September 19, 2011

The Midnighters: Four Rivers

For over thirty years, Jerry worked as a police officer in Pittsburgh. In his time on the force, Jerry had seen some bad things, some worse things, and some downright evil things. Cleaning up when people got mad or got crazy was part of the job, but there were other things that Jerry saw, things that most people never see, things that prowl the night, things that refuse to die.

I interviewed Jerry several times in 2002. The following incident is just one of the many stories Jerry shared in hours of audio recordings. I have transcribed them just as they were told to me by Jerry.

“So, this happened back in 1967 when Frank and me, we were still working the beat in the Strip District. This one night, it was just after midnight, and we were cruising down 18th Street there and Frank sees something outside of Primanti Bros., you know that place where they do those sandwiches, right?

“I stop the cruiser and we get out and there’s some weird writing on the wall next door, graffiti they call it. Anyways, it wasn’t in American and Frank says it’s Latin and it said ‘The door is open’ and I says, ‘I didn’t know you talk Latin.’ Frank gives me a funny look and says, ‘Let’s grab a bite’ so we head into Primanti’s.

“Frank gets talking to Dick Primanti, one of the brothers what owns it, and they get to talking about the neighborhood and it turns out some of the late-night delivery guys was seeing things, ‘suspicious persons’ they would say today, but we just called ‘em monsters back then.

“I ask Dick about the new place next door that the Latin said was open, but he says the building is empty and ain’t opening anything. So, Frank is asking Dick if there’s anything else he can tell us, and Dick, he says he’s got a door that’s open, if we’re interested.

“Down in the basement, it turns out there’s this old door. Dick don’t know where it goes, but it’s always been there and it’s always been closed and locked. Dick don’t even have a key for it or nothing. Now, just in the past week, when Dick comes in and brings up supplies from the basement, he finds that door open just a little bit.

“Dick thought it was funny the first time, but now he don’t know what to think. Each time he closed it after taking a peek inside, but all he can see is an old hallway or tunnel that don’t smell too good. Frank and me, we volunteer to check it out.

“So, we go down with Dick and he shows us this old door and I’m telling you, this thing looks like it came out of some old-timey castle. This is one old door. Frank tries the latch and it opens like butter. There’s this long tunnel, all made outta stone, all dark and dirty and creepy. What’d you expect?

“We say bye-bye to Dick and get our flashlights ready and we go down in there. The tunnel is old, right, like real old, like maybe something they built before we kicked the Brits back to England. There’s a trickle of water running down the center and Frank says we follow the water and we see where it goes.

“So, down we go, right? The tunnel goes straight for a long time and, from the water, you can tell that it slopes down, and we’re going deeper. There are some other tunnels that open off to the side, but we take a look down them and then we follow the water.

“It’s so dark, we can only see what the flashlight sees and, let me tell you, it started to get damn cold down there, too. I was starting to think that there’s nothing down there for us to worry about when we hear something up ahead, something walking.

“Frank and me, we hurry up down the tunnel and we can see another light up ahead there. We draw our guns and we shout, ‘Freeze, police’ and all that. The light stops moving and we get up there and there’s this girl – this lady – with a headlamp and a pack and all this gear like she’s climbing a mountain or something. Not what we were expecting, right?

“We ask her what the heck she’s doing down there and she looks us over and I think she knows that if we’re all the way down there, then we’re not your ordinary cops walking some underground tunnel beat. So, her name is Daniels and she says she’s looking for her lost dog, and I start laughing and she gets mad at me, but not for the laughing, for making too much noise she says.

“Frank gets serious and I can tell he thinks something weird is going on, but before he can get to the bottom of it, there’s this noise like something scratching, right, down the tunnel. Everybody just freezes, right, and we’re all not moving, just listening. I’m thinking, it’s just some rats, but it sounds awful big for a rat. 

“Then there’s this god-awful scream, kinda like a roar almost, but it’s real loud in the tunnel and I about drop my flashlight, I’m so scared. Frank and the girl – lady, I mean – look at each other, and then they start off down the tunnel, toward the scream, and I’m thinking, that’s nuts, we ought to be going the other way.

“I follow, of course, and we get down the tunnel to an intersection, I guess, where three tunnels meet. I can hear something moving down one of the other tunnels, but I can’t tell which one. Frank shoves his gun and flashlight into one of the tunnels: nothing. I move to the other one and do the same. All of a sudden, this thing lunges out of the tunnel right at me. It’s got these big, bulging eyes almost on the side of its head and a mouth full of sharp little teeth and skin that’s all slimy and wet.

“I scream my head off and this thing roars at me and Frank and Daniels are there with me and the thing backs off and it’s gone, just like that. It took off down the tunnel faster than a rat. I think we must’ve scared it. You could still see its eyes glowing in the dark for awhile as it backed away.

“Frank and the girl start to go down the tunnel after it and now I know they’re nuts. They don’t get far, though. There’s this loud bang and a big metal gate comes come over the tunnel and the thing is one side and we’re on the other. I could just see it the dark, watching us and backing off.

“We wait a moment or so at the gate and we can hear a lot of rushing water down that way. I ask, ‘Is that down to the sewer?’ Daniels says, ‘No, that’s the river’ and, Frank and me, we’re like ‘Which one?’ Pittsburgh’s got three rivers, you know, the Al, the Mon, and the Ohio. She says, not those rivers, the fourth river, the secret one.  

“Frank and me, we’re not sure if she’s knows something or if she’s a kook. So, what we do is we back the hell up and Daniels comes with us and we all go to Primanti Bros. and we all get a bite.

“Frank and Daniels start to exchange notes. Turns out she works with a guy, name of Shaver, and Frank knows him, too. Seems that Shaver runs this outfit called the Subterranean Society
and him and Daniels have been exploring these tunnels and all the stuff even further down.

“She says that thing we saw – she called it a CHAD or a CHUD or something – it came out of the river, the fourth river. So, it t urns out there’s a river underground – a fourth river – that goes under the others and under the city. Now, it was confusing to me, because sometimes when people talk about it, it’s like it ain’t really a river like the other three, but some kind of path. To what, I don’t know.

“Frank, he asks about the Latin graffiti and Daniels swears it wasn’t her, but something is definitely going on with the fourth river and things underground is all worked up about it. Turns out there are lots of these doors under buildings like Primanti’s all over the city that lead down to the tunnels and below them. ‘The door is open’ but nobody knows which door they mean and what’s on the other side. 

“Eventually, it all worked out in the end. We worked with Shaver and Daniels and their Subterranean Society – we used to tease and call them the Sinkers – and that damn door finally got closed and none of them Old Ones got one foot through.”

Read more stories of the Midnighters here.


  1. Very cool! Lovecraftian side story's always resound!

  2. A little dash of Lovecraft never hurt! Thanks, Jeffery!

  3. Awesome story. Don't think I'll be going through tunnels any time soon.

  4. You have been chosen for the Minions of Misery. Visit my blog for more info.

  5. Thanks a ton for the Minions of Misery, Vivienne. And I'm glad you've been made afraid of tunnels: they only connect to danger!


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