Tunnels Below the Hospital

Nurses learning their trade at Immanuel Deaconess Hospital in the 1910s.

There were 20 buildings at the old Immanuel Deaconess campus in North Omaha. Located at N. 34th and Meredith, the first building opened there in 1891. Over the years, the campus included a hospital, an orphanage, an old folks home, and a mental health institution.

A challenge of having a facility spread out over six city blocks on a hillside was that transporting patients in the wintertime could be treacherous. Hospital administrators solved the issue in the early 1900s when they started making tunnels between the buildings. Conveniently carrying utilities across the campus, the tunnels were located more than 15 feet underground so they wouldn’t freeze, and so they stayed relatively level despite the elevation change.

A picture of the Immanuel Deaconess campus in the 1940s.

In 1976, the hospital moved to a new campus on N. 72nd Street. By the late 1980s, one of the final buildings was demolished. A decade later, a new housing development was built over the top and little thought was given to what had been there. New streets, new basements and street signs and street lights and everything all went up. Apparently, no thought was given to the tunnels, either.

In 2009, I had a chance to talk with a friend who lives in that development. Just talking about things, he told me there was this weird thing that everyone in the neighborhood had experienced. In their basement during no certain times of day, different people can hear clanging and banging coming from below their houses. Without knowing anything about it, I filed it away to learn more later.

 

This is one of the tunnels below the Immanuel Deaconess campus as it appeared in the 1940s.

A few months ago I was researching an article about the campus when I learned about the tunnels. Dumbstruck, I read about patients gurneys being moved by harried nurses, and corpses being shuffled away by orderlies. Finally, there was a discussion about patients from the sanitarium being moved exclusively through the tunnels, no matter what the weather was outside. The thinking was that in those enclosed spaces, it would be harder for a patient to flee.

Are there still patients below the houses banging on the pipes tonight?

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Author: Adam Fletcher

I'm a writer and speaker who teaches people about engaging people. I specialize in youth engagement in communities, at home and through education. Learn more at adamfletcher.net

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