open area. There were three tunnels beyond the bars and only one other tunnel on our side, so we checked it out first.

It was short tunnel with a manhole roughly in the middle. It ended where the pipes went through a concrete wall. The hole in the wall was oversized by perhaps a foot all the way around the pipes. We shined the flashlight inside and saw what looked like a crawl space under a small building. It was clearly a dead end so we returned to the intersection with the gate.

This gate and wall of bars was more secure than others and it sort of reminded one of a prison cell. The padlock and chain were in place, locking the gate. We rattled the lock and tested for loose bars, and evidently made too much noise in the process. A manís voice shouted out from down one of the tunnels on the other side of the gate. I donít remember what he said because the voice was muffled and echoed in the tunnel.

We wasted no time and ran for the nearest manhole, which was down the short dead end tunnel. I donít remember this manhole cover having a locking mechanism on it, but it didnít need one. It was one of the heavy duty models and probably weighed a couple hundred pounds. When one guy couldnít open it up, all three of us tried to get on the ladder and push it open at the same time. No luck. We never determined the location of this manhole but it could have been in a parking lot and had a car parked on it. The voice was heard again and this time it sounded like it was by the gate.

If we returned to the intersection and went back the way we came, it would be too easy for him to catch us. We would have to crawl under all those gates to reach the next closest manhole while that guy probably had a key. Even if we made it that far he may have sounded an alarm and the campus police would have time to wait by manhole covers, or get down in the tunnels to head us off. With escape looking impossible the only solution, besides turning ourselves in, was to hide and hope it looked like we got away.

We quietly walked to the end of the short tunnel and somehow managed to squeeze through the opening around the pipes and into the crawl space.

The crawl space may have been about fifteen feet square and had a dirt floor. You could stand up where the pipes came through the wall, but then they were buried as the dirt floor rose in a hill, almost to the ceiling. We scrambled up the hill, trying not to leave any tracks in the dirt. Luckily there was a shallow hole in the dirt pile near the back wall. We were able to crouch down back there and be out of sight in case anyone peeked in. I turned off the flashlight but surprisingly it wasnít completely dark in there.

A weak light shown through a small, grated vent on one wall. I got up and peeked through the vent, hoping for some clue as to where we were, or another escape option. Beyond the vent was a storage room. I could only see some shelves and boxes.

We decided to wait about half an hour for things quiet down and let them think we escaped. Before long, we heard several voices echoing through the tunnels. Less than ten minutes later we heard footsteps approaching and could see the glint of a flashlight bobbing around out in the tunnel. Crouching back down behind the dirt pile, the crawlspace was then brightly lit by a flashlight. A man identified himself as being with the SIU police department and said,

"You might as well do this the easy way and come on out." There was nothing left for us to do, so we crawled over the dirt pile and down towards the opening. Before we came out he asked if we were all students. When we told him that we were, he instructed us to hand out our student IDís all at once, then crawl out of the opening one at a time. Once he had the IDís he told us that it wouldnít do us any good if we tried to make a run for it. He took my flashlight, since it could easily double as a club, and ordered us back down the tunnel. He brought up the rear.

The gate at the intersection was standing open and we passed through it. I got brief glances down the other tunnels. One seemed to lead to that intersection by the pump house. The second one had a sign on the wall saying it led to the east campus. We were ushered around the corner and into the third passage, which led into the large boiler plant. I remember feeling a sense of defeat. It wasnít because we got caught, but that we hadnít made it as far as we thought, not even to the east campus.

The boiler plant was large and the ceiling was at least two stories up. There was a low rumble from the huge boilers and other equipment in the room. A few operators were standing around and I expected them to laugh or make a few wise cracks as the policeman led us through. Instead, they stood very quietly. I remember a tall, thin man, with a light beard and moustache. His flannel shirt sleeves were rolled up and he was leaning on a shovel, standing in front of one of those boilers. As we walked right passed him I thought I saw a look of sympathy on his face.

The floor of the boiler plant is below ground level and we went up an open flight of stairs to a mezzanine above. We were led a short distance and out through an overhead door. I recognized it as the loading dock that faces the street across from McAndrew stadium. Two police cars were parked there with their lights off. After being in the roar of the boiler plant, the night was strangely quiet. I vaguely remember the police officer radioing in that he had us in custody.

