“We Shall Not Bore the Reader.” That’s the first rule of The Blue and Gold, and a pretty good rule for any publication to keep in mind. But this newspaper is staffed by fourth and fifth graders at Murch Elementary School. The 17 student reporters work under the guidance of Aaron Epstein, an award-winning journalist.
The student reporters are fifth graders Jana Alkebsi, Lila Davies, Emma Cappelloni, Llogan Coleman, Sahar Giovacchini, Jack Leon, Klementyna McGuire, Naomi Moreira and Cora Nuamah; and fourth graders Harper Barlow, Josephine Caspar, Abigail Dannenberg, Samuel Kallauer, Maya Leach, Ekaterina Lyublvaya, Ronan Shah and Molly Snyder.
They have generously given us permission to reprint their work. Below is an article about a subterranean journey in the original Murch school building. And we encourage you to read the entire winter 2020 issue.
Exploring Murch’s Mystery Tunnel
by Harper Barlow and Josephine Caspar
for the The Blue and Gold
When we got permission to explore a mysterious tunnel in the old part of Murch, we felt really special because kids aren’t supposed to go there.
Our adult guide was head custodian Joseph Hodges, who handed each of us a flashlight and opened a door labeled: “Staff Only.” We journeyed down the stairs, opened a door, and stepped into the darkness of a passageway that felt a bit creepy, like we were digging our way out of a prison.
The first things that came into sight were crumbling pipes along the walls and pieces of insulation on the floor. As we stepped deeper into the tunnel, our shoes kicked up dirt from the floor. We progressed deeper into the tunnel, crouching as the ceiling got lower.
With the help of our flashlights, we were able to brush our hands against the wall, which turned out not to feel smooth, but very rough. We came across a small crawl space lined with boxes. We continued to walk further into the passageway until we came across a small set of stairs. From there, we spotted many old wires connected to old light bulbs. The bulbs didn’t work.
Soon we came to a bunch of pipes, which blocked our path. As we tried — and failed — to step over them, we realized that the exit door was right in front of us. As we stepped out of the darkness into a bright hallway, a gaggle of 1st-graders peered through the open door.
“What’s that?” a few kids asked curiously. That was the right question. What was the Murch tunnel used for?
There is a rumor around the school that, at one time, it was a shelter to protect people at the school from the effects of a nuclear bomb attack. But we could not confirm that rumor.
(The Blue and Gold Editor’s note: Several DC public schools were designated as fallout shelters in the 1960s during the height of the Cold War against the former Soviet Union. A Washington Post reporter and a Smithsonian curator inspected one such shelter, beneath the Oyster-Adams Middle School, in 2017.
Unlike the narrow, low Murch tunnel, the Oyster-Adams shelter was wide and high enough to protect more than 100 people. And, in contrast to the Murch tunnel, water barrels, tinned crackers, first-aid kits and latrines were found at Oyster-Adams, The Post reported).
(FHC Editors’ note: Schools weren’t the only sites listed as emergency fallout shelters. The District Fallout blog includes the 1965 “Community Shelter Plan Study for Washington D.C.,” which lists most of the Connecticut Avenue and Van Ness high-rises, the old “Ice Palace” where Park Van Ness now stands, and the old National Bureau of Standards where UDC and Whittle School now stand.)