In December of 2010, urban historian Steve Duncan and I embarked on an epic journey through the underground tunnels of New York City. Starting in the Bronx and ending at the Atlantic Ocean in Jamaica Bay, Queens, we intended to make our way from one end of the city to the other through its network of tunnels that had been developed over hundreds of years. As we explored this hidden world, we were also uncovering a part of New York City’s history – making our way through streams that had once been aboveground waterways prior to urban development (from 17th & 18th centuries), to the city’s first enclosed sewer along Canal Street (early 19th century), and finally into the 20th-century labyrinth of the subway system.
Our plan was to spend a week traversing these tunnels, without staying in hotels – instead camping wherever we could find a spot. It was freezing cold and often wet and miserable, more difficult than either of us expected in many ways. Yet despite all this, it was an absolutely wonderful trip that lasted five days and four nights (Monday-Friday). We camped underground for three nights and didn’t sleep at all on the fourth night.
I owe so much gratitude to Steve for his leadership, inspiration, and enthusiasm throughout this endeavor – as well as for his willingness to do something so wild! I must also extend my deepest thanks for those friends who helped make this trip happen as well as journalists who accompanied us on some or all of it in order to bring attention to this amazing hidden world beneath our feet.
Despite our efforts during that week long expedition, there is still much more left unseen underneath NYC’s surface – which is why I would encourage everyone reading this article to check out “Undercity” – an exploration documentary about our remarkable journey below ground level. Directed by Andrew Wonder & Luke Lorentzen with cinematography by Wonder himself, Undercity takes viewers deep into NYC’s secret underworld full of caves, cathedrals and forgotten infrastructure rarely seen by outsiders – giving us a peek into what lies beneath modern day New York City and its vast history.