“Want to see that Capone Tunnel?” TJ asked me. 

Weeks earlier, he had mentioned the tunnel in passing, but I hadn’t thought much of it since.

For some reason, many of those living in Northwest Indiana are infatuated with old school Mob figures. Half-baked rumors passed as easily as counterfeit bills, and you couldn’t pass through a town without eventually hearing that a mob boss once stayed there or bodies had been buried in a cornfield nearby.

Two things gave me pause in dismissing the tunnel though. One, sometimes the rumors are true: the 1986 discovery of the Spilotro brothers in a shallow Newton County grave proved that. There’s also Dillinger, but that’s been discussed ad nauseam

HOBART, BACK IN THE DAY…

Two, I also knew TJ pretty well. An affable, talkative guy and amateur (but extensive) Hobart historian, he possessed an uncanny recollection of dates and locations. Sometimes he seemed like a walking, talking archive. I knew that if he had something to show me, at the very least it would interesting. 

We drove into rural Hobart, just north of Deep River County Park, rocketing down Ainsworth Road in a gas-powered golf cart. Hot and sunny, the wind felt nice, but those rural Hobart roads are narrow. I gripped the golf cart’s frame with white-knuckled hands.

 

We chugged up a hill past the River Pointe Country Club, a swanky club that had evolved with Hobart itself. It had started life as a farm, then a dinner club, then a full-fledged country club.  Just across the street from one of the country club’s maintenance barns, TJ started to slow down. He craned his head up, staring at the dense wall of summer foliage on the roadside.

“It’s somewhere…here…” he said, slowing down. “It’s been awhile since I’ve been here…”

Then he stomped on the brake, yanking us to the shoulder. He snapped on the parking brake and hopped out. 

“Come on,” he said, plunging into the undergrowth and disappearing from the road. That’s TJ. Once he gets a mission and some enthusiasm, he’s like as focused as laser.

I walked further down the road, checking for cars and looking for a break in the foliage. I was allergic to poison ivy and had worn shorts.  When I saw a patch that seemed a little less blistery, I ran through.

 

The thick, untouched deciduous forests in rural Hobart strike visitors as both eerie and awe-inspiring. Only a few minutes from the consumer congestion of the Merrillville-Hobart shopping orgy sits this pristine forest, as still and quiet as a graveyard greenhouse. 

The canopy of trees kept it in perpetual dusk, killing undergrowth and allowing a bed of old leaves and dirt.  I saw TJ working his way into the woods ahead of me. He waved at me and pointed to the ground. 

“Got it!” he said. His finger stabbed the air near his feet.

It was a flat, square hunk of concrete in the middle of the forest. Uninteresting, save that anything flat and square should not be in a natural forest. It stood at the edge of a steep ravine, which went sloped down for fifty feet before settling flat. An angle that steep (at least 45 degrees) could get dangerous quickly.

STEEP!

TJ stood on the flat square.  “The county used to run maple syrup lines here, but it got too dangerous. It was stupid running up and down this hill for a few gallons of maple syrup. Fall right on your ass.” He reached to the side and picked up a dirty green hose a few feet long. “See. Old sap line.”

He tossed it back and then stomped on the flat square. “This is it, supposedly. Al Capone’s escape tunnel.”