From the Richmond Times, 10/28/1900, p. 2, c. 5
ANXIOUS TO SEE SECRET CHAMBER
Place Where Miss Van Lew Hid Federal Officers During War Sought by Curious.
Since it has become known that the secret chamber in the old mansion in which Miss Van Lew hid Federal officers who escaped from Libby Prison during the Civil War has been discovered, many persons have visited the historic old house, hoping to be permitted to see the mysterious apartment. Only a few have been granted the privilege, and these had some good reasons for wishing to visit the chamber.
Mrs. Nichols, of Philadelphia, a niece of the late Miss Van Lew, and one of her heirs, who has been at the mansion with her son for several weeks, first learned of the whereabouts of the mysterious room through a visit paid to the house by a northern banker during the convention of the American Bankers’ Association in this city a few week’s since. This gentleman, after going through the grounds, requested earnestly to be taken in the house. He went carefully through each room, asking to be taken still further, until, reaching the top story, he turned to his guide and said:
“Here I passed fourteen days during the war.”
He then pointed to a panel in the wall about eighteen inches wide, just sufficient for a man’s body to squeeze through, and continued:
“Beyond is a chamber which will conceal at least fifty men in an emergency.”
THE SECRET CHAMBER.
This apartment is situated under the eaves of the broad portico, which extends all the way along the southern portion of the house. It is reached through a passage not more than two feet square, and there is no light anywhere. The passage opens into a small narrow room in the southwest corner of the third story, and the door was so arranged that it was almost impossible to detect that it covered an opening in the wall.
Another interesting thing in connection with the old mansion is the fact that iron ornaments decorate the room (used as a library) after the manner of old fashioned andirons. One of these ornaments is detached and hollowed out, closing like a small jewel-case. This was her receptacle for private dispatches and plans until they could be sent away.
A very interesting thing is said to have been asserted by a relative of Miss Van Lew. She is said to have noticed that after each meal Miss Van Lew would prepare a number of plates of food. She once asked what she was going to do with them and replied: “They are for the cats.”
Her curiosity was aroused and she followed Miss Van Lew on one occasion. She saw her open the little door and hand the food in to a man, whom she had never seen before.