Thursday, September 8, 2011

Beneath the Suburbs

After dad passed away, mom decided that the big, new house they'd been living in was too much empty space for her liking, and moved into a smaller, older house that was much more her speed. It's a nice little place built in the early 20th century, with all the advantages of old-fashioned construction, and all the little headaches. She loves it.

One of the things that didn't quite work out was the back yard, which was almost entirely covered with some kind of ground-creeping ivy. It was quaint and pretty, but one of the two halves--they were divided by a path--started to wither and had to be removed.

When the landscaper pulled out that ivy, it exposed a strange terrain feature: a depression, about two to three feet across, surrounded by a low circular mound. It looked almost like a miniature bomb crater. I tried to tell her it was probably where a previous owner had hidden a cache of Nazi gold, but she wouldn't listen; along with some other light landscaping this past weekend, mom asked me to fill it in.

Looking it over, the bottom of the depression was loose, sandy soil (this is South Jersey, after all) crisscrossed with dry, brittle ivy vines and roots. It couldn't hurt to dig a little, right? So I pushed the spade down into the edge of the depression... And hit something hard. And completely immobile. Probably nothing, but maybe Nazi gold. There was only one way to be sure.

The dead ivy made it difficult to scoop out the loose soil, so I used the point of the spade to chop at the vines. It went straight through. The sandy soil flowed down into the gash, disappearing into a deep black space beneath the lawn.

From General interwebs


I was, needless to say, somewhat surprised. My day-adjusted eyes couldn't make anything out, and my pocket flashlight could just barely light the bottom, which we measured to about seven feet below.

By lowering in a more powerful light, we gradually came to see the curved, root-encrusted masonry walls of the space, and the dusty bottom, with one pathetic, time-ravaged timber leaning against the wall, and the pile of dirt from my digging obscuring a shadowy, rectangular shape on the floor.

From General interwebs

I tried to tell them that it was probably a Viking tomb, or a long-forgotten doorway to the aeon-buried golden cities of K'n-yan, and that we should mount an excavation. They insisted it was the house's old septic tank, and I was outvoted.

The catacombs will be filled in next week, sealing off their secrets forever. Some people have no vision.

From General interwebs


  1. I was so ready to get you a ladder. ;)

  2. That's my girl. Up for a midnight trip to South Jersey?

  3. She took my obvious words, where's your ladder?

  4. All kidding aside, it's a septic tank. The house switched from septic to a sewage system back in the early 80s, at which point the tank was forgotten.

    A couple months ago, a transformer on the utility pole behind mom's house caught fire, and the firefighters asked her permission to park a ladder truck on her lawn to investigate it. Driving over the ivy, they got a wheel stuck in the depression (our first indication it existed), and had to call in a heavy tow truck to get it free.

    I figure the weight of the truck broke the concrete slab that covered the tank; hence our shadowy rectangular object.

    It's been more than twenty years, so any residual waste down there has long since turned to soil, but I'm still not super-keen on rooting around in it in hopes that somebody once flushed something interesting. ;)