He made us stand facing the brick wall, by that loading dock door, while he patted us down and searched our pockets. Bob was cuffed with his hands behind his back. His friend was placed on my left side and his left wrist was cuffed to my right one, behind our backs. I guess the cop only carried two sets of cuffs.

Bob was put in the back seat of the patrol car, behind the driverís seat. His friend and I were put in on the other side, and it was tough getting in since we were cuffed together. The other police car took off in another direction, while ours headed to campus police headquarters. We were silent the whole time.

I wasnít sure what our fate would be, and I tried not to think about it. It seemed better to just take it as it came. The officer pushed the accelerator to the floor as we pulled out onto route 51. The engine was powerful but quiet, and I could see the speedometer as he got up to fifty miles an hour in that thirty five mile an hour zone. I thought it was kind of funny that the cop was speeding. No flashing lights and sirens though, it was almost disappointing.

We pulled up to the side entrance of the campus police station. Bob was taken out of the car first, and the policeman had to help his friend and I out on the other side. I want to mention that he hadnít roughed us up or been rude like I expected. It just seemed like business as usual to him.

We went in the side door, down half a flight of stairs, and turned into a hallway on the right. Passing a small alcove with a camera set up in it and height marks on the wall, I hoped we wouldnít have mug shots taken later.

He left us in what looked like a small classroom. We were told to sit down in a few chairs, and he left the door wide open when he left. There were basement style windows high up on the wall. Although one was open and had no screen, there was heavy wire mesh on the outside.

It wasnít long before the police officer returned with a man in a shirt and tie. He looked kind of weary like a detective from a TV show. He sat down across from us and asked,

"You guys ever go down in the tunnels before?" There was a long pause. "Since you didnít say anything Iíll guess that you have. Do you have any maps?" We shook our heads and it made me feel lucky that I had lost the paper and pen down in the tunnel.

He went on to say that he couldnít really do anything to us. Since we were all students, we couldnít be charged with trespassing. We were just caught some place where we shouldnít have been. He continued and said we would be released, but our names would be referred to the Office of Student Life and it would be up to them to decide what disciplinary action should be taken.

The officer removed our handcuffs and gave us our student IDís.

"Nice flashlight," he said as he handed me my electric torch. On our way out, I asked the detective what he though Student Life might do about this.

"I donít know. Maybe kick you out of school. Go home and get a good night sleep."

They didnít walk us to the door or anything, we just went out on our own. Halfway across the parking lot of the police station, we relaxed and started talking about our situation.

I mentioned that I was glad I lost the paper for the map. Bobís friend said that he had brought a pocketknife and had hidden it in the crawlspace so the cops wouldnít try to get him with some concealed weapons charge. He seemed bummed out about the loss. I guess it was a nice knife.

As we walked home, we pretty much agreed that there was little we could do until we heard from the Office of Student Life. We doubted that they would kick us out of school.

It was about a week later that I got a letter from the Office of Student Life. The letter informed me that I had been charged with Unauthorized Entry, and instructed me to call and schedule a disciplinary hearing.

About a day later, I got a call from Bob. Both he and his friend had also gotten letters, and he told me when their appointments were scheduled. They were having theirs on the same day. Bobís was in the morning and the other guy had his in the afternoon. Mine was on the day after theirs, so I asked him to call me and let me know how things went. I thought I might be able to prepare for mine if I knew what to expect.

I donít know if the other guys got stressed out about the situation, that would be expected. Surprisingly, I didnít. There was too much going on with work and school for me to think about it.

Bob called again after he and his friend had their hearings. He wasnít very specific, and just said that he had a short interview with a lady who put him on probation for a month. Bobís friend was interviewed by the same lady and also put on probation for a month. He explained that if you get in trouble while on probation, you could possibly be kicked out of school but afterwards it didnít go on your record. I thought, no problem.

The Office of Student Life was housed in some old barrack style buildings, formerly used as married student housing, between the Morris Library and Faner Hall. They had that tarpaper siding on them that is supposed to look like bricks, and low peaked roofs. They were temporary buildings when they were put up, but were converted to offices years ago. Paint peeled from the trim around doors and windows. Ratty skirting was missing in places and a few crooked wheelchair ramps led up to some doors. Window air conditioners whined and dripped. It was an eyesore on a beautiful campus.

