Weird Underground History of NYC: The Introduction

Excerpts From the Book: Underneath New York – By Harry Granick

IMAGINE GRABBING MANHATTAN by the Empire State Building and pulling all the island up by its roots. Imagine shaking it. Imagine tens of millions of wires and a whole lot of hundreds of cables releasing themselves from nice hunks of rock and tons of musty and polluted grime. Imagine a sewer system and a set of water traces every 3 times so long as the Hudson River. Picture mysterious little vaults hidden simply beneath the crust of the sidewalk, a sweaty grid of steam pipes 103 miles lengthy, a turn-of-the-eighteenth-century service provider ship buried underneath Front Street, rusty previous natural-gas traces that may very well be wrapped twenty-three instances round Manhattan, and large, bomb- proof concrete tubes that descend virtually eighty tales into the bottom.

It’s all down there: the deliberate and the unplanned, the infrastructure and the archaeological surprises. There are previous pneumatic tubes that when moved letters across the metropolis; snapping turtles swimming within the sewers; and a six-lane freeway constructed within the late 1960s beneath Chrystie Street, then sealed, deserted, and forgotten. There’s a metropolis beneath the streets, however most New Yorkers do not hassle themselves with it, till a steam pipe explodes and kills three folks the best way one did in August of 1989, or a water most important breaks and flushes out the Eighth Avenue Subway, as one did a month later. Even in these dramatic circumstances, even when newspapers fill their pages with graphs and charts, folks solely get a neat little define—a meticulous diagram of a sloppy bowl of linguine. Computer graphics are too calculated to seize the randomness of the world beneath the avenues. Abstract Impressionists would do higher.

The world beneath Manhattan is a cake of limitless layers, a basis as deep because the Chrysler constructing is excessive. On the highest lies a three-inch strip of asphalt. Next comes virtually ten inches of coarse concrete. After that, soil, a nasty soil that soaks up chemical compounds from the road. In one other inch or three come the wires—phone and electrical, streetlight and hearth alarm, and, the most recent addition, cable TV—all buried in casings and saved near the curbs. Gas traces puff away one other foot beneath; water mains gurgle 4 ft underneath; steam pipes are buried six ft deep. Every sewer pipe is completely different (they’re put in at an angle in order that sewage is all the time flowing down), however they’re usually above the vaults of the subways, which differ in depth from a couple of dozen inches (the Lexington Avenue line) to eighteen tales beneath (191st Street on the Broadway native). Water tunnels—operating between 200 and 800 ft—mark the farthest man- constructed depths.

Every so usually, there are the scares. In the ‘seventies, for instance, earlier than cleansing up asbestos grew to become a worthwhile enterprise, New Yorkers had been worrying about crimson lead paint on their water pipes. But one way or the other, in its hodgepodge means, the underground retains pumping and flowing and rising. It by no means provides out.


“A lot of water leaks are caused by city borings,” says the water division’s Doug Greeley. “A contractor went by means of an 18-inch gasoline line with a backhoe,” says Con Edison’s Bob Greis. “We’ve dug in some locations with spoons,” says Ed Moloney, an engineer with Vollmer Associates, a agency recognized for its information of the under- floor.

Moloney, a kind-faced Irishman wearing shirt-sleeves and a tie, is aware of higher than most how crowded it’s down there. He helped engineer the Van Wyck Expressway, the Cross Bronx, and the Grand Central Parkway, and by the tip of the ‘fifties was working every day with Robert Moses’ workplace. In the late ‘sixties, Moloney signed on with Arnold Vollmer, an engineer and panorama architect, whose agency had turn into conversant in buried cables and wires after digging hundreds of holes for the bushes alongside the town’s sidewalks. At Vollmer, Moloney got down to doc the trail of every utility beneath the two,000 or so intersections from 60th Street south to the Battery—a herculean activity. He got here up with a system for measuring the density of utility traces, representing the least dense areas with inexperienced, extra dense areas with yellow, and people stuffed fully with crimson. And what did he discover? “A lot of red,” he says, “particularly in lower Manhattan.”

Moloney’s experience is so extensively recognized that the F.B.I, as soon as known as him to seek out out if terrorists may make use of the sewers to tough up Fidel Castro whereas he was talking on the United Nations. Moloney figured that, sure, it was potential, however that the terrorists must convey their very own air and pray for clear climate. Rain, Moloney informed the brokers, would merely wash any assault away.

