Michaeline: Mystery Architecture

A man either sinking or rising in a stage trap door with a woman being frightened. "Then let it be the kiss of death" reads the caption.

See? Trapdoors are not as cool as a bookcase that swings open at the push of a button or hidden lever. They are frightening, and not always reliable. I really do wonder what is going on in this play, though. Whiteley’s ORIGINAL Hidden Hand — do not be misled by false pretenders who come after. Or it WILL BE THE KISS OF DEATH! (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

I’ve been thinking about homes lately. If you followed the Friday Sprint Adventures of Porky Pie the Wonder Dog (summer of 2019; particularly episode five and six), you’ll remember the secret passage that leads from summer breakfast room to the gazebo by the creek. I just love a good secret passage! Built-in features like safes behind paintings, or a vault hidden in the floorboards really thrill me as a reader, and I like to incorporate them into my writing.

Two early influences were The Adventures of Scooby Doo, which often seemed to involve hidden passages or secret doors, and the Nancy Drew mysteries. There were little secret compartments in several of the books, if I remember correctly.

Attics were also great places for hidden treasure, or mysterious diaries, or even the odd prisoner of the house. To my great regret, I’ve never lived in a house with a proper attic. When I was a child living in Panama, I remember we were forbidden the attic because of the snakes, bats and other wildlife that might be up there. And, dear readers, I was NEVER tempted to explore.

The basement is usually where you’ll find the secret tunnels – it just makes sense to have them handy to the ground. You could hide the staircase and all, which will make your tunnel even more secret – people may not even suspect you have an underground component! But it’ll run you some money. Best to hide the tunnel behind the wine rack or cleverly disguise it with rutabagas.

I’m not a huge fan of the trapdoor. There’s just too much fiddly business – thrust aside the carpet, lift up the whole heavy thing, and then inelegantly scramble or crouch through the thing. Then after you’ve closed the door, you need an accomplice to put the rug back on properly.

But a dumbwaiter? Oh, I like those! You get in your dumbwaiter (which doesn’t necessarily have to be hidden, but could be), and slowly descend or ascend dramatically out of sight without ruffling your petticoats. Pop out into the third-floor ballroom, then make your way across the rooftops to freedom!

I may have been inside a little too much these days.

8 thoughts on “Michaeline: Mystery Architecture

  1. I love those kinds of mechanisms (both actual and literary), too, but even as a kid I always wondered how they could really work or remain hidden. You’ve got that great passage hidden behind the bookcase that swings out: Who oils it? How often? Does it squeak? If it squeaks, how does it remain secret? Who dusts behind it? How often? Do spiders go there? How many? What about light? Can you see back there? At all? Where’s the next exit?

    That opening bookcase just opens up too many mysteries. 🙂

    • Oh, I think the master of the house (or mistress as the case may be) oils it, and maybe does it every time it starts squeaking, or if they are really organized, on a regular maintenance schedule. It’ll be dusty unless the secret-holder dusts it — or trusts a servant to get it clean. Spiders? Probably. Rats and mice, too as well. And as Indiana Jones knows, snakes are a possibility. Don’t count out bats, squirrels or agile racoons. All the secret passages I’ve read about require a torch or flashlight, and that will go out at the most dramatic moment.

      Gotta have a lot of guts to have a secret passage! Or a very good reason, I suppose.

  2. Having grown up with Nancy Drew and her ilk, I too am a fan of the hidden passage and secret room. I’m still trying to figure out how to turn a bookcase in my own library into a secret door.

    I like the dumbwaiters too becasue they are essentially hidden in plain sight. They offer so many possibilities.

  3. When I was a small child, we lived in a very small house with a laundry chute that went from the first floor bathroom to the basement. I always wanted to drop through on laundry day and land in the pile of laundry.

    • LOL, I was thinking about that, too! My grandmother moved to a duplex when I was about 14, I think, and it had a laundry chute from the top landing to the basement. I always wanted to try going down it, but had some dignity to preserve at that point! Wouldn’t that be a great plot point?

      Also, those of you in the States, do you watch Jimmy Fallon’s At Home Edition of the late night show? He’s got a SLIDE! Rather jealous, even though I’d probably sprain a wrist in it.

      • I’ve seen that slide!

        The local Children’s museum has a rope matrix from the first floor to the second, with a similar slide to get back down. When the gkids were toddlers they loved to swarm up that rope-thing and I, of course, had to follow them. Once, coming back down the slide, my butt got ahead of my legs. Have you ever seen the old cartoon version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas? Where he gets stuck in the chimney?

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