On Sunday several friends and I climbed down a manhole in the middle of busy Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn into the world’s oldest subway. We learned that the tunnel was made, before steam jacks and blow torches, with 2000 year old Roman methods. We learned that a foreman, who forced his Irish workers to work seven days a week and break their sabbath, was murdered down there, chopped to pieces, and buried in the walls. We learned that Walt Whitman used to walk down there, beside the trains, when they had converted the second lane into a thoroughfare (He said something to the effect of: “Anyone who hates their lives should spend an hour down here.”) We even saw a strange, Mesmer-like re-enactment by three women dressed in period clothing. Three lanterns appeared at the far end of the tunnel, followed by faint drumming and weak chanting in high-pitched voices. Alaya Dawn Johnson found their act god-awful, but, like the little boy I am, I found myself a little unnerved by their coven-like summoning and the ghostly light cast about their pale faces.
The tunnel was recently re-discovered in the 1980s by a very determined man trying to dodge the Kodak company, who were trying to hire him for spy satellite work. This rather large gentleman is the one who leads the tour. He even said he believes there might be two trains from 1851 buried behind the far wall. In a few months, he will have enough money to start digging to see if they are there.
They give the tour every month, and if you ever get a chance to do it, I highly recommend it. I even found a piece of thick glass that might be older than my deceased grandparents. And lest you think it would be tropical hot down forty feet under the street, think again. It was a cool 60 degrees.
Here are some pictures for the curious.