What Lives in the Endless Midnight of Indy’s Catacombs?

Beneath the picturesque paths of Indy’s City Market lies 20,000 square feet of perpetual blackness, illuminated only by naked lightbulbs and flashlight beams.

The Catacombs of Indianapolis are the last substantial portion of the city’s first convention center/public auditorium Tomlinson Hall, destroyed by a runaway blaze in the 1950s. All that remains is a single archway in the City Market…and the Catacombs. 

Tomlinson Hall, 1904

I grew up reading Stephen King, and you couldn’t wish for a better horror story premise than that. It’s a Tee-Ball-at-the-World-Series kind of premise. So what DOES slouch and scurry in the cloying darkness below the streets of Indianapolis?

Nothing. Maybe some rats or raccoons, but that’s it. Sorry if that’s a disappointment. No ghosts haunt these subterranean halls because they never actually served as catacombs in the European sense. Or in any sense. The Catacombs of Indianapolis aren’t technically catacombs at all.

Although the subterranean structure has held that nickname for nearly a century, true catacombs are constructed to serve as an underground cemetery, which those below City Market never were or did. 

In the days before refrigeration, a convention center like Tomlinson Hall had an epic need for cold(-ish) storage. Workers piled foodstuffs into the hall’s massive cellar, packed them in sawdust and ice blocks, and this kept everything crispy and fresh(-ish), the turn-of-the-century’s equivalent of a crisper drawer; your great-grandparents probably had something similar, on a much smaller scale. The Indy Catacombs started life as a giant icebox in a more giant basement. 

After electricity became widespread and refrigeration improved, the hall no longer needed the underground cold storage, and the Catacombs fell into disuse. Since then, it has served a number of functions: as shelter for the homeless in cold winters; a shooting range for the metro police; even hosting annual parties celebrating the end of Prohibition. 

Going even further against horror type, in its heyday, the place was simply rocking. Musical legends like B.B. King, Ella Fitzgerald and Bo Diddley played the venue regularly until its destruction in January of 1958. In all that time, there were no piles of moldy bones, no casks of Spanish wine and no psychopaths hiding piles of brick (Read Poe’s “Cask of Amontillado” if you REALLY want to feel catacombs).

This one’s just a big ol’ creepy basement. Today, several ghost tours still haunt the Catacombs, spinning out yarns and legends about Indy’s secret structure, but very little of it is true. Wait, I don’t want to say tour spiel isn’t true, just conveyed with extreme dramatic license. 

The place is spooky. Anyone with an imagination more lively than a limp noodle wouldn’t go down there alone. Having a healthy fear of the dark is natural, serving an evolutionary function.

The Catacombs owns darkness in abundance, even with hundreds of lights draping its pillars. Recesses and alcoves down there clench onto darkness like old men clench blankets on frigid nights. I doubt even the most diehard skeptic would venture far from the well-lit walkways.

Because monsters and ghosts don’t exist…and as long as you stay in the bright light, they can’t slosh out of the dark and drag you away.


Want to Know More?

Being afraid of the dark is perfectly normal. Here’s a ‘Discover’ magazine article on other things we are hardwired to fear. 

Who Rocked Tomlinson Hall? Here’s a few of the shows you’d give two toes to have seen.  

If you’d like to catch a spooky tour of Indy’s Catacombs, here’s the place to go. Retain a healthy filter of skepticism about some tales you hear on the tours.