As a railroad hub and industrial center, Ogden has seen its fair share of colorful and sometimes questionable history. At the heart of that history is 25th Street. Infamous for everything from opium dens and bootleggers to prostitution and gambling, 25th Street has been home to a thriving underground. Perhaps that is why legends persist to this day of a series of tunnels that once connected the entire street beneath the surface.
Allegedly dug by Chinese immigrants in the late 1800s as opium dens, these tunnels have captured the imaginations and memories of Ogden residents. But were there really tunnels stretching from First Security Bank to the Union Station and zigzagging back and forth beneath the street?
In a project to gather the stories of Ogden’s older residents, researchers and professors from Weber State University interviewed people who had grown up in and around the city. Several mentioned the tunnels, though none of the interviewees could say that they had personally been in the tunnel network. Ray Mora, born in 1926, said he had heard of a tunnel going from the Ben Lomond Hotel to the train station, but that his brother would know far more about it. James Ritchie, born 1925, said he understood there were tunnels connecting much of 25th Street, but also said, “I never saw a tunnel. I couldn’t prove it. That’s just rumor.”
Others say they had heard of the tunnels, but assumed people had blown things out of proportion. Claire Knight said, “Tunnels under the street? I don’t believe there were any—I know there was tunnels under the sidewalk.” He went on to describe freight elevators that would rise up through the sidewalk to move goods into basements. Frank Zampedri described large, interconnected basements that could cover up to an eighth of the block and said “maybe that’s where they get this tunnel system.”
There are plenty of stories about the tunnels, but what evidence is there? Greg Montgomery, planning manager for Ogden City, thinks the tunnel legends come from a mixture of fact and fiction. There were definitely freight elevators, connected basements, and stairs leading down from street level. He explains, however, that “When we did the reconstruction of 25th street to put the sidewalks and sewer lines in we came across some of these basements but we never came across any that connected across the street.”
So where do the stories come from? Montgomery says, “We don’t have real evidence other than these minor connections, but you still have people who claim these things. What is the real story? We don’t know. Yeah, there were connections, there were spaces underneath the sidewalk, and to a little kid they looked pretty big.” Perhaps people remember walking in the tunnels under the union station to get to their train platform, or going down to a basement and seeing a door leading out under the sidewalk. These memories could have expanded and created a narrative of long, elaborate tunnels. Or perhaps we just haven’t found the right evidence yet.
But even if the basements of 25th street weren’t really part of a tunnel system, they saw plenty of excitement in the first half of the twentieth century. The city has pictures of officials bringing slot machines up to the street after conducting gambling raids and accounts of police officers busting opium dens. Many residents remember seeing Rosie, a prostitute at the Rose Room who (according to some) would walk her pet ocelot down the street. Some laugh about bars and restaurants that would have a switch to change the tubes to a water barrel if officials came looking for illegal alcohol during Prohibition. So whether or not the tunnels ever existed, they certainly add to the story of a city whose truth is just as bizarre as its fiction.