Underneath the sidewalk of downtown Leavenworth sits a 200-year-old system of tunnels, a component of the town that few know, but is now becoming more open to the public.
Across the street, in 1859, Abraham Lincoln spoke to local residents about ongoing politics, and it’s speculated he stepped through the tunnels himself. Business owners and residents speculate that at one point, black residents of Leavenworth set up shop underneath storefronts to run their own businesses. At another, they were used as a component of the Underground Railroad, where slaves fleeing would be brought to safety from the Missouri River and then subsequently through the tunnels.
Stacy McCowen, local business owner of Candle Queen Candles Gift Boutique, has one of the largest components of the underground tunnel in town. When the city of Leavenworth began fixing sidewalks along downtown Leavenworth, the rest of the Underground had caved in, leaving only two places in town for the residents of today to still witness the Underground.
Earlier last year, McCowen started opening the location up for tours once again, giving residents from across the Midwest access for the first time to the tunnel system. Thus far, every tour she’s hosted has sold out. Now, she’s opening up a new round of tours to raise money for the American Cancer Society.
“I can't tell you how delighted I am to see a portion of the tunnels open and available to tour, especially for such a great cause,” Katy Schamberger said in a public Facebook post for the event.
McCowen's boutique is located in a building constructed in 1854. Only the tunnel aspect of the building leans into the Underground, whereas the three rooms that can be toured are a component of McCowen’s business’s basement. After stepping down on a series of multicolored stairs, visitors are guided by string lights throughout the tunnels, which stands as a contrast to the 30-year-old mannequins piled up throughout one of the rooms from a previous boutique that resided in the building.
“When people come down here, they want to buy the mannequins, they want to buy the letters, and I say no. It’s all a part of history,” McCowen said.
Most of the relics of the past can be found maintained within the rooms, with ashes of leather shavings from a previous business in the location covering them up. Newspapers dating back to 1917 can be found covering up parts of the walls for insulation. Despite owning a business on that lot for the past seven years, it wasn’t until recently that McCowen started to explore more of the underground tunnels.
Even so, visitors are not only motivated to visit purely for the historical aspect, but additionally due to rumors of paranormal activity existing within the underground tunnels. McCowen told stories of camera batteries dying, phone batteries being drained, and the multiple unexplained encounters visitors have had within the room full of mannequins.
“I personally haven’t had any experience down here, but I feel like whatever you’re looking for down here, you will find,” McCowen said.
However, McCowen has taken one story legitimately of a paranormal encounter from a 70-year-old woman, who dreamed of a black man in a corner hammering on a shoe. While the woman took the tour, she started trembling, according to McCowen, and explained that one of the rooms looked exactly like the room from her dream.
Tours are currently available for the underground tunnel and the new loft above the shop on various days. Tickets can be purchased for $10 in advance online.