Ohio Woman Finds Tunnel Behind Fake Fireplace in Her 1859 Home Possibly Part of the Underground Railroad

A couple are convinced their 1859 Ohio house could have been part of the underground railroad, after discovering a tunnel behind a fake fireplace which leads to the attic.

Ariel and Otelia Vergez have been documenting the restoration of their Victorian Italianate home, in Cleveland, which they've aptly named Vergezcaya.

The couple, who have five children and another due in July, snapped up the 19th-century home without viewing it first, and the property has slowly been sharing its secrets with the new owners.

"Bought a house built in 1859 without seeing it in person. Knew it was going to need some work but it has been full of surprises," Vergez wrote on her TikTok.

Vergez, who runs a design consulting agency with her husband, added: "Doesn't look too bad on the surface. In love with all the fireplaces and tall ceilings." In total they have four fireplaces, but Vergez noticed two of them were in odd positions, as they weren't connected to any chimneys.

Vergez uploaded a video to TikTok in June, where a commenter revealed how they could check if their home was part of the secretive network that helped enslaved people fleeing the south.

"Check to see if there are hallways between the fireplaces, if so it's an underground railroad," they wrote.

In a follow-up clip, Vergez said: "So we immediately bolted upstairs after reading this comment. We have four fireplaces in this house but only two of them work, the other two are not even connected to any type of chimney so this is us trying to figure out what the heck is going on with this one.

"Ok this is a fake corner, and this is access to the attic," she says panning to a hatch in the corner of the ceiling. Vergez continued talking to the camera as her husband set about removing debris from inside the fireplace, to see what lay behind it.

She said: "The house was built in 1859 and our neighborhood is notorious for having homes that were part of the underground railroad.

"There are even houses which have tunnels which go all the way to the lake that helped people escape to get all the way up to Canada. So here is what we found. This connects to the attic, somebody could totally fit through there."

She puts her phone through the hole revealing a thin passageway, just wide enough to accommodate a person. "This old house has epic surprises everyday!" she captioned the video shared in June, which has been viewed more than 2.5 million times.

The Underground Railroad consisted of a network of people who offered shelter and aid to escaped slaves from the South, according to website History.com. It developed as a convergence of various clandestine efforts. While there are no exact dates, it roughly operated from the late 18th century to the Civil War.

Vergez later looked into the history of the area and shared a follow-up video a few days later, after investigating Cleveland Historic Maps.

She said: "So we haven't looked for old tunnels on our property yet but I found this old map from 1852 which shows who owned the property right before the house was built. So if W. J. Gordon also built our house, check out his own house.


Reply to @romeynjulesy Considering we found bricks under the grass, anything is possible! #learnontiktok #tiktokpartner #undergroundrailroad #homereno

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"He had tunnels all over his property. The article talks about how he might have used them for the underground railroad but also to smuggle alcohol during the prohibition. The tunnels actually led down into the Cuyahoga river which would have created easy access for in and out stuff."

She captioned the clip: "Considering we found bricks under the grass, anything is possible!"

The couple have been sharing numerous videos to their social media account, including Instagram, documenting the transformation of their home after they received the keys in April.

They're planning to "renovate and restore" the property, which has at least two bedrooms, and a separate one-bedroom apartment attached to it.

"Can't wait to get in there [and] make her ours. PS that dining table is actually an antique square piano that we get to keep," Vergez added.

Newsweek reached out to Vergez for comment.