U. of C. steam plant – photo by Eric Allix Rogers
[This piece originally ran in Time Out Chicago.]
Q: I heard there’s a maze of tunnels that leads from the University of Chicago’s steam plant under the Midway to many of the campus’ spooky Gothic masterpieces. Can I take my sweetie down there to get steamy?
A: Sorry, the golden age of steam-tunnel spelunking is over. These passageways, which can reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit, are used to maintain pipes that transport heat from the steam plant at 6101 South Blackstone Avenue to a number of the university’s older buildings, says U. of C. spokesman Bill Harms. In the April ’99 issue of The University of Chicago Magazine, plant assistant manager Mike DeSoto reported finding beer bottles and graffiti in the tunnels and that it was common to catch students exploring the labyrinth in the dead of night.
U. of C. alum Russell Mast, a former student-government vice president, recalls sneaking into the tunnels in ’91 via a grate by the Divinity School (1025 E 58th St). “We crept drunkenly through the hot darkness for a long time, until we saw some light from above,” says Mast. “We figured we must have gone a mile but we came up in the tennis courts, only a block and a half away.” Steam plant manager Dan Carey says the entrances were secured with locked gates a few years ago, so you’ll have to save your make-out session for the sauna.