Many people think the tunnels under the Soldiers Sailors Monument are secret passageways that lead to other parts of Public Square, but “that’s an urban legend,” according to Tim Daley, the Monument’s executive director.
“The way the urban legend goes is that there was tunnel between [the monument] and the Old Stone Church, or that we were part of the Underground Railroad," says Daley. "We weren’t built until 30 years after the [Civil] War.”
But what does lay beneath the Soldiers Sailors Monument—built in 1894 to commemorate the valor and patriotism of 9,000 Cuyahoga County soldiers and sailors who served in the Civil War—is a labyrinth of concentric circles made of unfinished sandstone that Daley likens to European cathedral crypts.
The underground structure is essentially a basement and used for storage most of the year, Daley says, but actually serves to support the weight of the massive monument made of 140 tons of black Quincy granite (with an additional 100 tons in the outdoor sanctuary, the statues, and the roof).
This Saturday, April 27, officials will give visitors a chance to peek into the underbelly of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument with its annual Tunnel Tour. “It’s something you don’t normally see,” says Daley. “It’s a behind-the-scenes tour, just like what they do at Playhouse Square or the Superior Viaduct.”
Daley says they have been conducting the tours for the past seven or eight years but moved the date from October to May last year in hopes of having more seasonable weather. “We had 1,500 last year, not counting the people who just went through the upstairs,” he says.
The tours begin at 9 a.m., but Daley warns that guests are in for a wait. “We take 30 people at a time,” he explains. “Last year, by 10:30 there was a two-hour wait to get to the staging area.” Though the line will close at 4 p.m., Daley says they will stay open until everyone in line by that time has completed the tour. (Last year, they finished up around 5:30 p.m.)
And, while they wait, the knowledgeable Soldiers and Sailors docents will keep everyone in line entertained and informed. The tour is free, although donations are accepted.
The Soldiers and Sailors Monument was designed by renowned Cleveland architect Levi Scofield, who also sculpted the monument statues. Scofield was also the designer behind five Cleveland Public Schools in the late 1800s and built the 1901 building that is now the Kimpton Schofield Hotel, among other significant projects.
The Soldiers and Sailors Monument is currently open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Starting Memorial Day, the museum is open daily through Labor Day.