Ever dream about finding a secret room?
It happens more often than you might think. One day, you might find a hidden door while cleaning your backyard, or if you’re really lucky, you’ll find a secret room just behind your basement’s back wall.
When we have very old buildings, we must pay attention.
In fact, even famous buildings (and ships, as we’ll cover in a moment) occasionally have secret rooms. For instance…
The Queen Mary
The RMS Queen Mary was constructed in 1930 in Clydebank, Scotland, and these days, it’s one of the famous moored ships in the world.
According to the ship’s website, the Queen Mary set sail on May 27, 1936 as a luxury cruiser, but when World War II began in 1939, it operated as a war cruiser. Stripped of its amenities and painted navy grey, the vessel was known for its stealth and speed, which eventually earned it the nickname “the Grey Ghost.” In 1947, the ship was restored back to a class A cruiser, and it took its last voyage on Oct. 31, 1967. Since then, the Queen Mary has been docked in Long Beach, California.
It’s been a major tourist attraction since the permanent docking, so we’d have assumed that every inch of the ship is accounted for. Of course, the Queen Mary is on this list, so you know what’s coming.
In June 2017, the ship’s team posted to social media about a new discovery: workers were fixing pipes in the bathroom when they noticed a hole in a wall. When they peered through it, they saw an entirely new room.
“We rediscovered a room, in nearly pristine condition, that was chock full of massive equipment, gears and motors that had probably not been seen in decades, maybe since the renovation in the late ’60s,” the staff wrote.
This room is a true glimpse into history.
“This mechanical space located beneath the Forecastle contains the original power equipment handling the anchors, each weighing in at 16 tons, as well as warping gear that served the Queen Mary’s impressive anchor deployment retraction system,” they explained.
“As the pictures attached here show,” the staff explained, “this room is a true glimpse into history, demonstrating the engineering marvel that the Queen Mary was when she sailed the high seas, and letting us know that the last remaining ocean liner of its day still has a few surprises in store!”
They plan to work with the restoration team to decide how to allow people access to the newly discovered area.
Michelangelo’s Secret Room
In Florence, Italy, in 1975, the director of the Medici Chapels, Paolo Dal Poggetto, stumbled onto an incredible piece of history.
As National Geographic reported, Dal Poggetto and his team were searching for new ways for tourists to exit the chapel near the New Sacristy. The New Sacristy, by the way, is a chamber “designed to house the ornate tombs of Medici rulers.”
They found an exit point, alright. Dal Poggetto’s team discovered a trapdoor that led to a set of stairs; the stairs led to a small room that initially seemed like a storage space.
That wasn’t so remarkable—but the charcoal and chalk drawings on the walls of the room were much more interesting.
Experts now believe that the drawings were made by Renaissance master Michelangelo. Apparently, the artist lived inside the chamber for several months in 1530 to hide from the Medici family (he’d vocally opposed their reign, which might not have been a great idea in 16th century Italy). While hiding, Michelangelo had nothing to do but practice his craft.
Granted, there’s no way of knowing for sure whether Michelangelo made all of the drawings, but he’s likely responsible for at least some of them.
“When we have very old buildings, we must pay attention,” Monica Bietti, Dal Poggetto’s successor at the Medici Chapels, told National Geographic. The room is currently closed to the public.
Sally Hemings’ Room
Sally Hemings was an enslaved woman owned by Thomas Jefferson, and in recent years, most historians have acknowledged that she was likely the mother of six of Jefferson’s children.
According to her son Madison, she became pregnant with her first child while staying with Jefferson in Paris; at the time, she was only 16.
Jefferson, of course, kept their relationship secret. He did not free Hemings upon his own death—although he did free five of his male slaves in his will—and she lived most of her 61 years at Monticello.
When Jefferson died, his friends and relatives purged many of the documents that might have proved his relationship with Hemings, and they certainly didn’t keep her personal belongings in order.
Still, researchers uncovered Hemings’ Monticello room in July 2017. For decades, the small, cramped chamber was hidden; at one point, it was even converted into a men’s bathroom to accommodate visitors. The keepers of the estate plan to restore the room to its original condition, at which point it will be included on tours of Monticello.
The Lost Rooms of the Great Pyramid
Sometimes, a “secret room” is more of a “hidden cavity.” That doesn’t make it any less exciting—especially when that cavity’s located in a 4,500-year-old pyramid.