Inside the place was just the opposite. Although there was the prefab look of a trailer, the paint was new and furnishings were comfortable. I was on time and only had a short wait in the small receptionistís area, then I was told to go in through an open door.

A large man sat behind a massive desk, which was buried under a stack of paperwork. His hair was graying, and his brow was furrowed. I could tell that I wasnít going to have it as easy as the other guys did.

Shortly after I sat down, he started leafing through several large file folders, looked me in the eye and said,

"You made good grades in high school, didnít get into any trouble there. You are doing even better in college, even made the Deanís list a few times. Why do you want to go in those damn tunnels anyway?"

I was a little shocked that he had accessed my high school records and done a bit of research. I tried to explain that I enjoyed the sense of adventure that I got from tunneling, but he didnít think that was a good enough reason. He told me that it was dangerous because you could get trapped down there.

Iím not sure if this actually happened, but he told me that years ago a student had been exploring down there on his own, got trapped and died. Apparently a maintenance man had left a gate open and the student wandered past it, into another section of tunnels. When the student returned to the gate he found it had been closed and there was no way around it and no other exit from that tunnel. His body was found weeks later after he starved to death.

Then he asked me if I had ever read the inscription on the wall, behind the statue of Delyte Morris, in the entrance of the Morris Library. I told him that I knew the one he was talking about, had probably read it, but didnít remember what it said.

He told me that he was placing me on disciplinary censure for ninety days. Censure meant that if I was caught doing anything else, I could possibly be thrown out of school. Unlike probation, it went on my record and could even be held against me years later.

"I donít want you to have to come to my office again," he told me. "When you leave here, go over to the library and read that inscription. If you stay on the right path you might even end up running the physical plant, then you could go down in those tunnels anytime you want."

After leaving his office I did what he told me, and walked over to the library. Inside the main entrance is a large statue of former university president, Delyte Morris. He is credited for building up SIU from a tiny school into a large institution. On the wall behind the statue is a quote from Morris about the importance of education and always working towards the future. It struck me as being profound at the time.

That was the end of my tunneling career. The next year, several friends of mine transferred to SIU. They were interested in the tunnels and I shared my map and knowledge with them. The two of them explored every tunnel and took a lot of photos down there. They even made it to the east campus by coming to that large intersection from a tunnel on the other side of the gate.

My nickname at the time was Creo, and my friends made a special trip to the dead end tunnel with the crawlspace where they wrote, "Creoís Last Stand" on the wall. After they had explored every tunnel and had seen it all, they stopped going. They were never caught and didnít even have a close call.

When I look back at that whole episode, I think that we were caught due to our own carelessness. Bob and I were both experienced tunnel explorers, and were perhaps a little cocky. We both knew distances were hard to estimate in the tunnels and we didnít know exactly where we were. That meant that there was no excuse for making unnecessary noise, especially that close to the steam plant.

With manholes being few and far between, we should have tested the one in the dead end tunnel as a possible escape route before hand. Then we would have tried to escape by running back the way we came. Still that may not have worked. If we had gotten into any kind of chase down there, we probably still would have gotten caught. The cops had a pretty good response time and could have head us off, or we would have been caught from behind by the other man, since the gates would have slowed us down.

Just as there was no where to run, there was no where to hide. Noises echo around in the tunnels. That man may have heard us down the dead end tunnel and tipped off the police officer.

Perhaps the officer didnít even known we were on the other side of the dirt pile and just played a hunch by calling us out. If we had stayed back there he may have searched elsewhere.

None of us got into any more trouble while we were at SIU, so even my disciplinary censure turned out to be just a slap on the wrist.

Since then, the statue of Delyte Morris has been moved to the Old Main Quad, but his words remain on the wall inside the library entrance. I now work for a mechanical engineering firm that does a lot of boiler installations. Sometimes I even have to do field work in steam tunnels under college campuses and factories. It always brings back memories of my college days. Perhaps with enough experience I could have the Physical Plant Directorís job at Southern Illinois University, and go down in those tunnels anytime I wanted.


SIU continues to grow and change. Like the Forestry Labs now being used by another department, some of the other building names and campus features may have changed. The building I have referred to as Life Science II is immediately west of Lindegren Hall and south of Lawson Hall. It was a new building when I was in school and did not have a formal name at that time.

