The Secret Life of Wake Forest

Today is Campus Day and there are about 800 families visiting this time.  It’s a bright and sunny day but a bit on the chilly side – saw lots of new families in what appeared to be brand new WFU sweatshirts and jackets during the 7:30-8:30 am check in time.

Yesterday some of my colleagues went on a tour showing some of the secret life of Wake Forest: the tunnels and the tower of Wait Chapel.  You may not have known that when the campus was built, the very first part of construction was a series of tunnels that traversed the campus underground and connected the buildings.  Ever wonder why you never see a telephone poll or a power line on campus?  This is why – everything was buried underground as the campus was built.

The tunnels are home to steam pipes (that are over 300 degrees, which is why the tunnels are closed and students are prohibited to enter them), power lines, telephone lines.  In more recent years, when internet and fiber optic cables were added, they went underground too.

4 23 15 tunnel big openingSome of the tunnels are large enough for people to walk through; one of my colleagues described it as ‘like being in someone’s basement.’  It’s all cement and no frills whatesoever, other than lights.  In some parts, the concrete is 18″ thick.  Other parts of the tunnels are only 4′ x 5′ and you have to just about crawl to get in them.  One of the pictures below, where it looks like you are peering down a hole, is a drop leading into one of the small tunnels.

4 23 15 tunnel 4 x 5 tunnelThe tunnels are still used – with official safety escorts – for events today.  For example, when Michelle Obama came to campus to speak at the memorial service for Maya Angelou, she was whisked in and out of Wait Chapel via the tunnels.  And of course Secret Service was down there with her.

IMPORTANT NOTE: if you are in the habit of sharing Daily Deacs with your students, PLEASE tell them not to attempt to get in the tunnels.  They are dangerous and pose severe safety risks.  It is illegal to go in them.  Even as far back as 1980 (and probably earlier, frankly), it was illegal to go.  So rather than your Deacs take a risk, here is an article from the 1980 Old Gold and Black describing the experience of one who went tunneling, as it is called here (scroll down on this site for the article entitled Tunneling).  The senior class typically has an opportunity or two to sign up for a tour, so tell your Deacs to be safe and wait for that.

tunnel 4 23 15 clock faceThis tour also went up to the tower of Wait Chapel and to the Carillon.  I’ve done that tour once and let me say it is not for those with a fear of heights.  But the view is extraordinary.  There are a couple of levels to Wait Chapel.  To get to the level where the Carillon is played, you have to go up a spiral staircase that is frighteningly open for those with height issues.  At the Carillon itself, you have to strike the very large keys with your fist to get the bells to ring.

4 23 15 tunnel bells allFor the very daring, you can climb up a metal ladder (sort of like what you’d see in an old NYC fire escape) and go up into the area where the bells are.  You can see some signatures of people who have been up there before, or a little good natured graffiti (see pic below).  The bells are just enormous.  The Carilloneurs do some fun things – they play at 5:00 pm every day, and they are clever folk – if it’s been raining they might do a song about rain (or maybe sun, as if wishful thinking).  On Halloween, they chimed a 13 o’clock.

Again – these places are off limits.  But you can enjoy the pics below and see some of the secrets of Wake Forest.

— by Betsy Chapman

4 23 15 tunnel big opening 4 23 15 tunnel graffiti bells 4 23 15 tunnels bells close

4 23 15 tunnells bells keyboard

Categories: campus life


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