Athens is a city shrouded in a mystery that was solved long ago.
For decades persistent myths have spread that the city sits on a sprawling network of tunnels, possibly in the shape of a pentagram. The entrances and uses of these tunnels seem to vary depending on whom you ask.
The most outlandish rumor comes from a 1992 issue of UFO Magazine.
The magazine claimed the tunnels were in fact "a joint alien-military underground facility."
The most common urban legends claim a vast population of devil worshippers once built the tunnels for nefarious reasons. Others say it was for the Underground Railroad, but fail to note that every building they claim to connect to was built far later.
"I hate Athens being noted for that …," Henderson County Historical Commission Chairman Sarah Brown said. "My family has lived in town since 1859, I can't believe I wouldn't have heard more."
The Henderson County Historical Commission is housed at one of the suspected points of entry to the tunnels, the old jailhouse. Before taking up residence there, they had offices in the basement of the courthouse.
"I've been pretty much all through the courthouse, because our office used to be in the basement," Mrs. Brown said. "I've always said, ‘show me. Show me the entrances and no one can show them to me.'"
In 1989, Brian Spurling the Athens Review interviewed longtime residents, including one who had a hand in building many of the suspect entrances.
"There is no way you can dig a tunnel in Athens," J.H. Graham told the Review. "The water table is too high, Athens is built on a lake of water.
"If you'll just look at some of these pits in town, you'll see how high it is."
When asked about entrances at the Athens Country Club, he firmly denied their existence.
"There aren't any tunnels there either," Graham said. "I carried the first stones up that hill with a team of mules in the 1930s."
Reporters from the Tyler Morning Telegraph thoroughly examined the suspected entrance points, two old fireplaces, and found no secret levers or switches that could have caused the old iron ore fire pits to swing open. A nearby table, said to be a sacrificial alter, was also conspicuously free of any deep gashes or symbols that might be associated with ritualistic activity.
To further reinforce Graham's point about the ground water, the old quarry, said to be the entrance to the very first tunnel, is now a scuba park because the shallow spring flooded the worksite.
Both Spurling and Brown had geologists exam soil surveys. In each case they came to the conclusion that the land simply couldn't support a network of tunnels as massive as residents claim.
Even in the face of facts, the advent of the internet has allowed conspiracies to rage.
One of the most popular sites for the conspiracy theorists to discuss the tunnels is blackofday.com
In September 2012, A user named Aimee claimed her brother had been shown a tunnel in the public library.
"I lived in Athens for 15 years and my brother Aaron did a report for his class about these tunnels. I was only about 11 and he was in high school. I remember walking into the public library next to the First State Bank. He informed one of the librarians that he was doing a school report about the tunnels and asked her if she knew about them, she then told him to follow her. She took him to the front entrance and there was a walkway leading down to a door, she opened it and told him to go on ahead and see for himself. She waited with me by the front entrance of the library. He was only down there for about 5 minutes until he came out pale as a ghost and wouldn't say anything. The librarian just laughed in a really creepy laugh ..."
Aimee concludes that the librarian could only have been a witch.
Other users claim an abandoned bed and breakfast housed a tunnel leading to a nearby cemetery.
"Rumor is, there used to be a bed and breakfast caf￩ here and a lot of the "prominent" men of the county would go there to eat and drink coffee," Mrs. Brown said. "There's a cemetery (not far). One man said, when I die and they bury me here, ‘I'm going to build a tunnel and come have coffee with you.'"
Brown pointed out the building has a solid concrete foundation. She has also been confronted by rumors that the jailhouse has a tunnel. At one point she agreed to humor some young men who insisted it was true.
"Some people said it's supposed to have a basement, we've never found it. One of the jailers said no," Mrs. Brown said. "It has an elevator and I had some young men move some stuff for me, they went down and looked and it was just solid concrete."
Even in the face of overwhelming evidence, curiosity seems to win out. Mrs. Brown said she the historical commission receives a large amount of amateur sleuths looking to prove the paranormal is real.
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