A Life Science III building was put up just to the south of Life Science II. I don't know if this building has a formal name yet, and I don't know what changes, if any, were made to the tunnel system. A tunnel does run east and west, just south of Life Science II, from Communications and all the way to Faner. I suspect that only a short branch tunnel was needed to connect the new building.

I was contacted in December 2001 by a freshman who has done some tunnel exploration. He reported that the pump house by Anthony Hall has been left unlocked many times, although on one occasion it was flooded so he had to go back another time. He also mentioned that many of the gates were left unlocked, and there was no sign of any alarm system or motion sensors.

In late December of 2005 I received what appears to be some valid updated information on the SIU tunnel system. The author of this email wished to remain anonymous. I've added some of my own comments at the end of this message.
. . . .
Hello. You don't know me, and I don't even know if the email is still active. I got this as a link off a site you made on the tunnel system. I came across it doing research on the SIUC tunnel system. This effort was a result of a boring long project on various bomb shelters of Universities across the state. I have interviewed physical plant staff as well as others including some folks at the Police station and the Engineering Dept. I can tell you several things you might want to add to your paper. However I will start by saying that I never WAS in the tunnels. All info I get is from 'official sources'

First. Part of the tunnel leading to the arena is no longer in existence. This was due to construction of a newer addition as a result of the foundation work part of the tunnel was destroyed, the piping rerouted.

Also the alcoves near the dorms you speak of were bomb shelters. I am told that the EAST CAMPUS also had some. This, I say owing to similar structures designed for the purpose at Northwestern and the University of Illinois. (Whom owing to its position to now defunct Chanute AFB as well as its suburb ENG and CHEM depts., was a good target of attack)

In answer to the question of patrols or repair walks of personnel through the system I got the scary reply: "Some parts of the tunnel have not been checked out since the Berlin wall fell. If anyone was trapped down there, we wouldn't even know today." This was the word given by a Phys plant supervisor and I swear my investigation might have even encouraged a few employees to make that walk through.
They did show three separate reports of serious steam ruptures over the last 10 or 15. I shudder to think what might have happened to human flesh if a guy was inside the system in the event of a burst.

Police: They wouldn't let me look at the arrest records or anything like that. They did say they average about a dozen reports a year of break-ins to the tunnels.

Sadly, the pump shack near the bridge has a fairly new steel type security door. While it WAS locked at the time I checked it. I was later told that a security motion detector does now exist inside. It is controlled from the Phys Plant.

Finally parts of the tunnel have been permanently closed between "sections". I've no other term for them, since the need for bomb shelters has gone, it is highly unlikely that any of the "campus walks" are even possible now. I was told this by a Phys plant employee who was GRIPING about it. Seems it makes it a tad harder to maintain the parts of the tunnel that are still inspected.

As kind of a PS: I was a former SIU student and had a room in 1730 Mae Smith. Now I don't know if you know, but the roof of the towers actually held a patio complete with deck chairs and its rumored that at one time that Mae Smith also had a SWIMMING POOL on the roof. If its true I'm guessing it was closed by '75. I explored Mae Smith top to bottom and found two interesting things, one in my room itself.

First, the stairs going up to the roof and elevator machinery have a side door to the roof. The common everyday glass fire door. However, this doorway had a thin layer of outdoor carpet leading to it and was not locked in the standard way, but had the glass spray painted over and massive chains anchored into the brick walls stretching across the hall preventing one from getting close to the door.

The item in my room was a huge trapdoor in the ceiling just outside the closets. It had a small key lock, which I defeated. I weaseled up and found a small, AND I MEAN SMALL, crawlspace under what appeared to be a massive tank, like the bottom of the pool. The crawlspace led down one side and I think was meant to gain access to the filters and piping which was visible but I didn't mess with it. I assume my opposite number also had a "hatch."Anyway sorry for the novel but I thought you might like to know. Feel free to list this info but please do not mention my name or email address.
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Following are my comments, some of which were sent in an email to the above individual:
The tunnel information makes sense, and until proven otherwise I will assume most of it is accurate. My only skepticism is that "official sources" have been known to give out misinformation when interviewed, in an effort to discourage exploration. I base my opinion on several Daily Egyptian articles I have read, which clearly had some false information.