When Moloney and his colleagues at Vollmer are employed to plan a new set up underground, the very first thing they do is sift by means of the archives: Con Edison maps, telephone firm maps, and utility maps drawn throughout the New Deal. Next, they dig a pair of take a look at pits—particularly within the tighter areas—to see if what’s alleged to be there truly is. “Now you know what should be under there,” Moloney says, “however you ask, How does this gasoline most important run from this valve to that valve? Does it go straight or up and down? From our experiences we’ve a superb instinct of how they’re laid.” At some factors within the metropolis, pipes and wires and ducts are packed thirty and forty ft thick. That’s when Moloney and his crew actually begin to fear about hitting one thing. That’s after they begin breaking out their spoons.


“Here, men from Wall Street and famous producers live,” says Raj Patel, pointing from the bottom of the Central Park Reservoir towards Fifth Avenue’s condo buildings, “and over there lives Jackie Kennedy. But they do not know the way it works. If you do not go downstairs you do not know.”

That stated, Patel lifts a carpet within the center of the Central Park Reservoir’s pumping station and climbs down a spiral staircase that is a century and 1 / 4 previous. Patel appears a small man to be controlling the 2 big water mains that run down Madison and Fifth Avenues, however his is the right dimension for crawling between the pipes that inject chlorine within the water and the regulators that measure the standard of the 70 million gallons that rush by means of these 48-inch pipes each day. He weaves his tour across the pipes and thru the previous brick- lined tunnels whereas speaking like a health care provider concerning the metropolis’s stream.

“It’s very heavy in the morning between 6 and 8 o’clock,” he says, pointing to the small electrical meters. At precisely 12:15 on this afternoon, the Madison Avenue line registers a bounce of a couple of thousand gallons. Maybe a couple of hundred folks simply flushed some- the place on the Lower East Side. Maybe lots of folks simply began fixing lunch. Either means, for so long as he is labored the pipe, Patel nonetheless revels within the system’s genius. “New York is very lucky,” he says, in an accent half-British, half-Indian. “Ninety % of its water is equipped by gravity.”

For a very long time, New York wasn’t so fortunate. Until the eighteenth century, water was drawn primarily from one spring-fed pond. Population and industrial development ruined a superb clear factor (the lifeless cats and canine folks threw into the ponds did not assist both), so Aaron Burr constructed a reservoir close to what’s now Chambers Street and laid about 5 miles of hollowed-out tree-trunks—lots of that are nonetheless in place—to hold water underground. Unfortunately, Burr’s water wasn’t very tasty, and the town quickly got down to import its provide. In the summer time of 1842, a thousand thirsty residents gathered and cheered as water from the upstate Croton Reservoir rolled down a 33-mile tunnel to the holding reservoir constructed at 42nd and Fifth, the place in the present day the New York Public Library stands. One hundred years later the town completed two extra fifteen-foot-wide water tunnels from the Delaware and Catskill watersheds.

Doug Greeley is the Department of Environmental Protection’s man in cost of plugging up leaks within the roughly 6,000 miles of water mains that run underneath the town in the present day. Once, metropolis staff created leaks on goal. “In the old days, when there was a fire, the firemen would dig down until they hit an old wooden water main, chop a hole in it, use the water, and then plug it up when they were finished,” Greeley says. Since tree-trunk water pipes have been deserted, the town depends totally on cast-iron mains to hold its water. Most of the time, issues go comparatively properly, contemplating the quantity of joints that might probably leak. “We like to think of ourselves—and I’m not trying to rip off the Navy, but they call us the silent service,” he says. “No one thinks about water mains as long as they work.”

Water mains leak about 5,000 instances a 12 months and break about 500 instances, however the breaks are what make the headlines. Their causes have principally to do with the very unmysterious tendencies of age and put on. “They take a beating,” says Vollmer’s Ed Moloney. “There’s heaps of site visitors, and vehicles are pounding the pavement from up high. And then beneath you will have the continual vibrations of the subways.” Says Thomas Cowan, the person who manages Con Edison’s gas- engineering division, “Now you’ve got tractor trailers.”

