Carefully descending a steep hill near Chimborazo Park, Stefanie Lacks gestures toward an overgrown ravine. Somewhere down there is the entrance to the east end of the ill-fated Church Hill Tunnel, but it's difficult to see.
"You'd never know it," she says, "but it's right there."
Urban explorers have long searched out this spot, where the sole survivor of a 1925 tunnel collapse crawled out from the train wreckage before dying of his injuries. It's unknown how many died when the 4,000-foot-long tunnel collapsed, though the best guess is that when the clay and limestone gave way, at least four workmen were killed. One body was found before the rescue effort stopped. The other bodies and the locomotive remain entombed.
The collapse has been remembered through ghost stories, dissertations and an upcoming documentary, says Lacks, a dispatcher for a local trucking company, says the site also needs a proper memorial to those killed. The only official designation of its history is a plaque at the other end of the tunnel, near Marshall and 18th streets.
"If it were my grandfather stuck in there, I'd be furious," Lacks says.
So she's launched a petition campaign to get the site owner, CSX, to clear the area around the east entrance and put in stairs. The petition, online at change.org (search "Church Hill Tunnel") has garnered about 200 signatures and inspired local artist Barry O'Keefe to install a shrine box.
CSX spokeswoman Melanie Cost says the company "is glad to discuss with local community officials any proposals to highlight rail history in the area." All proposals would be evaluated on "business impact, safe access and liability issues."
Lacks hopes to see the site eventually become a memorial park, possibly run by a nonprofit. She says doing so would take the tunnel "from being the realm of urban legend to reality."