Sunday, October 29, 2006

Tunnel painting, seriously

[I walk though this same tunnel several times a week on my way to campus libraries, technology centers and food courts]

Quietly hidden beneath the UR campus Eastman Quadrangle, lies a 235' long, underground passageway that everyone calls just "the tunnel." This well used, solid concrete corridor is part of a much larger underground pedestrian system that connects eight of UR's integral buildings. But this tunnel is different; painted entirely in passion pink, Smurf blue or you-choose-it—and it can change over night, as it did during this writing—"the tunnel" is also covered from one end to the other in graffiti.

"The tunnel" stretches from the Hoyt Auditorium (a large, red brick building: everything is large and red brick at UR) to second tunnel that runs between Morey Hall and Lattimore Hall, after intersecting a third tunnel connecting the Bausch and Lomb Hall and Dewy Hall. Any student that wants to express them self, make a statement or post an event paint scrawls words and images on the walls, ceiling and floor... wall space is always at a premium. And there's no clean-up afterwards, either!

An article from UR's 2000 News & Facts mentions "Tunnel Painting" in a piece about campus traditions, "Tunnel travel has been a way of life at the River Campus since its first days in 1930. In the early years "lowly freshmen" were consigned to an underground existence, even in clement weather, by their sophomore masters--and all students then and since have ducked below ground during the inclement stuff.

"The tunnels have (of course) been the object of student pranks. On one famous occasion, the main cross-campus link was cinder-blocked at both ends by a hard-working nocturnal crew. The passageways have also been used for student research, says Ilene Busch-Vishniac '76, now dean of engineering at Johns Hopkins. She remembers bursting balloons and firing starter pistols in the echoing halls while studying the behavior of sound waves. (She has since become an expert in the design of highway sound barriers.)

"The custom of painting the walls of the cross tunnel originated around the turn of the '70s, when student philosophers began affixing their aphorisms. Samples: 'Life is a category mistake.' 'Is there life after birth? Only your guru knows for sure.' And, candidly, 'This is a good tunnel but not a great one.'

"More recently tunnel-painting has become more of a group activity, with expressions of love and loyalty among Greek organizations alternating with a heads-up for one or another organization's 'Awareness Week.'

Everyone knows about "the tunnel," it's well used 24/7 as a main though fare to get around campus, but little else is known about the tradition of "tunnel painting." How thick is that paint after 30 years of coat over coat? Who really started the tradition? Why is it that this vandalism is tolerated by administration? No one I've talked to seems to know!

Photos from U of R Chemical Engineering Department website.

Reporting from the underground...

Stan Morris