This is definitely the discovery of the century.
In 2016, scientists used advanced techniques to completely scan the Great Pyramid of Giza. The project, which was led by the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities Authority, used “infrared thermography, muon radiography imaging, and 3D reconstruction” to look inside the pyramid.
Why, you might ask, wouldn’t scientists simply go inside the structure? For starters, that’s easier said than done. The pyramid is over 4,500 years old, so crews can’t easily enter smaller areas without causing damage.
Still, researchers didn’t expect to find anything like the two “voids” that showed up on their scans. They cautiously announced their findings, noting that the new areas could be empty space left during the pyramid’s construction.
There’s a chance, however, that the rooms are new tombs; after all, King Tutankhamen’s tomb was a hidden structure until it was discovered in 1923.
“This is definitely the discovery of the century,” archaeologist and Egyptologist Yukinori Kawae told National Geographic, noting the sheer size of one of the cavities.
Nazi Hideout Room in Buenos Aires
In June 2017, Argentine police entered a simple suburban home outside of Buenos Aires and made their way to a large bookcase. Behind the bookcase, they found a door, and behind the door, they discovered a massive hoard of World-War-II-era Nazi artifacts.
The discovery was no accident. The police were working with Interpol on a case about some suspect art displayed at a Buenos Aires gallery. The origins of the art were dubious, and Argentina has a disturbing history of harboring Nazi leaders who fled Germany after losing the war.
The suburban home belonged to an art collector who authorities have not named; as of this writing, the collector was not accused of any crimes. But the “authentic” Nazi objects suggest an obsession with the reviled regime.
The collection includes a magnifying glass historians say belonged to Hitler, a bust of the Fuhrer, Nazi daggers, children’s toys emblazoned with swastikas, and a head-measuring tool used in the dubious and eugenics-soaked practice of phrenology. These are some secrets that are better left buried.
Winchester Mystery House’s Latest Mystery
The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California, seems like something out of a gothic horror novel. Sarah Winchester, widow of the Winchester fortune’s heir, built the sprawling mansion from an original eight-room cottage over the course of more than 30 years, from 1884 to 1922.
The popular narrative holds that Sarah made her odd renovation decisions to confuse the ghosts of all those who had lost their lives at the end of a Winchester product. Another theory suggests that Sarah was merely trying to keep the local contractors in work.
One thing is for sure: By the time Sarah joined her husband in the great beyond, the numbers reflected in the house are simply astonishing; it currently features about 160 rooms, 10,000 windows, 2,000 doors, 47 fireplaces, and even a viewing hole here and there for convenient spying.
With that many rooms, you’d think discovering one more wouldn’t be that big of a deal—but you’d be wrong.
In 2016, news broke that the Mystery House preservation team found a secret room that Sarah herself boarded up following the 1906 earthquake. She associated it with evil spirits, the stories say.
ABC7’s coverage of the story was representative. The site explains the dusty objects in the room: “The preservation team found numerous items in the room, including a pump organ, Victorian couch, dress form, sewing machine and paintings.”
However, despite numerous articles published by reputable news sources, the discovery of Sarah Winchester’s secret seems to follow the House’s penchant for myth-making. Jacob Williams, marketing coordinator for the Winchester Mystery House, tells FashionBeans that the “’new room’ was a misread press release gone awry.”
Staff knew about the “new room” all along, Williams says. Even stranger, the “new room” is not a room at all, not in the literal sense.
“We have a shooting gallery in our courtyard themed to look like an attic of the house,” Williams explains. “We have 38 targets to represent 38 years of construction, replica Winchesters, etc. The press mistakenly took the backstory of our attic and ran it as a ‘real’ room found at the house.”
The gallery was installed in 2016. Technically, there was no “discovery” of the structure, because the building the gallery is in has been used for many other things throughout the years.
“The story of ‘Sarah’s Attic’ was provided to give context to the ‘attic’ being in the courtyard,” says Williams. “The media simply just took pieces of the press release about our new attraction and spun it in a different direction as a legitimate room.”
Stories have a way of collecting in these hidden rooms along with the dust and the cobwebs. Sometimes, it seems, the real mystery is that the stories simply aren’t true.