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3 min Read
Published April 26, 2017

Zodiac Drain: Mystical Symbols Beneath Durham’s American Tobacco Campus

There may be a reason American Tobacco Campus in downtown Durham is so magical — a mysterious underground tunnel flowing beneath it painted with mystical runes and lit with candles.

Unlike many sewer systems or subterranean tunnels, the “Zodiac Drain,” named by urban explorer Avius in 2009, is completely free of graffiti. Having explored many tunnels and aqueducts myself, I was surprised to see such beautiful and magical artwork in the Zodiac Drain — although the Raleigh Aqueduct had a few similar magic runes that makes me wonder if the paintings are somehow connected.

Avius shares, in his post in Urban Exploration Resource, “the drain system … has an elaborate set of mystical symbols and clues that adorn many walls and junction boxes. There are several unique drain types in the brick section, and in the oldest part, a shrine including an old black and white portrait and burnt down candle stubs.”

The Mystery of the Black and White Portrait

Perhaps the eeriest of the Zodiac Drain’s treasures is an old-timey black and white portrait of a beautiful woman, her dark hair styled in 1940’s or 50’s fashion around pale cheeks and solemn black eyes. Her expression is serious, which is common for photos from that era; her clothing style is modest and very dated. While the portrait is faded, it’s in remarkable shape for having sat in a sewer tunnel beneath the American Tobacco Campus.

Who is this woman? Why is her photo resting here, with melted white candles above her?

In magic, white candles are often used in purification spells. Was someone simply memorializing her, or were they trying to purify her spirit? Or was someone love-lorn spirit trying to “let her go” and be free of grief of losing her?

If anyone has any clues, we’d love to know.

Aside from this eerie portrait, there are also clues painted along the walls, which seem to create a path through the maze of underground tunnels. Some adventurers recount it taking more than 6 hours to finally find this portrait, which seems to be the end goal. Next, let’s look at these runes and symbols.

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  • heather


  • I sincerely believe that through the power of storytelling, I can make social issues become more than a set of statistics. My expertise is in community leadership, non-profit work, event coordinating, networking, and storytelling. All my articles.

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