Ghost Ride

Under New York, a Storied
Past Missed its Last Train

Paris has the old Catacombs. Capadocia, in Turkey, exists atop dozens of underground villages. And New York City has its subway tunnels, where abandoned stations are connected by miles of uncompleted tracks.
Recent news about a graffiti show that opened somewhere under Williamsburg renewed interest in the dark recesses of this city, the forbidden vaults carved in the bedrock of Manhattan and its surrounding neighborhoods.
Perhaps unrelated to the latest wave of attention, the MTA now allows commuters of the #6 train a glimpse of what once was the crown jewel of the system: the City Hall station. Just stay on as the train loops after the Brooklyn Bridge station, to go back uptown, and you’ll briefly pass its elegant Art Deco lines and exquisite architectural beauty. You may even take a tour there, if you fancy seeing it up close and in detail, but you probably already saw at least parts of it, or a mock up of it, in the many movies it’s been featured on since it was abandoned in 1945.
Beyond the splendor in the dark, though, which speaks of a glamorous time of cocktail parties by the platforms and Hollywood starlets being introduced to the metropolis by local politicians of the era, there’s always been another world breathing down there. It’s a world of ghosts and shadows, rodents and vermin, of stray pets and missing family members.
A secluded community of the dispossessed and the dejected, the forgotten and the ignored by the society above, that dwells along those non-electrified tracks, known with certain derision as the Mole People. Through the windows of the speeding trains, you may even catch a brief glimpse of their faces, quickly receding to the darkness.
So brief in fact that no one has had the chance to ask them what they think about the new show, and the attention it’s gathering from the police. The latest bunch of daring artists has been busy playing cat and mouse with the MTA and so are the visitors following them, who parachute down below through cracks and sewage tubes, in search for the rare exhibit.
It’s all just another New York you don’t hear often in the news, or see on the tabloid shows on celebrities. Not nearly as ancient as those hidden sites in Europe. No meaningful amount of blood and carnage is associated with its history, and besides being buried, it shares only dirt and big rats with those foreign chambers that once served as refuge to runaways from one ruler or another.
Our tunnels claim their own brand of hide and seek excitement to account for. Mostly hiding actually. The Mole people hide from the MTA, the artists try to avoid the police, the night tourists sometimes get lost, and the rats run away from everyone they don’t yet know. It’s all mostly devoid of human skulls that we know of, of course. But it’s where we live, so we’re running with it. Got that?

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