The Tunnels of (Somer)Set

One of the first things that emerged from our early investigation into Somerset’s darker history were the numerous stories about tunnels beneath the town and throughout Pulaski County. There are, in fact, as we unexpectedly discovered, a number of different tunnels and tunnel systems running beneath the actual town of Somerset. 

The first system we were able to confirm were the tunnels connecting the various Cold War bomb shelters in the sub-levels of specific buildings in downtown Somerset. There were rumors that the tunnels all connected to a central atrium with enough room to hold a few hundred people. This particular part of the story turned out to not be true. However, there were actually a number of different shelters, and many either were accessed through a tunnel, or in some cases tunnels connected the shelters to create a quasi-underground complex. These shelters were located beneath the former United Department Store, Rose’s (another department store that has since moved nearer to Hwy 27), Hotel Beecher, St. Mildred’s Catholic Church, General Telephone Co. and the Parker School. These shelters were constructed and stocked with medical and other supplies in 1962. We’ve interviewed various individuals who have accessed the tunnels and seen the shelters firsthand. 

Another group of tunnels are referenced in the article above – in 1974 a “mystery” tunnel was discovered beneath the former sheriff’s office in the old court house. When we interviewed Josh Vanhook, the owner of Kentucky Adventure Group who guided us to the Guterma mine, he mentioned that his grandfather encountered these same tunnels while working downtown. Apparently one of the these mystery tunnels was accessed through the garage of the old Firehouse No. 1. At the rear of the firehouse garage, which was beneath the building, an entrance in the wall provided access to the tunnels. Josh’s grandfather inquired what the tunnels were used for, but no one remembered or had any information about their origins. 

A third set of tunnels were encountered by Rod Zimmerman, the local DJ and historian that we interviewed for Penny Royal, and who has been a wealth of information about the history of Somerset. He described tunnels that he entered through an opening in a building downtown in the 1980s wherein the stone used to construct the tunnel was smooth and perfectly laid into an arched ceiling with alternating colored bricks. He said it was a beautiful design, expertly laid out, and gave him the impression that it might have been constructed by masons, i.e., Freemasons, since so much of the history of the founding of Somerset is based in Freemasonry (which we’ll cover in a subsequent article). In the center of the tunnel, on the floor, ran a piece of track that he estimated was about twelve inches wide. He said it was too small for a conventional cart or rail car, but that it could accommodate something smaller, and ran the length of the tunnel. He turned back before discovering where the tunnels led.

Another group of tunnels that exist beneath Somerset were used during the Civil War as part of the Underground Railroad. One of the old houses on main street, which no longer exists, was used as a field hospital during the Civil War, and a tunnel that was part of the Underground Railroad was discovered beneath the building. Ironically, that same tunnel was rumored to have been used to smuggle the dead body of Confederate General Felix Zollicoffer out of Somerset after he was killed at the Battle of Mill Springs. 

The most infamous tunnels that we encountered while investigating Somerset’s darker history are located beneath the Oakwood mental healthcare facility. It was in these tunnels in 1973, according to numerous sources, that third shift employees were engaged in a witch cult that was performing seances and summoning rituals and burning occult symbols into the backs of some of the residents. Rod Zimmerman, who we mentioned above, stated that his step-father was a former director of Oakwood, and was hired to replace the directer who was dismissed because of the allegations of negligence and cult activity. His step-father described the events to him, including the tunnels, and showed Rod the investigation files from the state inquiry. [Side note: We’ll be filing an open records request with the state of Kentucky to obtain copies of the 1973 investigation files… fingers crossed]

There’s an even older set of buildings here in Somerset that were used in the early 1900s as a medical clinic and healing center. Old newspaper articles describe murders that occurred in a tunnel that connected the buildings. The structures have since fallen in on themselves, but the property owners where the buildings are located made a plea a few months ago for paranormal investigators to come to the site and rid it of the apparitions that they see walking the grounds at night. [Might be a fun adventure… we know the son of the property owners]

The concentration of tunnels (and caves) beneath Somerset belies a strong correlation with the subterranean, both as a physical reality but also as an underlying psychological and metaphysical motif pervading the identity of this place. Once we began investigating the history and sources of magic on the Penny Royal, we discovered that Aleister Crowley was a frequent visitor to Kentucky (and had family in Livingston County); and that the Bate Cabal were coming from Cincinnati down to Pulaski County to perform ceremonial magic and rituals; and that the Gwyddonic Order was headquartered here in Somerset; and that Wicca was reinvented less than an hour east of here; and that the Temple of Set was founded by Michael Acquino on the western edge of the Penny Royal… and the list keeps growing of magical connections to this place of all places… all of these threads of magic, weaving together with the subterranean, drawn to this place, redefining the story and deepening the mystery.

With the pervasive influences of Thelema and Crowley and Grant and Nema, the archetypal concepts of Pan and Set are ever present (as are Isis and Horus and a host of others) here on the Penny Royal and intensify here in Pulaski County; and it’s easy to see a strange correlation, for me, between the name Somerset, the city’s new marketing strategy #SeeMySet, and the archetype and symbolism of Set. The deeper we dive into the research of Hermeticism, the Qabbalah and the Nightside of the Tree of Life, we discover more and more correlations with the Tunnels of Set.

The Tunnels of Set are the 22 paths connecting the realms on the Tree of Qliphoth, corresponding to pathways on the Tree of Life that connect the Sephiroth. The first mentions of the tunnels appear in Aleister Crowley’s Liber CCXXXI. Kenneth Grant’s Nightside of Eden which, itself partially based on Aleister Crowley’s brief Liber CCXXXI, describes the tunnels in detail. Other authors and magicians have subsequently developed a map of the dark pathways connecting Qliphothic realms with one another. Linda Falorio even designed a tarot deck based on her explorations of the Tunnels of Set.

The Tunnels of Set: “a network of dream cells in the subconscious mind,” reached by projecting consciousness through Daäth, “the gateway of the manifestation of non-manifestation”
Kenneth Grant, Nightside of Eden

Grant also mentions another feminine achetype associated with the tunnels, the Goddess Maat with her Warrior Priests. And we know from our resent research (and acquisition of the Cincinnati Journal of Ceremonial Magic) that the Bate Cabal were part of the Horus Maat Lodge founded by Nema. Were the Bate Cabal coming to Pulaski County because they, too, saw a correlation with Somerset and the Tunnels of Set, wherein resides Maat?

Remember, the people of Somerset are also called Setians, and the tourism department reinforces that concept even more now that the official city motto is #SeeMySet. It’s on everything and uttered by everyone when hometown pride is expressed. And no one, not the city and not the people that live here, are aware of the irony in all of this. 

Just another layer of strangeness, synchronicity and mystical toponomy. And the inherent psychodrama of this place continues to play out.

– Nathan

  Further reading: Exploring the Tunnels of Set 

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