Haunts & Jaunts: Indianapolis Catacombs

The Indianapolis Catacombs

A labyrinth of arches, hallways and rooms stretch just under the surface of the City Market. It might be a different world with the lights out. The carriage with a ghostly tale is just behind the pillar.

   Visitors to the City Market in downtown Indianapolis tread along a historic corridor of the city’s past. Originating in the 1880s, it’s one of the oldest markets in the city, and as in the past, a hub of shopping, goods and most important—socializing. However, there was once another building of some significance occupying space adjoining the market. It met a tragic demise, yet leaving a remnant behind. How many realize today there is a large space just under their feet? Welcome to the Indianapolis Catacombs!

   Tomlinson Hall formerly sat there. It was a large, four-story Roman Renaissance building, built in the 1880s of brick and Indiana limestone, and used for sporting events and  public entertainment. It was the place to go in its heyday! In 1958 it burnt to the ground. Today, all that re

The only upper level remnant of Tomlinson Hall,sitting in the City Market Plaza.

mains of the historic building is an east facing archway in the plaza. The rest of Tomlinson Hall lies just beneath…

   Catacombs are usually underground systems traditionally used to bury the dead. They were popular overseas in the past. The Indianapolis Catacombs are no such animal (no bodies or skulls), yet are worth the look. It’s essentially a 100-year-old basement that in its time was used for storage. Its entrance is hidden from public view; no outside entrance. A set of stairs descends down into a dirt floor. Barrel vaulted ceilings distributed among 140 arched columns become a backdrop to a winding labyrinth of corridors, hallways and rooms. There is light for the tourists, yet it is damp and smells musty as you would expect a basement to.

From the author’s postcard collection–Tomlinson Hall it its glory days.The City Market is to the extreme right.

   After the 1958  fire the basement was never filled in, which I imagine was a cost factor at the time. This basement area was abandoned, lost to the ravages of time. Today, restoration of these ‘catacombs’ would extend into the millions. Who has that kind of money?

   Are the catacombs haunted?  Some think so. Paranormal investigators ache to investigate the catacombs, but as of yet no invitation’s been extended. Many have had impressions during a public tour. And several workers and volunteers have creepy stories to tell. Others give the “deer in the headlights” look when questioned about paranormal activity. (Our guide did) Some don’t like coming down into the catacombs alone. One story involves a horse drawn carriage,  placed there for storage many eons ago, and found later in another location—with no tracks in the dirt. It’s still there. I asked our guide about THAT story. He gave me the ‘stare.’

   A guided tour with lights and lots of people is one thing. Going down there in the dark, alone, in a maze of archways would be completely something else. Make your reservation on-line for a tour (May through October).  For the moment, it’s the only way.