4 Secret Subways Hiding Underground

It seems impossible to think that a city could have an underground rail system that most people don't even know about. But that's the case with these four secret subways hidden beneath the bustling streets of some of America's biggest cities.

1. The Wet & Windy City

Starting in 1899, the Illinois Telephone and Telegraph Company dug under most of downtown Chicago, creating nearly 62 miles of tunnels, six feet wide by seven and a half feet tall. Their original intention was to house telephone cables, but the company also installed tracks to make getting around easier. Spotting an opportunity, they renamed their business The Chicago Tunnel Company in 1906 and became an underground delivery service instead.

At their peak use, the tunnels buzzed with around 150 small locomotives, hauling 3,300 miniature train cars that delivered 600,000 tons of freight every day. Using special elevators connected to the tunnels, businesses like Marshall Field's would get new clothing and shoe shipments from the rail, but delivering coal for furnaces was the company's bread and butter. However, by the late-1940s, most buildings were using natural gas for heat and those still using coal were getting it by truck, which was much cheaper. Business declined until the company went bankrupt, and the tunnels were sealed in 1959. Shortly after, scrap metal thieves cleaned out the tunnels, including steel doors that were meant to close off the passageways that ran under the Chicago River.

The rails were virtually forgotten until 1992, when a pile driver in the Chicago River hit a freight tunnel wall. A small crack eventually became a 20-foot hole, allowing over 100 million gallons of water to flood the tunnels. Many downtown buildings still had basement connections to the railway, so as the water rose underground it flooded these buildings too, ruining stock in storage rooms, shutting down the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Board of Trade, and shorting out electrical power for blocks. Days later, the hole was repaired and the water was pumped out. The clean-up cost and estimated damage to downtown businesses was more than $1 billion. Since then, many sections of the tunnel have been closed off, while other branches have come full circle—they're once again being used to house telecommunication wires.

2. The Subway You Paid For (And Probably Didn't Know It)


Once called "the shortest and most exclusive railway in the world," the U.S. Capitol Subway—AKA "The Senate Subway"—is a little-known secret to most Americans. Initially built in 1912, a small, two-line monorail system linked the Capitol building to the Russell Senate Office Building just 1/5 of a mile away. The open-air cars held 18 people in wicker seats, took 45 seconds to make a one-way trip, and were known to travel back and forth up to 225 times a day when the Senate was in session.

mccain-subwayOver the years, the line has expanded to all the Senate Office Buildings, as well as to the House Office Building, allowing every member of Congress to reach the Capitol with ease. The old cars were upgraded in 1965 with new models that include upholstered seats and windshields, most of which are still in use today. In 1993, the cars on one line were replaced with sleek, fully enclosed cabins, and feature an automatic, driver-less system, which normally performs quite well. However, in May 2009, the train broke down, stranding Senators Voinovich, Lieberman, Alexander and McCaskill between stations. McCaskill let the world know via Twitter that their train had stalled. They were rescued shortly after, but McCaskill was still a little leery, tweeting that it "takes longer, but I think I'll walk."

And in case you were wondering, you don't have to be in Congress to ride the Senate Subway, but you do need special clearance to do so.

3. If You Can't Beat City Hall, Go Under It

beach-subway-2New York City's streets were becoming an overcrowded, dangerous place to be. So in 1866, Alfred Beach, scientist, inventor, and publisher of Scientific American, came up with a plan to shuttle people around underground. The concept worked just like the pneumatic tubes for the drive-up teller at your local bank, with a giant fan pushing and pulling the train cars from station to station. But there was one big roadblock to Beach's plan: a powerful, corrupt politician named William "Boss" Tweed. Tweed was accepting bribes and kickbacks from everyone in New York City, including, it's speculated, the businesses that ran private streetcars. Because Tweed had a vested interest in keeping the streetcars going above ground, he fought any proposals to develop public transportation down below. Knowing this, Beach asked for and received permission to build a tunnel for delivering mail via pneumatic tubes.

In a gutsy move, Beach used his permit for the mail tunnel as cover to build a working prototype of his pneumatic subway system. The project was constructed in secret, mostly at night, and cost Beach $350,000 of his own money. When it was finished, the subway featured one velvet-seated wooden train car riding inside a 9-foot diameter brick tube that ran 300 feet down the length of Broadway—right in front of City Hall. The subway started at a lavish station that featured painted frescoes, goldfish swimming in a fountain, and a grand piano to complete the upscale ambiance.

beach-subwayAfter a grand opening celebration in 1870, thousands visited Beach's subway for a ride. Thanks to public enthusiasm, the state legislature approved funding to start building on a grander scale. But Boss Tweed and the governor aligned to veto the bill, and they succeeded in shutting down the subway a year after it opened. The tunnel was eventually closed and sat forgotten until 1912, when workers adding a new branch to the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit (BMT) line accidentally broke through the tunnel wall. They found what was left of the station and the wooden car, but it had deteriorated beyond recovery. A few photos of the car were taken before it was destroyed to make room for the new subway line.

