Saturday, January 21, 2017

Old Style Misinformation and the Perkinsville Tunnel

A frontpage feature article in the Charlotte Observer this past week told the story of a graduate of nearby Davidson College who wrote the intentionally misinformational (is that a word?) article about fraudulent votes. He faked it all, yet it went viral and fed into the "rigged election" frenzy. In fact, the headline of the article about him read "Faking 'News' for Profit."

He needed the money, he says. "You're fired," his boss says.

I have so many comments about this blatant disrespect of the reader, and of the writer's integrity, that I could fill every post on my blog from now on. But that's not today's topic. Today I want to tell you the story of the Perkinsville Tunnel. Hang with me here, there is a connection.

During my graduate year at Appalachian State University, my husband commuted to his job from our apartment in Boone, down the mountain to the other side of Lenoir. His time spent on the road frequently doubled because the highway was being widened into three lanes and he was stopped by construction crews. Once we moved to Lenoir I mentioned the construction in an offhanded comment to someone, whom for the life of me, I can not remember.

I do remember he (or she) leaned over and whispered, "You do know there is a tunnel going up the mountain, don't you?"

This I had never heard. Nor did I know why he/she was whispering.

"It's top secret. Military. They needed a tunnel to get the supplies unseen to their storage sites."

I passed it off as preposterous, completely contrary to the logic I had studied as a university student. How could anyone believe such absurdity? Okay, so this was the early seventies filled with daily reports coming from Viet Nam, and from Viet Nam protests. Even then, the idea of a tunnel made no sense.

Fast forward almost fifty years and there I am in front of my computer working on my latest project, this one about racing in Caldwell County (yes, you read that right). I flip the page of the scrapbook I'm using as a resource and I find a 1993 news article clipped from the Watauga Democrat, the Boone newspaper. Headline: 50s dragsters gather near the Perkinsville Tunnel.

As I'm reading through the article, this long ago story of a mysterious military tunnel begins to rattle in the deep recesses of my mind. The dots start connecting. That person who whispered in my ears so many years ago...wasn't so loony after all. Maybe.

And here's why...

Drag racing.

On the street drag racing.

Middle of the night, on the street drag racing.

Stay off the road because in the middle of the night, there's drag racing.

We need an excuse to force people to stay off the road because in the wee hours of the morning, there's drag racing.

People will believe anything if we stick the word "military" to use as an excuse to force people to stay off the road because in the wee hours of the morning, there's going to be drag racing.

A tunnel. A top secret, military based tunnel that people will believe, and not question, and the more elaborate the lie, the more likely they'll accept it.

The word spread. The road is blocked because of construction tonight. You'll have to pick an alternate route, as if there was that much traffic to begin with that needed to reroute on the mountain roads after midnight in the fifties and sixties. That roar of engines you hear? That's the construction gearing up.

Bob Barnes, a disc jockey on Boone's radio station WATA got wind of the story. He knew it was misinformation, but the temptation to spread the word was too good to pass up. He even coined a name, the Perkinsville Tunnel, using the nearest community as reference. He'd announce updates on the tunnel construction, knowing full well this very tunnel did not exist. His warnings were heeded and people stayed away (and those in on the ruse knew something was afoot... bring the cars, we're drag racing tonight).

These former dragsters laughed with Bob Barnes when they met at the reunion in 1993. They talked over old times and how they fooled the world into thinking there was a tunnel. They had no pictures to share and point at and to ooh and aah over. Drag racing on the street was illegal and no one at the time wanted incriminating photographs. Instead they came out of the woodwork years later and held a reunion in broad daylight, complete with newspaper reporters. What a difference a couple decades make!

Former drag racers meet and greet at the Perkinsville Tunnel Reunion

So if I ever think of who that was whispering to me years ago, I'll be sure to set them straight. That, my friends, is a little old-style misinformation for you to pass along.

Catch of the day,



  1. Replies
    1. That story took place not all that far from where we lived, Sara, maybe a little before our days, but still, what a story to find!

  2. What a WONDERFUL story of misinformation, and what fun to uncover such a ruse. You have demonstrated the FUN in writing non-fiction--being able to unearth little known and buried gems that otherwise would be lost.