Exploring Lexington Market’s underground vaults

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Baltimore is chockfull of underground tunnels, vaults and other hideaways. We explored some beneath Lexington Market.

I’m not so sure I believe in ghosts anymore. If ghosts really existed, one of them would have come popping out at me as I wandered around the abandoned Tubbs nightclub at Lexington Market. I’ve seen the movies. I know how this works.

Once upon a time, Tubbs operated as a restaurant and nightclub, serving up crab cake sandwiches and Colt 45 to patrons. In 1988, it ran afoul of the Board of Liquor License Commissioners for allowing go-go dancing at night. (The restaurant’s attorney objected to the charges of lewdness, saying the dancing would be objectionable only to perhaps a nun.) At some point, it was abandoned – left with the tables cleared off, the lights shut down and the plates on the floor. If anyplace on earth is haunted, I’m certain it’s here.

“Let’s stick together,” I tell Darelle Miller, a Lexington Market maintenance worker who’s holding the flashlight for me and Darlene Hudson, who handles communication for the Market. The first rule of horror films is that the moment you separate is when trouble hits. But we didn’t see any ghosts. Sure, there were cobwebs. The air was so musty and thick with mold I had a sore throat after. It was dark, and two of my fellow spelunkers had taken a tumble over the stage. I felt terrible for having been the reason we were all down here in the first place.

Exploring the city’s hidden secrets always seems to raise more questions than it answers. Why was the nightclub left like this, I wonder. Did they just close up shop one night and forget to ever reopen it? How many other scenes like this are molding beneath Baltimore?

We head downstairs, to the damp cellar beneath the market. Here’s my real interest – the underground tunnels and vaults that worm beneath the city streets. “Baltimore is a city built on tunnels,” as Jacques Kelly wrote in The Sun in 2009. The city’s prolific underground structures create big headaches for maintenance workers who’ve attempted to dig beneath Baltimore’s surface, as Luke Broadwater recently reported in The Sun. Go a few feet below road level anywhere in the city, you never know what you’ll unearth.

The vaults beneath Lexington Market were re-discovered during the construction of the Lexington Market parking garage, back in 1951. Then oldtimers of Lexington Market told The Sun they remembered using the cellars for meat storage in the days before refrigeration. Others suggested that they’d been used to make whiskey during Prohibition. Perhaps they’d been raided for Communist activity in the 1930s.

Today, some at Lexington Market tell me they’ve heard the tunnels formed of the Underground Railroad. But no one has much proof of anything that took place.

Perhaps being underground, they were just the place to do things you never wanted to read about in the Sun.