As for the leaks, some of the water will get into basements, however most goes into the sewers. So when Doug Greeley’s workforce is not busy with a break, they search for leaks, both with electrical present despatched by means of hearth hydrants or with microphones that pay attention for the hiss of stray water. Of course there are distractions (“You get affected by buses honking their horns,” Greeley says, “by subways, and in some cases you get affected by high heels walking down the street.”), however they solely must dig inside a couple of ft of the leak. With some of these newer microphones they have been recognized to name the difficulty inside a couple of eighths of an inch.

When all else fails and the water leak simply retains on leaking, Greeley’s workforce turns to the only map that in all probability decorates the workplace partitions of extra underground technicians than another— Egbert L. Viele’s 1874 Topographical Atlas. The Water Map, as it’s higher recognized in underground circles, exhibits all of the streams, ponds, and rivers that in lots of circumstances nonetheless stream beneath the streets of the town. Water-main leaks generally comply with previous stream beds and present up a couple of blocks away, or the previous streams themselves generally present up. Minetta Brook is an instance. It used to run from Sixth Avenue at 16th Street by means of Washington Square and into the Village. A pair of years in the past it made a short comeback in a basement within the West Village.


“Watch the ladder,” says Joseph Iacono, the superintendent of emergency operations for Con Edison’s Manhattan division, from beneath First Avenue. At the underside of the vault he is standing in is an oil-filled, fireproof transformer bringing energy for the neighborhood all the way down to a manageable 13,500 volts. “You talk about Toledo, Ohio, and a couple of poles and some wires,” Iacono says, “but it doesn’t work that way here.”

The electrical energy buzzing peacefully alongside in entrance of him has traveled a great distance from the waters of Canada, from the atoms break up upstate at Indian Point, or from the assorted different turbines in northern New England. It zips on the velocity of mild over high- rigidity traces and dives underground simply north of Manhattan. There, the electrons are bumped as much as a cool 138,000 volts earlier than transferring on to transformers (just like the one we’re standing in now) in a single of Manhattan’s 31 networks. Power comes down once more to 120 volts by the time it will get to the common condo’s wall socket, however not earlier than passing by means of a manhole someplace.

Manholes can leak, rats can chew, and the splicers who climb all the way down to deal with 1,500-degree soldering irons could come near fainting in temperatures sweatier than 100 levels. One mistaken rat nibble, one splicer screwup, one small fluctuation within the stream of energy, and Manhattan will get mad. “It could also be as little as 5 cycles,” says Richard Peck, Con Edison’s chief electrical distribution engineer, explaining that there are sixty cycles in a second’s price of electrical journey, “however that is sufficient for these laptop outfits on Wall Street. Sometimes they learn about it as quick as we do.”


Robert Greis, the person in cost of Con Edison’s gas-operations division, makes use of a flattened net of copper wiring as a paperweight on his desk. The copper was melted, he says, by a pair of thousand volts of electrical energy, and it burned proper by means of a cast-iron gasoline most important, necessitating one of the 6,500 gas-pipe repairs Con Edison sees to yearly—between 30,400 emergency calls and 30,000 inspections— in Manhattan.

On his technique to one of these repairs, Greis mentions that 5 years in the past, fourteen % of the gasoline Manhattan imported by way of pipeline from Texas and Louisiana simply kind of disappeared, vanished into the air. Flame ionization items are in the present day’s greatest protection in opposition to leaking gasoline: backpack-size gasoline detectors that take a look at air samples by burning them. They are so profitable, in actual fact, that in 1989 gasoline losses dropped to 5 %.

Today’s leak was brought on by a drained previous pipe joint. It was found by a involved citizen named J. R. Thomas. Three years in the past, Thomas drove Greis and his mechanics loopy by calling in experiences of gasoline leaks nearly day by day. And he would not simply say he smelled gasoline within the kitchen: he’d telephone about total metropolis blocks. When a citizen calls, Con Edison has to dig, so mechanics would spend days drilling take a look at borings round every one of the blocks Thomas suspected. Like a quiet water leak, a foul gasoline leak may be exhausting to discover. “We’ll have gas in a manhole,” Greis says, “and discover out that the leak is 2 blocks away.”

So after a couple of months of every day phone calls and the corresponding required inspections, Con Edison lastly requested Thomas about his methodology. It turned out that he does not even use his nostril; he pinpoints gasoline leaks by learning variations within the colour of the constructing’s facade. Despite his unorthodox strategies and the sarcastic mumbles from the fellows pressured to dig close to each poorly painted constructing on the Upper East Side, Con Edison pays shut consideration to Mr. Thomas’ calls. Greis says, “We can’t ignore him. He has a fourteen percent hit ratio.”