The motion detector in the pump house near the bridge was the most shocking item to me. It seems that it could easily be spotted before descending the stairs into the tunnels. My guess is that it would either be a magnetic contact on the door, or one of those wall mounted infrared models off to one side, possibly even visible thru a pump house window. Such a device would pose no real threat if you exited thru the pump house, setting off the alarm as you made your escape.

The real disturbing thing is that if one motion detector was installed, it seems likely that there would be others, which were purposely not mentioned in the interview. Likely locations, if I were installing them, would be the Thompson Point pump house, somewhere near Lindegren, and near the branch tunnel to Neckers. I base my guesses on ease of installation for running wire and also covering the tunnel system with as few devices as possible.

Although I have been contacted numerous times over the years by people requesting more information on the tunnels (really all of it is posted here) no successful explorers have bothered to contact me with any new hands on information. What a shame.

More information on Mae Smith: There was a sun deck on the top of "C" Wing, which is the long wing. All towers had these decks and they were open in 1984-85 when I lived there, although the hours they were unlocked seemed to be sporadic, even during warm weather. Nice view as you would expect. All sun decks were closed a few years later due to the high cost of insurance and liability that they presented. The glass door that was painted over and chained shut goes out to the old sun deck.

There never were any roof top pools. I've seen plans of those buildings since I was an architecture student, so I know they hadn't been covered over by the time I moved in.

I know about the attic crawl space. Many people have accessed it and told me about it. I've heard tales of all sorts of contraband being hidden up there, from a bag of weed to several disassembled stolen bicycles.
Regarding the tank you saw, I have a theory about it, having done facilities work in a few high rise buildings. Many high rise buildings have domestic water tanks at top to serve as sort of a water tower for the building. Since a stand-alone water tower provides the pressure, you could only get water up as high as that tower was. Notice no 17 story water towers in the area of SIU, so the towers need their own system.

The common way this is done is that the city water main comes into the basement at whatever pressure, and runs through some booster pumps that have enough power to push it all the way to the tank on the top of the building. Level sensors will shut down the pumps if they fill it up, but usually water use in the building prevents that from happening. The tank is sized for peak demand and domestic water piping feeds down to all fixtures.

Another variation that might be done is to have the water main split in the basement, with one branch feeding perhaps up to the seventh floor or however high city water pressure can get it, and then the second branch goes to the building tank, which serves the higher floors only. I'd say this is most likely since smaller tanks and pumps are then used.


Most of these photos were taken with a Polaroid camera, which did not do well in the low lighting conditions. The used flash bars and film packs may still be somewhere in the tunnels. I would be glad to post any better quality photos if someone sends them to me.

This is one of my friends that transferred to SIU after my tunneling career was over. He always wore this shirt on his expeditions.


Inside one of the chambers south of Communications. The tube tunnel shown enters at the bottom. This photo was taken from the ladder up to the tunnel, which exits on the opposite side of the chamber.


This is what most of the steam tunnels look like. Roughly six feet high and about four feet wide. Usually there are pipes just on one side of the passage but there are exceptions as this photo shows. The floor is usually sloped a bit towards the pipe rack and the standing water on the floor is not uncommon. The orange colored bulge in the pipe (center left) is a valve. Although the poor quality of the photo doesn't show it well, the valve stem and hand wheel stick out into the passageway at a 45 degree angle. This makes for a tight squeeze and shows the importance of carrying a reliable flashlight.

A sloppy wiring job in an open junction box. It looks like phone wires to me. The hand wheel for a steam valve is in the background. This photo was taken near the Morris Library.

One of the impassable gates. This photo was taken at a three-way intersection located near the pump house by Anthony Hall. The tunnel beyond the gate heads south towards the Physical Plant.


A Thompson Point gate. All entrances to Thompson point buildings have impassable chain link gates. I suspect that the yellow tape on the padlock (lower left) indicates what key opens it. I believe this particular gate is to Lentz.


A typical tunnel under Thompson Point. A distinctive feature under TP is alcoves off to the sides of the tunnels at regular intervals. This photo shows an alcove off to the left. I was never able to determine what their purpose was. My guesses are fallout shelters and expansion loops for steam piping.


