A secret system of
concrete tunnels that runs beneath the Notre Dame campus?...Ah, I thought
From Richard Sullivan's Notre Dame...
Under the present campus runs a network of concrete tunnels, big
enough to walk through. A student of mine walked through them last year,
enjoying himself tremendously, partly because of the catacomb effect,
partly because if he'd been caught he'd have probably been admonished
severely and no doubt campused by the rector of his hall or by some even
higher, sterner authority. Because students aren't supposed to walk the
tunnels. This fellow stumbled on an entry somewhere or other; not one of
the manholes that dot the campus, but at an opening out of his hall
basement, as I understand it; and being of explorative bent he entered,
tentatively, then wandered about, mainly by night, when the passages were
clear of workmen, mapping his course as he went. He showed me the map: a
fine, thorough job; I contemplated going with him on his next sally, but
decided against it, being subject to croupy symptoms when exposed to
These tunnels-a latterday improvement of Zahm's first central heating
system-were built just a few years too late to be cited by the Klan as an
ominous storage place for rifles and dynamite in some illusory Papist
plot. No doubt they will, some time or another, be so cited; or be charged
with even nastier intentions. When I heard the other day that an itinerant
preacher currently in this region -fellow who wears a white velvet vest
and drives a bright blue convertible-had revived some of the old lurid
priest- and-nun charges I wondered how it was he didn't mention our
tunnels. But I guess he hadn't investigated closely. He should have,
though it would not have paid him his customary take to report honestly
what he would have found. Because what the tunnels were built for, and
what they do admirably and exclusively, is to house the steam lines and
water pipes and so on that service the thirty- five or so buildings that
make up the present University. They were dug and lined as insurance
against the perpetual digging which goes along with the perpetual
disintegration, and the consequent perpetual repairing, of such
communications as are subject to wear, tear, and decay. I understand that
as an engineering achievement they are considered admirable.
One day coming early to class to meet a student for a conference -faculty
office space is short at Notre Dame, and a lot of us are accustomed to
using empty classrooms, or the Library, or the Caf, for appointments of
this sort- I found a steam fitter doing something noisy to one of the
radiators. The student didn't get there quite on time so I had a
preliminary and highly instructive conference with the steam fitter. He
was a big, blocky, flat-nosed man, with tar-black hair, and blue stubble
on his jowls, a very good guy, once he'd eased up and stopped suspecting
me as a damned professor likely to object to his banging and interfere
with his vocation and state of life. Once we got friendly, he told me
exactly what he was doing to the radiator; but my memory is not geared to
such details, and
I can't trust myself to quote him accurately on the subtleties of his own
craft. Only I can quote him, with deletions covered by paraphrase, on the
tunnels. Our talk drifted, and he got on to the steam lines. He loved
those tunnels as a man loves what he lives with, his own work, his reason
for being. He spoke of them in the profane and genuine terms of complete
He told me it was a funny thing but those lousy pipes developed lousy
little pin-prick holes; he didn't know why the lousy things should do that;
but they did; and he paused for me to marvel with him. But you get down
there, he said, and you follow out those lousy lines of steam running all
over to hell and gone and you get to thinking of the way people plan
things out ahead of time in their heads. "By God," he said,
"you know it took some doing just to think up those lousy things!"
He would like to know, he said fervently, the illegitimately born
so-and-so who thought them up; because there was one illegitimately born
human being he could honestly admire. "And I mean it!" he told
me, brandishing a wrench.
I said I shared his admiration. He looked at me and asked: "You teach
I said I did.
"By God! " he said, and I felt I had done something honorable
for my profession, and followed up my advantage.
"You pretty near through with that radiator?" I asked him.
"I got a class coming up here in ten minutes."
"I'll be done before you get your lousy books laid out," the
steam fitter said. "Listen, you race pigeons?"
"Didn't I see you drinking beer one time out at the Belgian
"If you want to put it that way," I said, "there are
a lot of places you might have seen me do-"
"Out at the Blue Bonnet is where all the guys that race pigeons hang
out," he said. "I thought maybe you-"
'I never raced a pigeon in my life," I told him. The student with
whom I had the conference scheduled came in, puffing from the stairs.
"What I was going to say," the steam fitter declared, the best
thing about them lousy steam pipes"-he pointed
a forefinger with a great blackened nail at me, then at the student-"is
the green grass and the lousy dandelions! Am I right?"
"Right! "Am I right? " he demanded of the student.
"And that's something," said the steam fitter, "was just an
accident. They never thought that up ahead of time!"
What he meant was that in late November, when the first dry grainy snow
comes, or in December when there's a sweet and soppy fall of big wet
twirling flakes, or in February when a foot of sooty, pock-marked snow
lies over the campus, the heated ground over the steam lines always melts
first; and in March there is fine green grass making stripes on the gray
matted ground from building to building; and dandelions come up in their
brightness months ahead of their proper season; and they make you feel
good about that time of the year, when Lent is still running its course
and the end of winter drags.
"By God!" said the steam fitter, walloping the radiator, I could
eat those lousy dandelions!"
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