Back within the center of the nineteenth century, there have been about fifteen gasoline firms in New York, and so they every had their very own gasoline mains. Since 1970, Con Edison has retired 50,000 ft of previous mains. But what does it do with them? Mostly go away them the place they’re— though the oldest working ones date from 1874. “A lot of other services will run lines through abandoned mains because they’re the only thing left in town,” Greis says.

The traces that Greis’ crew first runs into on in the present day’s restore outing are positively not their very own and positively not on their maps. Because they’re buried in a shallow tube and appear comparatively new, the crew’s greatest guess is that they are cable TV traces. After they work out which pipe is which, they spray-paint Con Edison’s signature blue on the road (“If the road depresses, they’ll know who to come after,” Greis says), jackhammer somewhat, and at last vacuum the grime from across the drained leaky joint.

With a trench so small and instruments so surgically environment friendly, the common joint-repair operation seems extra like a go to to the dentist than pipe restore. In a matter of minutes the joint is sealed with a tough rubber cowl and a bucket of sealant. A cast-iron pipe sufficiently old to be a grandfather turns into nearly as good as new, not less than for a couple of ft. “Tech- nology, within the space of pure gasoline, anyway, has improved lots within the previous couple of years,” says Greis, driving off down Fifth Avenue in his blue-and-white van.


“There are a whole lot of geological provinces that come together in New York City,” says John Sanders, a geologist at Columbia Uni-versity, talking of the rocky world beneath Manhattan’s pipes and wires. “There are at least three major different kinds of geologi- cal stuff that focus here.” We’re speaking actual underground now. We’re speaking farther than people have ever dug. We’re speaking concerning the rocks that maintain Manhattan up, concerning the faults that run underneath Dyckman Street, the Harlem River, 125th Street, and the East River. We’re speaking about Manhattan schist.

Schist is what they name the bedrock by which the World Trade Center and all of midtown’s skyscrapers are rooted. Notice, Sanders says, the skyscrapers do not reside in Chelsea: there the schist is buried deep underground. Basically, it rises up in Central Park, stays there by means of midtown, then runs down about 100 ft beneath the floor about midway between the Battery and Canal Street. It’s simply excessive sufficient once more for the World Trade Center to face, however there are not any skyscrapers within the once-swampy land known as the Bowery. Sewers work greatest there. In truth, the sewer as soon as billed because the New World’s largest was constructed within the swampy space between the mouth of the Holland Tunnel and the foot of the Manhattan Bridge. For a protracted whereas, it related the town’s two rivers till it was paved over and grew to become generally known as Canal Street.

Archaeologists in Manhattan nonetheless stumble upon remnants of the previous canals after they’re digging underground. They stumble upon the previous locks and ship slips, too, particularly close to the southern tip of Broad Street, which was once a southern tip of water. One archaeologist even ran into a ship from the late seventeenth century. “It didn’t surprise me that we hit wood,” remembers Joan Geismar, an archaeologist who was excavating the location. “It surprised me that the wood turned out to be a 25-foot-wide and 92-foot-long ship.”

The bow of the ship is now sitting in a Newport News, Virginia museum, however the stern nonetheless lies buried underneath Front Street’s utility cables. Toward the tip of the seventeenth century, Geismar says, builders leased unused boat slips from the town, docked their worn-out ships, loaded them with junk, and sank them. proportion of decrease Manhattan is landfill, and a superb proportion of the landfill is boats. Says Ed Rutsch, an city and industrial archaeologist who works within the metropolis, “You can stand there and tell people about it, but when you have an actual ship and you pull it out of the muck it really blows their minds.”

For his half, Rutsch has all however nailed down the whereabouts of the wall they named the town’s monetary district for. He caught a glimpse of it whereas digging close to 60 Wall Street. Of course, the middles of metropolis streets are usually off limits to archaeologists, who work primarily on the mercy of history-minded builders and the zoning board’s variance necessities. Nevertheless, Rutsch has been in a position to put collectively an image of the palisade that stood some 300 years in the past—a protracted row of tall sticks designed to maintain out attackers. He has discovered 200-year-old cash and as soon as got here fairly near discovering Alexander Hamilton’s latrine. Underground latrines and privies, by the best way, are usually thought-about archaeological gold mines in Manhattan. “When people lost things in them,” Rutsch says, “they tended to do a minimum of feeling around.”


