My lovable grinch of a father who found the tunnel tooting endearing at first, quickly labelled it an act of ludicrous hooliganism and vowed never again to partake such tomfoolery. So henceforth, every trip through the tunnel was spent in tense silence as my mother and I willed him to change his ways and rip out a responsive toot to the other motorists for good measure. The toot never came.
It wasn't until I started driving myself that I really got to partake in the tunnel tooting joys. And that's when I got to thinking. Why? Why is it that we toot in the Mt Vic Tunnel? We don't toot in the Terrace tunnel, or the Karori Tunnel or the Northland Tunnel, Nor am I yet to witness a tooter in the new Arras Tunnel. So why then does one toot in the Mt Vic Tunnel? Where did this bizarre tradition come from?
Could it have derived from an old-fashioned warning signal? Perhaps if the tunnel used to be one lane and each motorist had to toot to be sure the coast was clear? Or was it once perhaps even shared with pedestrians or the old horse and cart? There must be a story behind this tooting? Surely it has to be more than just a student city fad. So I got to digging!
Low and behold! The story behind the old Toot Tunnel could in fact be one of Wellingtion's least known ghost stories. Back in the late 1920's when the Mt Vic tunnel was in early construction, labourer George Coates is said to have murdered his lover Phyllis Simmonds and buried her body deep in the tunnels foundations. He was tried, found guilty and hanged for her murder in 1931. The same year the tunnel was completed and opened to the public. Phyllis's remains were never found, so she was never given a proper burial and put to rest. Therefore it is believed that Phyllis's ghost haunts the tunnel to this very day.
So why do we toot? It's said to have been as a tribute to the poor Phyllis who met her sticky end at the hand of her so called lover. But I think it was more out of superstition, to frighten away her rather pissed off ghost. Toot! Toot!
Whatever the reason, why not toot? Let's do it for Phyllis. The girl in the tunnel, who was killed by a man she loved.
Life's too short not to toot in the tunnel (DAD!). And you never know, someone might toot back!