The Secret Passageway

In fifth grade I started at Winchester-Thurston Preparatory School for Girls in Pittsburgh, PA. It is a prestigious school and at the time was housed in a very impressive building with huge columns and a tall brick fence on Fifth Avenue in Oakland.  Our parents explained to my sister, Gretchen, and I, what a good school it was and how we should be very studious, because if we did well, we would have a very good chance of getting into college. They explained that they had to pay to send us there and we needed to appreciate that, and that it was good that there would be no boys at the school to distract us from our studies. I’m not sure I completely believed this, even at the age of nine.

Things went well for the first few years. I made many good friends, including Chrissie, Molly and Susan W. and I did well in my studies. It took a while to get used to the strict and sometimes pompous teachers, who expected nothing short of perfection, but eventually I learned acceptable behavior. For instance, we had to thank each teacher when we left the classroom and curtsy and shake the headmistress’ hand when we went home for the night.

Chrissie is the best friend I have from my years at WT and we had many sleepovers. Her parents bought a gigantic home in Fox Chapel and she invited me to spend the night. We were sitting around in the den watching TV, when she started telling me a secret.

“My father says there is a secret passage way from the den(library) leading to somewhere else in the house.”

“What?” I exclaimed, my eyes as wide as saucers. I had been reading Nancy Drew Books as though they had nutritional value, and the idea of a mystery was very exciting.

“Where is it?” I asked.

“We don’t know,” answered Chrissie. “Want to look for it?”

Before she was finished asking, I was up knocking curiously on the beautiful wood paneling. Chris and I spent hours that day trying to slide pieces of wood to the left or the right, and moving our hands over the walls trying to discover a secret button or latch. We knocked, we pushed, we put our ears to the wall, and we searched diligently for some kind of opening.

Over the length of our friendship, we must have spent at least a month trying to find the secret passageway, but never did. Chrissie told me just a few years ago that the passageway was never found, and she wondered if her parents had made it up to keep us busy. That was fine with me, because I had so much fun looking for it, how could I be mad?


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