In 2000, director Marc Singer released his acclaimed documentary “Dark Days,” filming the same people followed by Voeten and Toth in their respective books. They all showed simple human beings who were in no way comparable to the legends that had been told, and they all included a man named Bernard Isaac.“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 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.
Like many of the people interviewed for this article, he did not want to give his full name. I can do what I wanna and I don’t have to take nothing from nobody.” Today is a good day for Jon, despite the rain and the cool weather. Like alligators in the sewers.” Jon offers me a sip of vodka. He tells me to stay safe and to watch out for trains when I go back walking into the tunnel.He is bipolar and suffers from major substance dependence. An instant hit, it chronicled the organization of those underground societies, describing compounds of several thousands where babies were born and regular lives were lived, with elected officials, hot water and even electricity.Joseph Brennan, a New York rail buff, wrote an extensive and detailed critique in 1996, exposing many discrepancies in Toth’s reporting, such as places that couldn’t exist, exaggerated numbers and contradictory claims.According to Brennan, the whole notion of secret passages was implausible and “reminiscent of scenes in the TV series ‘Beauty and the Beast.’” A 2004 article by Cecil Adams further demonstrated that many accounts were perhaps more sensationalism than truth.I was unable to reach Toth for comment, but when Adams talked to her, the journalist said she couldn’t remember how to access certain places described in her essay — possibly not to disclose the whereabouts of trespassing squatters.
Still, while the essay might have been inflated or romanticized, it was nonetheless true that the homeless begging in the streets of New York were merely the tip of the iceberg. Santa Claus, the Boogeyman, the Mole People, it’s all the same. It’s human nature.” “Just cause you can’t see don’t mean ain’t nothing there,” begins Anthony Horton’s 2008 graphic novel “Pitch Black,” relating the author’s own struggles as a homeless man.Photojournalists Margaret Morton and Andrea Star Reese have both extensively documented communities spread in underground hideouts since Toth’s book. Written in an abandoned crew room of the F subway line, these words were the reason I ventured into the tunnels in the first place, looking for the invisible, guided by local dwellers along the years to seek foundations of humanity in the foundations of the city.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.The tunnel was known by homeless people since its inception in the 1930s, when it was used by trains to bring cattle to the city before the freight operations ended. The legal limit of returnable cans is 240 per person per day, so Raúl has to go to several supermarkets to earn more. The incentives paid by the Department of Homeless Services to landlords renting out shelter units far exceed the ones given for providing tenants with permanent single room occupancy lodging.Its population, limited at first to about three or four individuals, quickly grew at the time Isaac settled in, evolving into small tribes of vagrants who built thriving shantytowns in the newly abandoned space. “It often scared grown men easily,” recounted Isaac in 2010 as he showed me his old hangout places. Some, like Isaac, were at home in the darkness, and would not have lived anywhere else. “You can actually make a good life here when you’re broke,” he says. The streets are full of opportunities if you know where to look. In 2014, the average stay was 352 days at the Freedom House, a homeless shelter on West 95th Street managed by private company Aguila Inc.A heart attack forced him to try his luck with the public housing system in 1994. “After so many years in the streets, they kind of lose faith in humanity,” said Audrey Lombardi, a volunteer at the Holy Apostles soup kitchen in Manhattan. “The thing is, single mothers who go to shelters with their kids never keep their kids for long,” she says. I called my sister and begged her to take care of Alyssa until I found a place of my own. When she grows up I will explain it all to her.” She looks away, tears rolling down her face. In less than a year I’ll be in a real apartment and I’ll have my baby with me again.” On the floor of her makeshift house is a plastic box full of donated kid’s clothes. “I have to keep faith,” she says in the half-light. Clothes, glass, bike parts and Styrofoam boxes, plastic toys and rotting food carpeting the dirt ground, all frozen in the tunnel’s perpetual dusk.