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The Mystery of the Foley Tunnel
MOBILE, Ala. (WPMI) Ask most people in Foley, Alabama, and they'll tell you it's there. At least they've heard it's there, a secret passageway beneath the old downtown.
But why it's there and who built it is a mystery to most.Some wonder if it even exists at all. Few have ever seen it.
But Local 15 is about to enter it, thanks to a woman who knows more about the tunnel than anyone.
Because her husband built it.
"They told me he was a confirmed bachelor," said Marjorie Snook. "And I said to myself, I'll just see how confirm he is! I found out he wasn't confirmed!"
Marjorie Snook is the owner of Magnolia Inn in Foley. It was called the Magnolia Hotel when it was built in 1908. Marjorie's husband, John Snook, called it home for a good part of his life.
Marjorie remembers seeing him there for the first time.
"And I saw this man come by and he tipped his hat," she recalled. "And I thought, OH! That's a gentleman there!"
It was a gentleman whom Marjorie would eventually wed and then work for at Gulf Telephone Company.
Gulf Telephone was a ground breaking business, originally owned by John Snook's father, who brought telephone communication to South Baldwin County.
John eventually assumed control of Gulf Telephone, which just happened to be located not too far from the Magnolia Hotel. And about half a century ago, John Snook decided to connect the two with a passageway beneath Foley.
The tunnel, it turns out, is very real.
"John made that tunnel so that he could go over to the telephone company, not get out into the rain," she said. "And you know how are hurricanes are. We could walk back and forth without getting in the rain."
It was a convenient way to get across the street in inclement weather. Or, should we say, under the street.
The tunnel extends from the hotel, under a paved alley, to the old Gulf Telephone equipment facility, now owned by Century Link. But when you look at the passageway, heavily fortified by concrete walls and ceiling, you realize it served another purpose.
And to understand that purpose, you'd have to understand the man who built it.
WWII had ushered in the Nuclear Age. The Korean War was under way, and so was a growing dread of an attack from the Soviet Union.
John Snook was concerned the Gulf Coast was vulnerable. So he set out to fortify his home town. And that included the women workers in his telephone company.
"He taught us how to shoot, how to shoot guns," said Marjorie, in a matter of fact way.
Snook organized the women of the Gulf Telephone Company as a force to be reckoned with, training them to do anything the men could do in his telephone company, and then some.
And he did it in a very public way.
So much so that he even drew the ire of a Russian magazine writer in 1962 who referred to his female sharpshooters as Snook's "Nylon Army."
"John was always ahead of his time," said Marjorie.
Which bring us back to that tunnel, six feet under Foley, fortified with concrete walls and ceiling, one could easily mistake it for a 1960's era, a bomb shelter.
Did he ever share with her this might be a good place of refuge during an attack?
"Not really," she responded. "Because I knew that. I knew the way it was built."
Ironically, during the process of building the tunnel, the Snooks unearth something they believe came from a real battle, perhaps from America's own violent struggle. The Civil War.
"We found a cannon ball," she said, smiling. "We actually dug it out."
Marjorie proudly displays the artifact in a parlor if the historic hotel. It's just another reminder of the man who was ahead of his time.
But he always had time for Marjorie.
"John was so kind. And he was so good," she said, her eyes welling up with tears. "And I miss him very much. I do."