Lying 40 feet underground, the railway network once linked four public stations and many large businesses in The Loop. Over the years, the tunnels supplied telecommunications, delivered coal, transported mail and took excavation debris to the shore of Lake Michigan where it was used to create the land under Grant Park, Soldier Field and McCormick Place.
In the early twentieth century, buildings were actually constructed with deep foundations in order to access these handy waterproofed tunnels directly (and possibly illegally). Unfortunately, after the tunnels were abandoned in 1959, the redundant access shafts were mostly bricked-up and forgotten about. At least, this was the case until the early hours of the 13th when the basements of City Hall, The Merchandise Mart, Chicago Hilton and Towers, the Federal Reserve Bank and many other business district buildings and subways began to flood.
Chicago’s resulting flood (or ‘leak‘ as it was called for insurance purposes) caused around $1.9 billion worth of damage. After attempts to close the breach by dropping rocks from above, the tunnels were finally drained, drilled and plugged. To prevent further problems, the section underneath the river was eventually sealed off from the rest of the network and the tunnels have since been secured after a terrorist threat.
By Alexandra Smith