Fabulous Philippines > Interesting Manila > Fort Santiago (3)

Fort Santiago
(Part 3)

Share this page:

We tried to enter through a door at the foot of the stairway leading up to the driveway around the fort; but a careful exploration with electric light revealed nothing more than a series of empty chambers which had evidently used as magazines. All but two of these are more or less filled with earth and stone, and the passage is finally blocked entirely. After the trip underground, reference to a plan of the fortification showed that the passage explored led beneath the large granite steps that lead up the northeast side of wall to the adjutant general's office.

The "muchacho" who carried the wire for us insisted that the place was full of snakes, and it was only when he was assured that we were armed for the comers, that he consented to accompany us.

There are plenty of people about Manila who look wise when Fort Santiago is mentioned, and affirm that there are undergound passages leading "back as far as the old army and Navy Club," if not indeed to Malate (or Zamboanga for that matter), but no one of these knows where to find the secret door to the hidden chambers. He always knows though, the man who does know, and this man always says "next door neighbor" till the would-be explorer gives up the chase.

There is an old Spaniard who knows all about it but he won't tell. There is also a native who possesses the key to the charm, but he lost his mind some years ago and can't talk on one subject long enough to tell the way to the mysterious door. Then there is an American who knows and will tell only when he is drunk, and he is now virtuously sober, and Heaven forbid that I should ever persuade him to backslide.

But what's the difference? Here goes! There was a woman walled up in one of those lower chambers with a baby born the day she entered. When the Americans came sixteen years later, they found her with her sixteen years old child, who has never been outside that midnight cell. Another political prisoner was to have been drowned, but on the excitement of the events proceeding the surrender of the place, he was forgotten, and the American found him, a maniac, having had no food for two weeks. In other chambers we found awful skeletons telling their ghastly tales with no need of commentary. Strange noises used to be heard at night, coming from these lower chambers, until the entrance thereto was walled up, and that chapter of shudders forever closed.

Did I see these things? No; but I saw a man who knew a man who had a friend that got it straight, though he was not at liberty to tell who said so, and I had to promise never to breathe it to a living soul. Let no gossiping reader betray my sacred trust.

Three flags have floated over Fort Santiago. For three hundred and twenty-eight years the Spanish ensign was unfurled to the tropic breeze, except for the brief time when the British flag supplanted that of the rightful lords of the island named after their discoveries and conquerors.

The unfurling of the third flag makes one of the greatest stories of modern times and is still fresh in the minds of every American in the islands. In this great act of history Fort Santiago played a major part that is not always fully appreciated. If Fort Santiago has no other cause for renown, the glory of the event of 1898 would be reason enough to make it famous. In the inner court General Merritt met with the Spanish governor-general on the memorable 13th of August and arranged the preliminary agreement for the surrender of the citadel of the Orient. There was but little sleep in Manila that night. The American troops were in the city and the insurgents were outside disappointed because they were not admitted to equal rights with the victors. The Spaniards were disarmed, and the people lived in quaking terror of what the morning might bring. The next day the final articles were signed and the populace held its breath, for the tales of what occurred when the British sacked the city in 1772 were enough to cause a shudder.

For a week no one ventured out of his house; but none of the terrible things came to pass. There was no pillage, no bloodshed, no rapine nor plunder. the astonishment of the natives knew no bounds. It was too good to be true. Every American has reason to be proud of the fourth conquest of old Fort Santiago.

During the " days of the empire" the military features of the old fort were abandoned, and the office building was erected on top of the wall, and while the Stars and Stripes wave over the monument it will probably never again be used as a fortification.

Out in the bay lie the great white battleships with their sleeping thirteen-inch guns guarding the peace of the city, and Fort Santiago looks very small and helpless before such modern engines of destruction. The stone work belongs to the old age and not to the new, and while the flag floats over us and the cruisers in the bay keep watch before the city we shall be better guarded by the flag and those guns than by any walls of wood or stone.

What material the old fort would furnish for a Hawthorne or Haggard! The old tales might be woven into a work that would raise the hair with horror, and much of the tragedy might be but facts of history. It is well that the old stories are not better confirmed, and what does it matter? The perpetrators are dead or deported, the explorers have gone home, the records are inaccessible.

For the antiquarian who would delve into the musty past of the most interesting of all structures in the Philippines, there is much material, but it is hard to reach. There is data enough, though, to clothe the old fort with pictures of strenuous history and make the silent stones tell strange tales from the forgotten past. As a genuine source of history, literature and romance Fort Santiago is one of the most unique relics of the oriental world.

Share this page:

© 2005-23 FabulousPhilippines.com. All Rights Reserved.