The following story is almost certainly apocryphal. For the education majors among you, this means that if you believe this silly story, you will catch chicken pox.
It was a small Texas town with a somewhat fundamentalist church---the kind of church whose members were horrified with the certain knowledge that somewhere, somebody was having more fun than they were. The overly somber congregation was celebrating the opening of its new church building and everyone was in the sanctuary, loudly singing a hymn in celebration. Well, actually, not that celebratory, for every hymn sung by this church sounded like a funeral dirge. For one young man, this was always somewhat confusing, since the church as a whole professed to believe the Bible literally---except Psalm 98:4: no one, it seemed, ever made a joyful noise to the Lord (or anyone else).
Perhaps that is why the young man's mind was wandering---or, more accurately---it had run away from home. The teen was sitting on the far left of the church, near the back. (His seat had been chosen chiefly for its proximity to the bathroom). Right then, however, he was transfixed by a large vent on the side of the church wall. The vent was three feet tall and four feet wide and consisted of tiny little louvers that slanted upward, which prevented the boy from seeing what was being concealed behind the grating. The boy was fairly sure (he had checked) that the vent neither blew air out nor pulled air in. What was the purpose of the vent?
After church, the teen discussed the mystery with two friends. Remember---this was a SMALL town, so the boys had to take what entertainment they could find. Curiosity is the main motivating force for boys---at least until puberty kicks in, so the three boys agreed to ride their bikes back to the church after lunch and investigate.
Using their pocket knives, it didn't take long for them to remove the screws holding the vent to the wall. Behind the vent, was a large air duct, about four feet deep---large enough for all three boys to step inside and look straight up. They could see that the shaft rose up forty feet and then turned back towards the center of the hall.
Now, did you ever notice how solving one mystery seems to create two more? The shaft went up and then turned. Where did it go? What did the shaft do? The boys were determined to find out.
Climbing the shaft was impossible: the walls were simple wood studs and sheetrock---and they didn't have a ladder. But boys are creative and they quickly came up with a substitute. Folding metal chairs were brought from the nearby Sunday school rooms and placed in the shaft.
By not-so-carefully stacking one chair on top of another, the boys could climb slowly higher. Within a few minutes the haphazard mound of chairs grew taller than the boys. By then, the chairs had to be folded and passed carefully up to where each chair would be unfolded and wedged onto the top of the pile. The stack of chairs could not fall over, because it was solidly wedged inside the shaft.
This improvised tower used a surprisingly large number of chairs. Several Sunday school rooms were completely stripped of seating over the next few hours. A rope to haul the chairs upward was improvised by tying a couple of extension cords together. All of this was hard work---something the boys would have assiduously avoided if someone in authority had requested them to do something constructive.
There was a real concern that the job would not be finished before evening church service. People would be returning to the church by six in the evening. More and more chairs kept disappearing up that shaft as the tired, hot, and sweating boys worked their way up that shaft. Finally, one of the boys could grab the top edge of the shaft and chin himself up to see into where the shaft turned.
"Well," he said. "It goes three feet and stops!"
All three boys took turns chinning themselves up to see. After working feverishly all Sunday afternoon, this was not a satisfying conclusion! What the boys did not know at the time was that the church had planned on future expansion. The ceiling was high enough to add balcony seating, and so air ducts had been built in for the future project. The shaft, did indeed, lead "nowhere"---and since the expansion was never completed, the shaft never did lead anywhere.
Since the boys were out of time, and they could not dismantle their siege tower of chairs before evening church, they simply replaced the metal vent over the shaft opening and vowed to return the next week to return the chairs to their classrooms. This was a nice plan, but it never came to pass. The boys had a lack of foresight that one generally associates with youth or the US Congress. When the evening service started, the lack of chairs was...well, noticed.
"How the hell did over a hundred chairs vanish?" roared a deacon. This is almost as funny as when President Eisenhower interrupted a cabinet meeting with, “Goddammit! We forgot the silent prayer!"
The church was in the middle of the small town, and it would have taken several men and a large truck to remove well over a hundred chairs---something that would have been noticed in a small community. From that point on, security around the church increased and the church was kept locked between services. There was never a chance for the boys to return the chairs.
The boy who had started the entire exercise felt more than a little uncomfortable about the whole affair. Is it stealing if the purloined items never actually leave the premises? The chairs weren’t hurt---indeed, you could argue that since, several decades later, the chairs that are still in that shaft are just like new, while all of the chairs not borrowed have long since worn out---placing the chairs in the shaft had preserved them.
The boy told his uncle about the problem. His uncle was NOT a deacon in that or any other church, having led the kind of life that had prompted the original invention of religion. The boy was more than hopeful of the confession's being peacefully accepted and, perhaps, even sanctioned by a sinner who had fought his own battles with that particular church.
“Fuck ‘em,” the uncle said. “Do the lot of them some good to stand. Those morons will think better if they ain’t sittin’ on their brains. But if it really bothers you, I’ll tell them for you.”
It was not until years later that the boy learned that this meant that every so often, usually late at night, the uncle would call the pastor at home and roar into the telephone, “Up your shaft!”