4. The Subway That Never Was

During the first part of the 20th Century, Cincinnati was one of the largest cities in the country, with a growth rate nearly the same as Chicago and New York City. And like those cities, Cincinnati had a problem with dangerous, busy streets. So in 1916, a 16-mile mass transit system was proposed to alleviate the congestion. The project included aboveground and underground rails with much of the latter to be constructed by tearing up the Miami and Erie Canal, a man made waterway that had fallen into disuse.

$6,000,000 in bonds were approved in April 1916, but America had entered World War I just eleven days before, and the federal government soon put a freeze on all bond issues. When the war was over, the price of steel and concrete had skyrocketed, so the original $6,000,000 was now insufficient. A modified plan eliminated some of the original 17 stations and cut the track down to six miles, servicing only the western half of the city. With the new plan, construction began in 1920 and lasted until 1925, when the $6,000,000 ran out. During that time, two miles of 26-foot wide subway tunnel were built where the canal had been, and then covered by a new street, Central Parkway, creating a major thoroughfare for aboveground traffic. Until more money could be raised, there were no tracks or train cars, but the infrastructure was in place for the subway's eventual completion.


While city government argued over what to do next, the Stock Market crashed in 1929, World War II stalled the project, and by the 1950s, America was in love with its automobiles, so the demand for mass transit dried up. Today, the tunnel sits, unused and unfinished for nearly 85 years. The entrance to the grand staircase that leads to the tunnel has been closed and most of the aboveground stations have been torn down. There's really very little evidence that the tunnel even exists, which is perfectly fine to some people embarrassed by the project's history.

Over the years there have been numerous attempts to find some use for the tunnel, but none have been successful. Most recently, in 2002, a proposal for mass transit was again considered, but the idea was voted down.
* * * * *
Does your city have any legends of secret, underground passages? Are there tunnels in your neighborhood you've always wanted to explore? Tell us about them in the comments below.

Michael Campanella/Getty Images
10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
Michael Campanella/Getty Images
Michael Campanella/Getty Images

Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.


"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.


"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles


"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole


"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles



"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole


"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles


"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."


A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios

"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole

How Apple's '1984' Super Bowl Ad Was Almost Canceled

More than 30 years ago, Apple defined the Super Bowl commercial as a cultural phenomenon. Prior to Super Bowl XVIII, nobody watched the game "just for the commercials"—but one epic TV spot, directed by sci-fi legend Ridley Scott, changed all that. Read on for the inside story of the commercial that rocked the world of advertising, even though Apple's Board of Directors didn't want to run it at all.


If you haven't seen it, here's a fuzzy YouTube version:

"WHY 1984 WON'T BE LIKE 1984"

The tagline "Why 1984 Won't Be Like '1984'" references George Orwell's 1949 novel 1984, which envisioned a dystopian future, controlled by a televised "Big Brother." The tagline was written by Brent Thomas and Steve Hayden of the ad firm Chiat\Day in 1982, and the pair tried to sell it to various companies (including Apple, for the Apple II computer) but were turned down repeatedly. When Steve Jobs heard the pitch in 1983, he was sold—he saw the Macintosh as a "revolutionary" product, and wanted advertising to match. Jobs saw IBM as Big Brother, and wanted to position Apple as the world's last chance to escape IBM's domination of the personal computer industry. The Mac was scheduled to launch in late January of 1984, a week after the Super Bowl. IBM already held the nickname "Big Blue," so the parallels, at least to Jobs, were too delicious to miss.

Thomas and Hayden wrote up the story of the ad: we see a world of mind-controlled, shuffling men all in gray, staring at a video screen showing the face of Big Brother droning on about "information purification directives." A lone woman clad in vibrant red shorts and a white tank-top (bearing a Mac logo) runs from riot police, dashing up an aisle towards Big Brother. Just before being snatched by the police, she flings a sledgehammer at Big Brother's screen, smashing him just after he intones "We shall prevail!" Big Brother's destruction frees the minds of the throng, who quite literally see the light, flooding their faces now that the screen is gone. A mere eight seconds before the one-minute ad concludes, a narrator briefly mentions the word "Macintosh," in a restatement of that original tagline: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'" An Apple logo is shown, and then we're out—back to the game.

In 1983, in a presentation about the Mac, Jobs introduced the ad to a cheering audience of Apple employees:

"... It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and -controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"

After seeing the ad for the first time, the Apple audience totally freaked out (jump to about the 5-minute mark to witness the riotous cheering).