Talk lengthy sufficient to the engineers, the archaeologists, the restore crews, and invariably they begin to inform tales—bizarre accounts and weird findings. There’s the story concerning the engineers who, close to the intersection of Bowery and Canal, by accident found a small hidden room embellished with mirrors on its partitions and ceilings. There’s the story concerning the tunnel diggers who ran right into a 10,000- year-old standing forest buried 200 ft beneath the Upper West Side. A mud slide or glacier in all probability buried it, and the employees who found it had to make use of chain saws to chop it down.

There’s the story about what number of dump-truck runs it took to haul off the grime dug to make room for all of the rooms and passageways underneath Grand Central Station (400 runs a day for about 5 years). There’s the one a couple of horse that fell right into a sewer and some minutes later appeared on the shore of the harbor, and the one concerning the 4 boys who virtually fell right into a sewer themselves when on February 10, 1935 they pulled out a 125-pound alligator.

There are the constructions that had been closed, or by no means constructed, or constructed and by no means opened: dozens of public restrooms beneath the theater district have not relieved a vacationer in years; a City Hall subway station has been retired, too brief to host a contemporary practice; a downtown trolley terminal has been closed, although it is nonetheless seen underneath Essex Street on the J line. In a cupboard someplace there are plans for a triple-decker subway-and-car tunnel, full with a glass ceiling designed to double as a Broadway sidewalk. And Mrs. Henry J. Hibshman nonetheless remembers her late husband’s unrealized energy- disaster scheme to pump water deep into the town’s chilly floor and draw it again as much as cool buildings in the summertime. A PATH-train tunnel ends only some dozen ft from the place it begins in Greenwich Village, nonetheless fairly a methods from its once-intended vacation spot, Astor Place. A non-public entrance a number of tales beneath the Waldorf as soon as allowed President Franklin D. Roosevelt secret passage to trains carrying him again to Hyde Park. And escalators in buildings alongside Water Street nonetheless wait patiently for the Second Avenue subway line to be completed.

In 1912 the employees digging the BMT by accident found the town’s very first subway line, forty-two years after it was closed and forgotten. A 312-foot-long, 9-foot-wide pneumatic tube, it was constructed by Alfred Ely Beach, inventor and editor of Scientific American, who furnished its frescoed ready room with a chandelier and a grand piano. For a couple of weeks in 1870, a 100-horsepower fan blew Beach’s primitive subway automobiles by means of a tube 21 ft beneath Broad- means between Warren and Murray Streets, till Boss Tweed shut it down.

Then there are the folks—the longtime engineers, the eccentric residents, the Italians who dig for Con Edison, and the Irish who construct the tunnels. Teddy May was a subway official who preferred to stroll the tracks for pleasure on Sunday afternoons, usually with a potato in his pocket to beat back again pains. Smelly Kelly, the well-known Transit Authority leak finder, made his fame sniffing out eels from a pipe within the lavatory of one subway station and elephant dung within the tunnel close to one other. Six hundred volts from the third rail, his story goes, barely knocked him down.


Surrounded by picks, shovels, drained previous iron rails, and hundreds of volts of electrical energy, Clarence Cook is nervous about just one factor. “I’m not afraid of walking on the track,” he says in his comfortable Caribbean lilt, “and I’m not afraid of the third rail. I’m simply afraid of assembly some stranger in right here. That’s the scariest half, particularly once you’re alone. I feel some of these criminals know the system higher than I do, and there are particular areas that I simply do not wish to stroll on my own. Like between 28th and Canal on the Lex. That’s the place you meet ’em. They do not normally bother you, however it’s only a dangerous factor.”

Commuters journey the subways, criminals stash loot in them, and currently the homeless reside in them. Between May of 1988 and May of 1989, forty-three homeless folks died within the subway system. In November 1989, on a balmy autumn day, there have been 750 homeless folks within the system at one time, in keeping with the transit system, which makes an attempt an occasional census of subway residents. At instances the quantity has gone as excessive as 2,000. Track staff run into them on a regular basis—on platforms, within the tunnels, and in deserted stations like those at 18th, 91st, and Worth Streets. “At Chambers Street one evening,” says J. J. Wilson, “they had been cleansing an unused platform and so they opened a door and this man got here operating out balls-ass bare and ran down the monitor. When they regarded in, this man had bottles of urine and whatnot in there. This man was residing in there.”

