In the movie, The Silence of the Lambs, Buffalo Bill imprisons his victims in a well located under the house he lives in. That well could have been there before Buffalo Bill starts living in there.

  • I am wondering if it is realistic to have a well built in the basement?
  • As there is no water in it, what could have been the purpose of having that well?
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    Not really seeing this as on topic.. focus is just on the practicality of a well in a basement, has nothing to do with the film really.
    – Charles
    Apr 27 '20 at 14:34
  • We had a disused well in the basement in the house I grew up in (in Europe), so such wells certainly exist. Apr 28 '20 at 5:22
  • In the Netherlands in Geertruidenberg, where I come from. there are a few houses with a well inside. These houses are from around 1600. So it's certainly plausible
    – Tom Sol
    Apr 28 '20 at 11:02


it's not unknown. It's not inconceivable that the builders decided to construct the house over an existing well for convenience.

It would be a weatherproof source of water and would obviate any need to go outside for fresh water.

In some older homes you may find that the water well is a drilled or hand dug well located in the building basement or crawl space.

Wells located in the basement or crawl space of a building are sometimes found, usually at older, pre-1940 buildings. On occasion it appears that the well was originally outside the building but the building was expanded over it.

Early American construction sometimes located a well (or cistern) in a basement so that a mechanical hand pump could be located indoors (perhaps in a kitchen).


As for why it's dry, presumably because the water table no longer reaches that high.

In the novel it's clearly explained that the well is dry and has been for some time.

In a basement room directly beneath the kitchen was a well, long dry. Its stone rim, reinforced with modern well rings and cement, rose two feet above the sandy floor.

The Silence of the Lambs - Thomas Harris

  • 4
    Calling it a well and saying that it's now dry seem to indicate that it used to be a normal water well originally. Otherwise it would just be a pit or a shaft or some other word.
    – JPhi1618
    Apr 28 '20 at 5:18

Wells outside houses were usually public ones. If you build a house far away from anyone (let’s say in rural USA) you didn't need to share that well (and there was little chance your neighbours would be there to need access to water to put out fires). Do you like having a water source in your kitchen? So does anyone since the time we started living in shelters.

Also, for me the well was in the basement. The well basin was flush with the ground suggesting there was a pump in the kitchen

Advice on the arrangement of the 1860s American kitchen from Catherine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Image via The American Woman’s Home

In the right upper corner you see "pumps". Not faucets. That suggests that water was pumped from a well located beneath the floor.

The purpose of the well was to keep women in there. We don't know if Bill had this house because of the well. If it was there, was it empty or did he empty it etc.? Usually when a house stops being rural and gets merged into the "city" the water level drops due to urban things that happen around so empty wells are used for trash.

  • 3
    “The purpose of the well was to keep women in there. […] empty wells are used for trash.” – Ouch! +1 for the reasonable answer and the illustration though. Apr 27 '20 at 22:20

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