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The New York subway system has a long history that goes all the way back to the 1860s. A right-of-way that is still in use as part of the BMT West End Line dates back to 1863, when it was part of the Brooklyn, Bath and Coney Island Rail Road steam line. The current system has over 400 stations, 842 miles of track (including maintenance lines), and delivered 1.64 billion rides in 2011. Many stations feature intricate tile artwork. A few of the abandoned or discontinued stations, like the City Hall Station, still remain in their original condition. The City Hall Station, with its intricate tile work and glass skylights, can still be seen on the northbound #6 train, but the tight curve of the track means that longer modern cars with center doors can’t stop there.
Buried Treasure. Abandoned Stations. Abandoned People?
There's a whole world underneath New York City, with tunnels crisscrossing and reaching great depths. An 18th century ship was recently discovered while digging the site of the new World Trade Center. There's really no telling what's down there and what remains undiscovered.
Besides buried treasure and a complex maze of infrastructure, there's a community of people living beneath the surface. Jennifer Toth's 1993 book The Mole People: Life In The Tunnels Beneath New York City takes a look at some of these communities. Starting with legends of people with translucent skin, Toth works her way towards a more humane understanding of the people whose lives are often better underground than they are above the surface. The book eventually drew some criticism due to a lack of evidence, but it is still an interesting read.
Marc Singer's 2000 documentary Dark Days offers a similarly surprising look at the people who call these underground dwellings home. Living in a subway tunnel conjures up images of dark, dirty, and dangerous places, but you'd be amazed at the levels of comfort some of these people have arranged. There's even running water and electricity in some camps. For many, it's safer and more comfortable amongst these underground communities than it is living alone on the streets.
For further reading, check out Teun Voeten's Tunnel People, which features great photography and personal accounts from an award winning photojournalist. Although no longer available to us in print format, our library system does have access to the ebook version.
Photo credit: Steve Duncan
Tommy M was fascinated by this topic in the year 2000 and read The Mole People while on a trip to NY.