This night, whereas taking my first subway tunnel stroll, I’m not nervous about being shocked so long as I’m with J. J., a stocky, 17 12 months veteran who has walked, inspected, and stuck a superb portion of the system’s 720 miles. I really feel protected, that’s, till a practice comes alongside. It is pitch-black, and the very first thing we hear is the sound, a windy rumble developing behind us. We put on reflector vests and carry electrical lanterns, however the practice solely will get nearer and our trend equipment simply do not evaluate. It passes peacefully, however, and as we flip a bend within the tunnel, mild leaks towards us. In a couple of ft we’re on the sting of a 27-man work crew—a “gang” loud with the clang of iron and vibrant with sheets of mild bulbs revealing the tunnel’s roof and ground. The third rail has been shut off, however the crew treats it as if it had been nonetheless alive. They carry 1,300-pound, 39-foot rail lengths into place; they exchange ties, soaked rotten by the system’s poor drainage; and so they see a couple of rats.

“That’s like everyday stuff, rats,” Cook says. “There’s some big sizes down right here. We do not name them rats. We name them monitor rabbits.”

“I used to be down close to 14th Street as soon as and so they was operating all round me in circles,” says J. J., who claims they keep out of the tunnels and near the platform rubbish. “They did not hassle me, however there was some large suckers.”

It’s virtually two within the morning, and we head uptown on the Broadway line. Subway gangs get all their work accomplished at evening whereas the commuters sleep, so work is simply choosing up after we cease close to 137th Street. A gang pours molten metallic in between two monitor rails to clean the trains’ rides. The warmth of the metallic warms the damp tunnel. The gang takes cowl a couple of ft down the monitor because the small black crucible prepares to blow up with fiery metal. “Fire within the gap!” anyone shouts, and everybody seems away.


It’s exhausting work sustaining the subways, and even more durable work constructing them. The tunnels are sometimes dug straight by means of stable bedrock. When they don’t seem to be, they undergo moist silt, and males work in muddy rooms of pressurized air, underneath metallic shields that hold water from collapsing the tunnel in progress. One of essentially the most well-known subway-construction accidents occurred throughout rush hour in 1915 on Seventh Avenue. Great holes had been repeatedly blasted with explosives, however on that day, the boss blaster, a Tyrolian named August Mezzanotte, a.okay.a. August Midnight, made a mistake. An uncontrolled explosion ripped a gap within the avenue two blocks lengthy, killed seven folks—two of whom tumbled thirty ft down, together with the trolley automotive they had been driving in—and despatched Midnight operating straight to his nephew’s home thirty blocks away. When he lastly mustered the braveness to return to the scene of the blast, “he seemed,” as one newspaper put it, “highly nervous.”

In July 1880, in one other historic accident, nineteen males, principally Swedish and Irish, had been buried alive in what was to have been the nation’s first subaqueous tunnel. They had been digging just under the muddy backside of the Hudson and had made it virtually 100 yards towards Manhattan from Jersey when the tunnel collapsed with little extra warning than the hiss of leaking air. The eight males who escaped did so in a small iron air lock and solely as a result of one of the others stayed behind to carry again the water and watch the door shut on himself and the others. After the accident, a crowd stood for ten days watching because the shaft was drained and the lads dug out.

Alfonse Panepinto drives his Port Authority van throughout the identical subject the place the group as soon as stood till we attain the location of the collapse. We climb by means of a modern-day emergency exit down towards the deserted tunnel. A PATH practice passes a couple of dozen inches to our left within the department constructed after the accident. It has solely 7,240 ft to go underneath the Hudson River till its Christopher Street cease. To the precise lies the shaft that marks the underwater staff’ tomb. “We could start a natural steam bath down here,” Panepinto says as we enter, not likely exaggerating the tunnel’s humidity. The air is as thick as a sauna’s and the lens on my watch fogs. We hear absolute quiet, save for the trustworthy clank of a water pump. We crawl by means of the small iron air lock and the open rectangular doorways on it that appear out of a submarine. It is totally black, however with a flashlight we see the bricks that line the ceiling, a puddle of river water, stalactites, and a rusted green-and-white seaside chair. We cease on the concreted finish of the lifeless tunnel.