The newer tunnels by Life Science II and Communications are concrete tubes. The inside diameter is about six feet. This particular section would make for easy traveling. It is well lit, clean, free of standing water, and protruding valves.


Tunnel Map

I misplaced my original tunnel map after I graduated from SIU. Due to popular request, I have redrawn the map from memory. Although it was roughly 15 years from the last time I was in the tunnels to the redrawing of the map, I'll say it is 95% accurate. I don't remember where all the gates, manholes, and air vents were, so only some of them are shown. Unlike my original map, I've included the outlines of some buildings to make it easier to locate tunnel features from the surface.

Click here to download it as a pdf file.

Expedition Equipment

On my tunnel adventures I always took my Electric Torch, a 5 D-cell Mag Light. I still have it too. This flashlight did the job perfectly but it was a bit large at times. Since then, mini mags have become available and they are just as reliable, but would be easier to conceal when walking around the campus. You could really use any flashlight as long as the batteries were reasonable fresh and the light was reliable. At least one other person in my group also brought a flashlight.

I usually brought my regular campus backpack to carry the flashlight in. On a few occasions I brought a camera which was also carried in the pack. We never brought a bottle of water or snacks but those might have been nice to have. Cell phones were rare in the 80's and we never had one to bring. If I had one back then I would have brought it to make a call in case of an emergency, although I don't know if you can get a signal down there. I also would have kept the phone turned off to conserve the battery and prevent it from ringing at a bad time.

We wore clothes that we weren't concerned if they got dirty or ripped. The tunnels are relatively clean but we were always crawling around and under gates. Gym shoes were quiet and comfortable for lots of walking.

If it was cold outside we would just wear lightweight jackets and brave the elements on the way to a tunnel entrance. The tunnels were warm enough to take the light jacket off, which stuffed easily into a backpack.

Safety Concerns

If you took it upon yourself to venture into the tunnels you should try to be as safe as possible. My expeditions always practiced good safety habits and never sustained any injuries. We used the following safety guidelines:

Never explore alone. It is not known if the tunnels are regularly inspected by maintenance workers. If you became trapped or injured so you couldn't escape, you may not be found until it's too late. Also avoid taking a large expedition that would be too loud and move too slowly around obstacles.

We went at night, not real late, like around 10:00, and usually on a weeknight. Tunnel entrances were under the cover of darkness, and there wasn't much pedestrian traffic at that time.

The tunnel lights were on in a lot of areas and we turned off our flashlights whenever possible. If we could travel in a dark tunnel with only one flashlight on, the others would turn their flashlights off to save the batteries.

Every few years the school newspaper, the Daily Egyptian, will run a story on the tunnels. A Physical Plant big shot is usually quoted in the story, warning about the dangers of asbestos insulation on the pipes and poisonous spiders. It has not been confirmed if this is just propaganda to deter people from exploring the tunnels, or facts.

We did leave some minor graffiti and picked up a few discarded artifacts, but never tampered with any valves or equipment. Doing such things could be dangerous to the perpetrator and would give harmless explorers a bad image.

If you like to party, wait until after the expedition when there is a real reason to celebrate.

Comments on Tunnel Exploration

Most of my tunnel exploration was done in my freshman year. I was living on campus at that time so the entrances were close to home and that convenience had something to do with it. Near the end of my freshman year I had explored most of the tunnel system and was actually a little burned out on it by then.

Sophomore year I was off campus and only made a few expeditions. Those always had a goal of exploring new tunnels.


Occasionally someone will contact me about my news group posting, usually with questions about the tunnels. I've listed some of the information here that I've been willing to share.

In response to questions about Mae Smith and East Campus:

The steam tunnels connect to Mae Smith at the end of C-wing. You will see an air vent outside where there is a small chamber at the end of the tunnel. This tunnel leads directly to Grinnell. There is a similar vent by the C-wing of Schnieder.

The steam tunnels by the east campus residence halls run from one building to the next and you have to enter a locked mechanical equipment room from one tunnel and then find the locked door to the next tunnel. This means that the entire east campus is almost impossible to explore. Some friends made it through the tunnel that runs right by the Physical Plant and under the tracks by the University Park pedestrian overpass. The tunnel ends at a door to Trueblood.

