What Lies Beneath:The Hidden CatacombsOf Indianapolis

What Lies Beneath:The Hidden CatacombsOf Indianapolis

Thousands of people visit Indianapolis? City Market each day, but how many know exactly what is below their feet?


Catacombs are large underground systems, traditionally used to bury the dead. They?re most commonly found in Paris or Rome, where millions of people are buried.

Image for postCatacombs on the Greek island Milos. (Image: Klearchos Kapoutsis ? Flickr.)

But these elaborate underground systems can be found around the world ? including in Indiana.

Thousands of people visit Indianapolis? City Market each day, but how many know exactly what is below their feet?

Monday through Friday ? around noon especially ? the City Market is a popular gathering place. People take their lunch breaks and walk here for a slice of pizza or a sandwich. Some sit outside if it?s nice, and eat at one of the tables.

Image for postThe City Market in Indianapolis, Ind.

?Hundreds of thousands of people have sat on this plaza, listened to live music, maybe enjoyed some lunch and some great conversation and maybe never known what was sitting below them,? says City Market Executive Director Stevie Stoesz.

The entrance to the catacombs is hidden from public view and there?s no outside entrance.

You go in through these doors, and eventually a set of stairs leads down to the basement. Quickly the concrete floors are replaced by dirt.

More than 140 columns create an underground maze.

Image for postThe catacombs underneath the Indianapolis City Market in Indianapolis, Ind.

This space is actually the basement of Tomlinson Hall, a four-story, multi-use building constructed in the 1880s.

Image for postTomlinson Hall in Indianapolis, Ind.

?It was used for sporting events,? says Indiana Landmarks Docent and catacombs tour guide Dan Lake. ?It was kind of like having your convention center, with Lucas Oil, with the Field House, with Circle Centre Theatre ? everything went on.?

It was a heavy building constructed out of brick and Indiana Limestone.

?And that?s the reason there are so many columns because it brings all the weight down from the building and distributes it through all of these columns,? Lake says.

The curved ceilings are called barrel vault ceilings and they helped distribute the building?s weight to the columns.

As you walk further into the tangle of columns you can?t help but think about Indiana Jones. The catacombs he explored were beneath the streets in Venice.In the first and second centuries Christians were persecuted in Italy and they weren?t allowed to be buried in the cities. Landowners would bury their relatives on their property, but they opened the sites up to other members of their faith, too.

That?s how the catacombs developed. But here in the catacombs you won?t find tombs or skulls.

Image for postImage for postImage for postThe catacombs underneath the Indianapolis City Market in Indianapolis, Ind.

?From my experience it?s not quite like what they?re like in Europe,? says Lake.

Besides a stray chair, you won?t find much at all.?For the most part it was used for storage,? he says. ?They?ve just always been referred to as the catacombs, and that?s just the subterranean level or the basement of Tomlinson Hall that once sat here.?

The catacombs are essentially just that: a basement. The catacombs were opened at least once to the homeless who were seeking shelter during a particularly cold winter in the early 1900s, and at one point they were used as a staging area for people to get food and clothing after a devastating flood in 1913.

?But no dead bodies that we?ve found here,? says Lake. ?At least so far.?

The catacombs are dark. It?s damp and smells musty.

?For the most part it was used for storage. They?ve just always been referred to as the catacombs.?? Dan Lake

Lake jokes about not finding any dead bodies in the catacombs, but that hasn?t stopped paranormal investigators from wanting to visit the site to go ghost hunting.

Multiple ghost hunters have stayed overnight in the catacombs, and their conclusions were there?s nothing bad or evil in the catacombs. Generally speaking, it?s a calm place.

?I believe nothing, but I?ve seen and heard enough,? Stoesz says.

?I took a picture of a tour group one time down here, and they were like, ?Stevie take a picture of us,? and I was like, ?OK.? I grab a camera. The minute I clicked it?I don?t know what it was. It was a white thing that came straight up, and I caught it in the frame and I was like, ?You guys, you guys!??

Tomilnson Hall burnt down in 1958. Why the catacombs weren?t just filled in after the fire is a mystery.

?A lot of times when they have a building they?re tearing down with a lower level, they?ll just infill,? says Lake. ?They didn?t in this case. Maybe that?s because of the way it was built. It was built so structurally sound that maybe it cost more to demolish and get into that basement area, so I guess we?re lucky we have this space.?

Stoesz is organizing an event in the catacombs on Halloween, and the City Market opened the catacombs for tours during the Super Bowl. They?d been closed off prior to that.

They also host other events in the catacombs, too, including some movie nights ? think ?Fight Club? and ?Indiana Jones,? of course ? and they?ll host a prohibition party in December.

But to get the catacombs up to code would cost millions of dollars, so for now, Stoesz says any development plans for the catacombs are on the back burner.


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