“There were definitely people living in tunnels, but not a lot,” Norman Diederich, a former MTA maintenance inspector, told me. This period is gone.” “There were talks that the moles were cannibals,” Diederich continued. * * * I met Bernard Isaac for the first time in 2009.“This is not a place of perdition,” he often said about the Riverside Park tunnel when we talked together during his shifts as a maintenance worker in Central Park. A place to find peace and take a break from the chaos.” He would then reminisce about his old life, his eyes would light up and there would be the crack of a smile, and whatever place we were in would be filled by his presence.
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Rubble is scattered along the train tracks, bordered by retaining walls covered in numerous layers of graffiti. Here by the parkway with the blasting trucks and the roaring cars, near the filigree arches of the Riverside Drive viaduct, here with the gravel crunching under my feet as I run down the railroad into this hollow mouth. They’ve always been there, resting low below the rowdy streets and the carving avenues, gulping the air from inside the earth, crawling through holes and cracks, living off the grid and off the books. Don’t you know they’re eating rats and human flesh? And one day they will spill outside and burn us all alive, and they will reign over our flatscreen joys and our organic delights. “They been coming less, lately, but you never know. From Jules Verne’s 1864 novel “Journey to the Center of the Earth” to George Gissing’s 1889 book “The Nether World,” literature was brimming with tales of people living in isolation or trapped under the surface, peaking in 1895 with “The Time Machine,” in which H. Wells described a fictional subterranean species called the “Morlocks.” But it was only in the 1990s that the first widespread depictions of real-world tunnel residents appeared in New York.
This is where they live, deep into the depths of the city, way underground, lying in the dirt. Regular police ain’t bothering me, but Amtrak, they can be nasty.” Jon says he did prison time. A 1990 article by John Tierney was the earliest to outline the phenomenon, looking at people living in an abandoned train tunnel beneath Riverside Park, along the banks of the Hudson River. In 1993, Jennifer Toth published her essay “The Mole People,” documenting hidden communities residing in a network of forsaken caverns, holes and shafts across Manhattan.
Dutch anthropologist Teun Voeten’s 1996 diary “Tunnel People” provided an incredible account of the months he spent with the Riverside Park Amtrak tunnel inhabitants before they were evicted and moved to Section 8 housing units. All the stories I had read about the Mole People before descending myself had two things in common.