All hub lounges are wired for cable TV although when I was there not all hub lounges had TV's. Dorm rooms were not wired for cable. Room number 1215 and all rooms above and below it, are on the other side of the wall from the cable TV connection. Many students in the past have measured the location in the hub lounge, then bored a hole in the wall of their room and also made one in the back of the cable junction box. You may be able to detect a previous patch in the wall meaning no need to measure. It's easier to wire it up from in the hub lounge, so put a couch in the way and work behind it to make your connection. You could get crazy and bore small holes in walls between the other three rooms on that side of the hall and install cable in them too. Presumably this would work in the other two towers as well. Spackle over all holes before you move out. One guy got busted doing this because his wiring job left the connection in the hub lounge non-operational. An RA tried to hook up a TV in the hub for some event and investigated when it didn't work. Use a Y adapter folks.

More on steam tunnels:

The Communications building has lots of interesting things to see. In the basement there is a passageway that winds around past wire mesh enclosed storage areas filled with all kinds of junk. There is also a film editing lab down there. On the opposite side of the passage and just down from the editing lab is a door to the steam tunnels which is always locked. You'll know it because it says something on it like, "Authorized Entry Only" on it.

The tunnel that runs north/south under the Necker's parking lot has a light switch about halfway down the parking lot, near a manhole. The switch has a big red light on it, visible from far down the tunnel. You might be fooled and think it is an alarm or sensor. It's just a light switch.

The complex of engineering buildings across from the arena used to have a fallout shelter in the basement. I've never been able to access it from the tunnels because the gate was always locked, but you may be able to access it from inside the CTC building (shown as Wing A on the SIU web site). One of the elevators there has a button marked "T" for tunnel. Ride it down. There are fenced off storage areas here similar to the Communications basement. I did not investigate much further than that.

The pipes from Brush Towers to the Rec Center, and all those at Greek Row are buried. No tunnels!

To the south of the Communications building on a lawn by the parking lot are two concrete slabs near each other. There are heavy hatches in the tops of them and typical steam tunnel vents to one side. These are two tall chambers in the steam tunnels, the purpose of which is unknown. In one chamber a tunnel ends, then there is a ladder on the opposite wall that you must climb to the top where the tunnel continues out on the other side. The tunnel that opens to the other chamber exits at the same elevation. These chambers are in the tunnel that runs off the main Thompson Point tunnel, the intersection is near Lentz, to the law library. The gate at the intersection was impassible when locked. Some friends made it to the chamber by entering through an air vent (usually impossible) near Thompson Point. I'm not sure of the exact location of the vent but know enough to get you there. If you are on the Thompson Point street that Abbott Hall is on, go to the end of the turnaround. There is a sidewalk between two dorms that you would take if going to Greek Row or the law building. The vent is near the sidewalk, between the dorms and the street. The shaft was supposedly not that deep, the grating not fastened in any way, and some bars at the bottom had been removed by a previous explorer. The location of the vent is very inconvenient for a stealthy entrance and exit so these guys went very late on a weeknight. I seem to recall that there was also a manhole very close to the vent but although it was obviously a tunnel manhole the cover was always locked or it was a two hundred pound model.

If you enter Quigley Hall from the entrance facing Woody Hall, there is a stairway just inside the door. Take the stairs to the basement. Near the base of the stairs is a mechanical equipment room. The door is usually unlocked and open but there is a locked sliding gate beyond. I have seen workers use a driver's license or similar tool to open the gate. Slide it between the gate and the frame, above the lock, then press the latch down. There isn't much to see in there, but the moral of the story is that if you encounter similar gates on your adventures they may be opened as easily.

Historical note: If you took the same Quigley stairway to the third floor, made a left and looked up on the wall, you may see a rectangular plastic box mounted near the ceiling. This is a phone ringer for the office near it. I used to use a computer lab across the hall on weekends, when that office was closed, and that box would ring almost constantly. A real pain in the ass. Noticing that the wires to it dropped from above the ceiling and were plainly exposed, I brought in a pair of wire cutters one weekend. The box was silent for years afterwards and probably still is.

Comments on Student Housing

I lived in a variety of places while I was at SIU and if anyone wishes to place a commemorative brass plaque on these historic landmarks they should feel free to do so.

