View RSS Feed



Rating: 2 votes, 5.00 average.
The New York Subway system has had more than its share of urban legends. Especially over the past thirty or forty years, a massive and strange collection of tales and stories evolved that are as massive and strange as NYC's netherworld of rapid (usually) transportation. Weird and dangerous creatures were said to lurk along the hundreds of stations and miles of tracks which comprise the subway: monsters and zombies, ghosts and vampires, snakes and alligators (the bigger the better, of course) were rumored to reside there. (Then again, considering what I've seen on the IRT, these legends may be true after all...but I digress.) Of all these stories, the strangest may be that of the "mole people."

In 1993 a writer by the name of Jennifer Toth published a work entitled MOLE PEOPLE which made a minor sensation, especially among readers drawn to the odd and unusual. In her work Toth claimed to have had "first-hand knowledge" that communities of homeless people were living in NYC's subways and that she personally observed several "subway communities" with "elected mayors," "families with kids," and "housing arrangements that included hot showers." She even witnessed a "mole person hunt, kill, cook, and eat a rat." Along a stretch of track beneath Harlem, she interviewed a "group of toughs who boasted that they were contract killers." (via The Straight Dope)

Of course, the homeless problem is very real (in addition to the existence of numerous abandoned stations, tracks, etc.) and scores of these homeless unfortunates have lived and died in the city's subways and continue to do so today. In the early 90s, when the crisis was at its apex, homeless people numbering in the thousands were reported to be living down there. A ride on the subway wouldn't be complete without spotting at least one of these human tragedies in states of delirium or unconsciousness, flopped upon station benches or sprawled along floors and corridors. Several homeless persons wandering the tracks were hit and killed by trains or electrocuted by third-rails or merely found dead, "cause of death unknown." The Straight Dope's Cecil Adams initially believed Jennifer Toth's claims for the simple reason that much of what she asserts is based on this sad reality...until Joseph Brennan stepped-in. Brennan is a New York City railroad buff who alleges that everything that she has written in MOLE PEOPLE is either "entirely wrong" or outright lies. Brennan devotes an entire web page refuting Toth's research.

Made a little bit more savvy by Brennan's knowledge of the subway system and sensibly suspicious of Toth, Adams "revisited" the "Mole People" community. By way of example, this is how Brennan rejects Toth's section on Grand Central Station, as told through Adams: her "gothic rendition" of the tunnels beneath Grand Central Station resemble Tolkien's Mines of Moira, "descending six levels beneath" the subway tracks "without any complete blueprint," along with a network of abandoned and forgotten tunnels where "people with webbed feet" dwell in its lowest depths. Naturally, Brennan calls all of this nonsense and notes that the station wasn't built in "fits and starts but all in one go; very few of its tunnels are unused and all are well-documented. It doesn't have six levels...[it only has] two track levels and in places passageways, at one or two levels, below that." As for the webbed feet people...well, what do you think?

The song "New York, New York" (by the way, I DESPISE that song) says that if you "can make it here you can make it anywhere"...Toth must believe that you can also MAKE-UP ANYTHING here and it will be BELIEVED ANYWHERE!!! Brennan washes away her entire "Mole People" story like a tidal wave would a sand castle, disproving her fiction that (with "added" tracks, stations, levels, passageways) makes the NYC subway system "grow" in size by at least twenty-percent. While her fantastically redesigned stations and such that appear in MOLE PEOPLE might seem credible to people unfamiliar with the subways here, most who ride the rails will know that much of this doesn't (and never did) exist outside of a very ambitious imagination.

Toth's MOLE PEOPLE is yet another instance of a writer exploiting reality to enhance and give credence to a fictional work. Take an abandoned station here, a forgotten track there, a poor wretch or two possibly everywhere, and entertain your readers (and entertain your publisher financially) with something out of Dante's Inferno...and all this time I'd thought the subway system looked bad enough, and had already gone to Hell and back again without anyone's help.


  1. Virgil's Avatar
    Haha, love it Fox. Yes the New York subway system is something to experience. I've been to several cities and their subway systems are simple compared to ours. We definitely have the most complex system by far. Probably because of our geography. I didn't see an urban legend about crocodiles and aligators living in the tunnels. Hahaha. I keep looking for one, although I don't take the subway much lately. Hey, but why do you hate "New York, New York?" I think it's a good song, even though it's associated with the Yankees. I hate the Yankees.
  2. andave_ya's Avatar
    Wow! The title "Mole People" caught my eye and I was fascinated by your blog. NYC subway...You know, every time you blog about something I end up wanting to see/visit/experience it!
  3. mtpspur's Avatar
    Loved the make up anything line best. Waslightly surprised no reference to the TV show Beauty and the Beast but I liked you stayed focused on the subject at hand.
  4. kiz_paws's Avatar
    Wow, Mole People -- as soon as I saw this title in Blogs, I was drawn to PostCards From New York. You see, I had heard of this phenomena a while back, via a horror novel I was reading at the time (yeah, I had a stint with those, and am NOT ashamed of it, either, truth be told). Anyhow, I believe that the writer was either Dean Koontz or S.King, but reference to these mole people was made, and I found it very intriguing then, and still do. I am very glad you made this informative entry, it has now settled that unnerving thought about those poor people in the subways. I feel foolish for believing it, but then, there are those who think that I cut ice blocks to be fashioned into an igloo from which I hang my hat.... Ahhh well. Take care, Michael (hope the weather in New York is behaving!)
  5. andave_ya's Avatar
    GFD, I hope you're ok! We miss you here!
  6. kiz_paws's Avatar
    Michael, this is not relevent to your Mole People entry, just a plea for you to come back and give us more postcards from your beloved New York. We miss you. Sincerely, Kizzo