Daniel Gallagher labored with the Gaelic descendants of the PATH-tunnel victims on tunnels everywhere in the metropolis: the 63rd Street East River subway tunnel and the 138th Street sewerage interceptor, to identify simply two. “You don’t think about working underground,” he says in his brogue. “You get used to it. Most folks do not even care. Everybody is aware of what a skyscraper seems like, however most of them do not know what a tunnel seems like. We had been down a thousand ft in some circumstances.”

Gallagher’s retired now, his lungs worn out from the job, however his son Brian nonetheless works within the gap, as he places it. He’s a powerful, ruddy- wanting child with crimson hair and a membership card from Local 147 of the Compressed Air and Free Air Tunnel Workers union. He makes roughly $1,000 per week. “I want to make my money and get out,” 26-year-old Brian says. “This is too dangerous.”

At the second, Brian is standing on the sting of the D.E.P.’s newest and most in depth water venture—City Water Tunnel No. 3, twenty- four-feet large and 800 ft down at its deepest level. Dug by means of stable rock, it can join all of Manhattan with its subsequent century’s provide of water. The tunnel’s working shaft has been closed now for nearly six months because it was completed, and the sandhogs, as they’ve known as themselves for many years, are deciding who’s going to go down first. They commerce swears in brogues thicker than bedrock, however the head sandhog, Tom, who speaks principally Gaelic, lastly picks two males from the crew. They are positioned in a bucket the scale of a small trash barrel and lowered 80 tales into the bottom on a wire dangling from a crane. The wind, Brian says, is fairly chilly on the backside.

A couple of hundred yards from the opening is a trailer. Inside, the location’s chief engineer, Jack Ledger, sits amongst oddly formed rocks, photographs of the tunnel captioned “The Doors of Hell,” and some previous copies of The Standard Handbook of Engineering. Ledger talks about how issues are winding down now after nineteen years. Engineers and geologists come from everywhere in the world, he says, to see the opening dug so extremely deep, a tunnel designed to outlive the winnable atomic battle imagined within the ‘fifties. He even introduced his children.

“I wanted to bring the whole family down, you know?” he says. “To me that is the acorn of the world. Where else are you going to see these rocks?” He shook his head. “They had been fully bored. A tunnel’s nothing once you’re in a metropolis with the Twin Towers and the Empire State. But we have a look at it after having carved it out stone by stone.”


It wasn’t till 1975 that Con Edison stopped masking every steam pipe it laid within the floor with asbestos, a fiber as soon as thought-about to be on the forefront of insulation expertise. Of the 103 miles of steam line that crisscross the avenues beneath 96th Street, roughly ninety % are nonetheless coated with cancer-causing fiber. Con Edison says it has thought-about changing the insulation on the pipes all of sudden, however it worries that such an elaborate and disruptive maneuver may launch extra asbestos into the air than if drivers in each automotive within the metropolis hit their brake pads all of sudden. (Brake pads are, in any case, one other supply of the lethal fiber.) The value of such an in depth operation is, of course, one other concern, particularly because the firm not too long ago spent a number of million eradicating asbestos from 1,000 of its 1,700 manholes in 1989. So in the interim, asbestos-insulated steam pipes will likely be changed as routine mainte- nance or an accident cleanup permits.

As is the case with most of the utilities underground, age is pushing for fast steam-pipe restore. The great-grandfather of the modern-day steam system, the New York Steam Company, started again in 1882, and a few not-too-distant family of these traces are nonetheless mendacity round. Steam traces have been inspected roughly yearly since Con Edison took over in 1936, however there is no such thing as a actual technique to inform which pipe will burst subsequent or when.

They named the well-known Gramercy Park pipe burst which killed three folks in 1989 “a water hammer.” Four-hundred-degree steam bumped into the comparatively cool condensed water. Air bubbles fashioned, the water beat down the air bubbles, the bubbles obtained larger, and the water hit more durable. “It basically hammered itself out of the pipe,” a Con Edison spokesman says. Something might have been accomplished: somebody might have relieved the steam strain. But anyone forgot, and the underground exploded. In no time in any respect Con Edison was speaking about retraining all its steam staff, reportedly regret- ting the retirement of one old-timer who had taught new staff the methods of the pipes.

