In 1801 Elias Hasket Derby Jr. leaves his two year retirement. His father, the country's first millionaire, has left him a money pit that many would consider one of the nations first American Castles. The expense to keep up this mansion and his leisurely life style has forced Elias back into action. He will take command of the local militia to fill in the ponds in the Common as part of an elaborate plot. The plot would entail the beautification of this neighborhood and entice a series of merchants and ship captains to build a series of two grand brick mansions set apart at fixed distances around the new park. All attached to a series of smuggling tunnels that would lead from the wharf, to their stores, and the banks. Those who paid for it were called the Subscribers of the Common Improvement Fund. Elias gathered 159 subscribers and had few of them paid twice when the plot fell short of money needed to finish.
An elaborate scheme filled with Masons, pirates, a Secretary of the Navy, a couple of Secretaries of State, Senators, Representatives, a Supreme Court Justice, Presidents, and a touch of murder! Dig into the tunnels of Salem and find the underbelly of our nation! These men were Federalists. This new leg of tunnels was in opposition to President Jefferson's new customs duties. Jefferson had ordered local militias to help the Custom Agents in collecting the duties in various ports. Well in Salem all of the local militias were acting as private bodyguards to several of the wealthiest merchants and ship captains in town. Salem had more Colonels and Generals in the militias than you could shake a stick at. In fact every Custom House in Salem had a tunnel attached to it to smuggle confiscated goods out of before paying the duties owed. Plus the weigher, the gauger, and the Collector of Customs in Salem were part of this scheme. By 1805 the Custom House had seen a drop in tonage by 50%! In fact a memo circulated soon after the book was written states that the Custom House and the Park Department still would like their secrets to remain hidden.
Now the tunnels would extend on the ancient tunnels in town leading from wharfs to the newly constructed brick Federalist homes on the Common. These homes were built by a select group of masons and architects including Charles Bulfinch who built the tunnels under the National Capital in Washington. Two brick homes were placed at fixed distances around the Common and down Essex Street. These homes all had 4 external chimneys at least to attach the tunnels to and to act as draw to pull oxygen into the tunnels. Here these gentlemen stored their goods till they could move it further through the tunnels to their stores. After they sold their goods they could then sneak the profits back into the tunnels and straight into the banks they owned.
Each generation since then has found new uses for these tunnels. Leading up to the Civil War, abolitionist used these tunnels as part of the Underground Railroad. Charles Lennox Remond and his sister Sarah Parker Remond used the smuggling tunnels that led out of their fatgher's catering business in Hamilton Hall to move runaway slaves through. In one old bank two runaways had died and are still interned in a cement coffin in a basement of an old bank. The tunnels were also used during Prohibition. The basement of Bunghole Liquors is attached to these tunnels. During Prohibition it was a funeral home with a speakeasy in the basement amidst the formaldehyde tubes in the wall and the corpses. A local museum still uses these tunnels to move their artifacts from building to building. In fact this museum has always had a tunnel leading to the sea to move their treasures from foreign ports. Are they still using them? They recently have bought up three buildings that are attached to the tunnels in which their museum used to reside in. Are they keeping secrets? The founders of this museum still have a secret clubhouse on top of the local hotel. A very exclusive club with strict membership requirements. Do our local Masons still use these tunnels? They did in the nineteenth century. In fact many help build them, like Elias Hasket Derby Jr. and Joseph Hiller! Nowadays they have ben converted into utility tunnels to run electrical, sewer, and gas conduits. The utility companies even train their employees to lie about their existence. But we know better! Book a Tour Today!!
Read more about the history of the tunnels on our blog!