Living in Jackson

An East Side Enigma

August 28, 2020

I had been home for ten minutes when my phone rang. “Laurie,” our Operations Director said. “No one was hurt. No equipment was lost.” I gasped.

She told me Zach had been operating the excavator when a corner of the machine sank into the pavement. I had authorized our guys to clear brush, overgrown weeds, scrub trees and a pile of broken bricks from the parking lot behind the Commercial Exchange. I was not worried about Zach. He had experience operating heavy equipment on his family’s farm. I hoped he remembered the methane gas that lurked in confined underground spaces and would not go exploring before the space could be ventilated. I took a breath.

“Zach backed off safely, “she said. “The men working with Zach were curious about what looked like a room below the hole in the pavement. So, Zach lowered them into the opening with the excavator.”

Oh no! It did not take me long to drive back into town.

Turns out our workers had accidentally opened an underground crypt beneath an asphalt parking lot. The 7000-pound excavator had rolled over what at one time had been a sturdy steel door lying flat over the only entrance to a 12’ x 14’ room. The men had entered the pit before I got there. The concrete ceiling at 7’6” was high enough for them to stand. Using flashlights from their cell phones, they discovered a door between the rooms that was 39” wide by 6’1/4” high. The door led to a second 12’ x 17’ room. They told me they saw daylight on the west end of the second room. The light turned out to be an 18” wide X 28” long concrete chute slanting up and opening on the surface.

I breathed easier. Luckily for them the rooms were ventilated. The buildup of gas in confined spaces can be deadly. I remember an incident near our farm in Standish when a neighboring pig farmer entered an open pit to clean out the waste and was overcome by methane gas. His father saw his son collapse, went in to help. Both men were asphyxiated.

The rooms found beneath the parking lot were clean except for the debris that had fallen inside when the door was compromised. The “bunker” is located 24’ south of our building deep under the parking lot.

I could see the concrete ceiling reinforced with rebar from their cell phone pictures. I did not crawl down inside. I am not fond of snakes. The steel door that covered the only opening lay on top of the rubble inside the hole. The cell phone photos showed unstained floors and walls with no trace of coal dust or high-water lines. One wall was brick, the same Ohio Common brick used on our three historic buildings. Pipes of different sizes and materials had been sawed off near the ceiling inside both rooms. The men’s pictures showed one vertical wood column, similar to those inside our buildings.

“We found no evidence of Jimmy Hoffa or the Ark of the Covenant, but we’re sure the rooms had a purpose,” said Sharon Buchte. “We will continue to investigate the reason why the rooms were hidden, but precautions for the safety of our employees comes before solving the mystery.

The same excavator that opened this enigma to the light of day, covered the entrance for safety. We have made a record with measurements and photos to be added to the National Historic designation folder of the “COLLINS MANUFACTURING / JACKSON AUTOMOBILE COMPANY COMPLEX/COMMERCIAL EXCHANGE BUILDING” housed at Ella Sharp Museum.

The whodunit of this story remains an ongoing mystery.