Old airline pilots crash-land airplanes higher than anyone, and it is the identical with underground engineers. “It nonetheless takes an professional engineer to know what’s underground,” says Con Edison’s Thomas Cowan (gasoline). “I’ve been round for 36 years and I nonetheless have not seen all of it,” says Con Edison’s Joseph Iacono (electrical). Like the Wil- liamsburg Bridge—which has as soon as once more been identified with the rusty shakes—the town’s subterranean iron works could sooner or later crumble, however all of the engineers can speak about is progress. They’re speaking about fiber-optic cables, about these new hard-rubber joint protectors, about iron pipes combined with only a pinch of plastic. They’re even beginning to ship digital eyes underground—video cameras snaking by means of the mazes to examine previous and unreachable tunnels. Which is progress, certain sufficient, although it in all probability will not add any order to the town’s most cluttered panorama. It simply means one other man-made machine down there. It simply means one other toy at the underside of a tunnel. And then, in a thousand years, an archaeol- ogist will dig all of it up and surprise what the hell a video digital camera is doing eighty tales beneath New York.

The underground has modified since Harry Granick first dived in throughout the ‘forties. Throughout the town, Con Edison went and added sufficient new wires to run up and down the Amazon twice, and New York Telephone spliced in sufficient copper and fiber miles to hold the sound of listing data 980 instances across the globe. The common New Yorker, in the meantime, saved thirsting for extra. In Granick’s day that typical citizen drank about 141 gallons of water. Today, the common is roughly 70 gallons larger—the equiva- lent of 125 additional six-packs. The metropolis had so as to add a pair of new pipes.

Of course, time has taken from the underground, too. The pneumatic tubes that when shuttled seven million letters underneath the city day by day have since been shut up and left to rot (although it was as soon as rumored that the F.B.I. continued to make use of its in depth set). They fell prey to extra reliable supply vehicles, to the start of the fax, and to 1940s supply boys who used to drop gum down the tubes and cease them up. Homeless folks, who now reside under- floor by the hundreds, had been extra an oddity than a problem again then, as the town was near full-employment. Steam is now not the underground energy it was once.

But once you get proper to the underside of it, the underground is what it all the time was—in Granick’s phrases, “a machine for living.” Though extra trendy in some locations (ductile metal pipes and fiber- optic telephone cables changed forged iron and copper, for instance) the underground continues to be that very delicate steadiness of planning, physics, and luck that retains the taps working, the lightbulbs burning, and eight million or so bogs from backing up. It is the most effective of Egyptian waterways and the worst of the English Underground; it’s all of historical past’s vibrant infrastructural concepts rolled into one and tucked underneath a carpet of drained grime and pavement.

Granick wrote with historical past in thoughts, and in his thoughts New York had constructed the best guts in historical past. He factors out that the Romans could have perfected the sewer however Brooklyn constructed the world’s first sewage remedy plant. It isn’t any coincidence that he quotes the heroic Walt Whitman: Granick takes the engineering of the town very severely and sees the life-sustaining bowels of the town as full of Whitmanesque promise and element. He cheers the “large or- ganism,” with out which, he says, there can be no metropolis life.

From his view close to the optimistic finish of the ‘forties, on the daybreak of the atomic period, it was only a matter of time and science till all that additional sludge can be conquered. He titles one chapter “Science and Invention to the Rescue,” and later writes, “One factor is for sure: New York City is quickly on the best way to changing into one of the cleanest and healthiest of the world’s cities.” Today, that sentence makes lots of New Yorkers snort, however then, for Granick, the underground was the important thing. And with discuss of new world orders, atomic energy, and jet planes within the air, who would have thought that the rivers would find yourself polluted, that the landfills would all be stuffed, or that every one the brand new houses constructed upstate on the sting of the metropolis’s reservoirs would sooner or later threaten the purity of one of the freshest city water provides on the earth?

Then once more, the underground is full of thrilling disappointments— just like the Second Avenue Subway tunnel that was solely partly constructed. It is full of surprises and achievements, of errors and confusion. “The streets of the city are alive,” Granick says, “in more ways than people usually imagine.” So with Harry Granick as your wide-eyed information, open up a manhole cowl and dive proper in.