Freshman year was 1221 Mae Smith tower. The Brush Towers are a great place to meet people and the rooms are decent sized. I especially liked the semi private bathrooms although I can see where they would be a problem if the people in the adjoining room had different standards of cleanliness. The drawbacks to the towers are waiting for elevators during peak times, and sometimes it's just too many people in one building. If you are going to live there, I suggest taking the stairs when going down, use the elevator for going up. I often saved time by walking up twelve flights of stairs and it didn't take much time to build up the stamina for that.

One year in the dorms was enough for me. My sophomore year was spent at the Wall Street Quadrangles at 1207 S. Wall St., apartment #358. The Quads was one of the few off campus apartments that were approved by the university for sophomores. As you can see from the aerial photo there are four buildings in a square or quadrangle. The fifth building was constructed later was often referred to as the "odd quad". The buildings have four floors but most apartments occupy two floors. This means that if your bedroom in on the second floor of the building, there may be the living room of a third floor apartment above you. 358 was one the efficiency apartments for single living. It was basically one room, slightly larger than the average dorm room, which doubled as living room and bedroom. There was a full kitchen and full bathroom. The only draw backs to the Quads is the rent was rather high, compared to most off campus housing, and if you rent one of the two story apartments you should make sure your bedroom is on the third or fourth floor.

Junior year was in a five bedroom house with four other guys at 317 W. Oak St. This house and two others next to it, were owned by the hospital and rented by a property manager. The house has been torn down for parking lot expansion, but you can still see the curb cut where the driveway was, directly across from where Irvin Ave. runs into Oak. The rent was lower since it was split five ways and everyone paid their share of bills on time so that was never a problem. At times, four roommates was just too many.

My senior year I lived at Reed Station Mobile Home Park #21. This is located on Reed Station Road, which crosses Route 13 just a few miles east of the mall. The park is on the left, less than a mile north of Route 13. This park had a lot of vacant lots at the time I lived there so it was very quiet and there was a shed which my roommate and I used as a garage for our motorcycles. The rent was reasonable and the trailer was in good condition for it's age, equipped with a washer, dryer, and even a fireplace! I drove through this park a few years ago and the trailer was still there. It was also vacant and unlocked so I made a quick tour. It's still in good shape. Some repairs had been made to the floor near the bathroom and washing machine, probably a water leak at one time, but the workmanship looked good. There was still a small hole in wall to the closet in the back bedroom where I had run a wire at one time to put a light in the closet. Note the same gold station wagon as in the previous photo, my Mom's "battleship" was used for all college moves.

Of all the places available for student housing I think a two or three bedroom house close to campus would be ideal. Trailers are fine if you look just outside of town. Most of the trailers in town are too beat up and overpriced.

Scam alert! Save all your canceled checks. When my roommates and I moved out of the house on Oak St. The landlord returned our damage deposit but it was only 4/5 of the amount he owed us. He claimed that one of us had never paid the deposit. Conveniently for him, he could not remember which one of us had not paid and he simply told us to split the money he gave us. All five of us were able to produce copies of our canceled damage deposit checks and at that time he paid the rest of the money he owed. It may be paranoia on my part, but I suspect that he intentionally shorted us on the returned deposit, assuming that out of five guys, one of us would have lost or thrown out the canceled check over the year.

For those of you who might want more information on the Quads, I have found the following web site: Quadrangle Apartments

There are also some recent reviews posted here: Quads Reviews


Other Stories

If you enjoyed Caught in the Tunnels, you may be interested in some of my other stories of college lore. Although they are works of fiction they are based on real people and places around Southern Illinois University.

Early Saturday Morning Based on actual events. A disgruntled dorm RA plots against his boss

Sibling Robbery In the fall of 1988 my sister Jennie and I were both poor college students and heavily in debt. To boost our meager incomes so we could pay off our debts, we decided to rob a small town bank.

The Small College Killer
Several unsolved murders had taken place on the campus within the last few months. The university tried to brush them off as random acts of violence, muggings gone wrong, but it was obvious now that a serial killer was on the loose

Blind Date Adventure
Place the following text after the link. A blind date turns into a spontaneous exploration of an old cemetery, to investigate the strange legend of a Civil War monument.

Send other tunnel information or questions to Christopher.