Chiat\Day hired Ridley Scott, whose 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner had the dystopian tone they were looking for (and Alien wasn't so bad either). Scott filmed the ad in London, using actual skinheads playing the mute bald men—they were paid $125 a day to sit and stare at Big Brother; those who still had hair were paid to shave their heads for the shoot. Anya Major, a discus thrower and actress, was cast as the woman with the sledgehammer largely because she was actually capable of wielding the thing.

Mac programmer Andy Hertzfeld wrote an Apple II program "to flash impressive looking numbers and graphs on [Big Brother's] screen," but it's unclear whether his program was used for the final film. The ad cost a shocking $900,000 to film, plus Apple booked two premium slots during the Super Bowl to air it—carrying an airtime cost of more than $1 million.


Although Jobs and his marketing team (plus the assembled throng at his 1983 internal presentation) loved the ad, Apple's Board of Directors hated it. After seeing the ad for the first time, board member Mike Markkula suggested that Chiat\Day be fired, and the remainder of the board were similarly unimpressed. Then-CEO John Sculley recalled the reaction after the ad was screened for the group: "The others just looked at each other, dazed expressions on their faces ... Most of them felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen. Not a single outside board member liked it." Sculley instructed Chiat\Day to sell off the Super Bowl airtime they had purchased, but Chiat\Day principal Jay Chiat quietly resisted. Chiat had purchased two slots—a 60-second slot in the third quarter to show the full ad, plus a 30-second slot later on to repeat an edited-down version. Chiat sold only the 30-second slot and claimed it was too late to sell the longer one. By disobeying his client's instructions, Chiat cemented Apple's place in advertising history.

When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak heard that the ad was in trouble, he offered to pony up half the airtime costs himself, saying, "I asked how much it was going to cost, and [Steve Jobs] told me $800,000. I said, 'Well, I'll pay half of it if you will.' I figured it was a problem with the company justifying the expenditure. I thought an ad that was so great a piece of science fiction should have its chance to be seen."

But Woz didn't have to shell out the money; the executive team finally decided to run a 100-day advertising extravaganza for the Mac's launch, starting with the Super Bowl ad—after all, they had already paid to shoot it and were stuck with the airtime.

1984 - Big Brother


When the ad aired, controversy erupted—viewers either loved or hated the ad, and it spurred a wave of media coverage that involved news shows replaying the ad as part of covering it, leading to estimates of an additional $5 million in "free" airtime for the ad. All three national networks, plus countless local markets, ran news stories about the ad. "1984" become a cultural event, and served as a blueprint for future Apple product launches. The marketing logic was brilliantly simple: create an ad campaign that sparked controversy (for example, by insinuating that IBM was like Big Brother), and the media will cover your launch for free, amplifying the message.

The full ad famously ran once during the Super Bowl XVIII (on January 22, 1984), but it also ran the month prior—on December 31, 1983, TV station operator Tom Frank ran the ad on KMVT at the last possible time slot before midnight, in order to qualify for 1983's advertising awards.* (Any awards the ad won would mean more media coverage.) Apple paid to screen the ad in movie theaters before movie trailers, further heightening anticipation for the Mac launch. In addition to all that, the 30-second version was aired across the country after its debut on the Super Bowl.

Chiat\Day adman Steve Hayden recalled: "We ran a 30- second version of '1984' in the top 10 U.S. markets, plus, in an admittedly childish move, in an 11th market—Boca Raton, Florida, headquarters for IBM's PC division." Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld ended his remembrance of the ad by saying:

"A week after the Macintosh launch, Apple held its January board meeting. The Macintosh executive staff was invited to attend, not knowing what to expect. When the Mac people entered the room, everyone on the board rose and gave them a standing ovation, acknowledging that they were wrong about the commercial and congratulating the team for pulling off a fantastic launch.

Chiat\Day wanted the commercial to qualify for upcoming advertising awards, so they ran it once at 1 AM at a small television station in Twin Falls, Idaho, KMVT, on December 15, 1983 [incorrect; see below for an update on this -ed]. And sure enough it won just about every possible award, including best commercial of the decade. Twenty years later it's considered one of the most memorable television commercials ever made."


A year later, Apple again employed Chiat\Day to make a blockbuster ad for their Macintosh Office product line, which was basically a file server, networking gear, and a laser printer. Directed by Ridley Scott's brother Tony, the new ad was called "Lemmings," and featured blindfolded businesspeople whistling an out-of-tune version of Snow White's "Heigh-Ho" as they followed each other off a cliff (referencing the myth of lemming suicide).

Jobs and Sculley didn't like the ad, but Chiat\Day convinced them to run it, pointing out that the board hadn't liked the last ad either. But unlike the rousing, empowering message of the "1984" ad, "Lemmings" directly insulted business customers who had already bought IBM computers. It was also weirdly boring—when it was aired at the Super Bowl (with Jobs and Sculley in attendance), nobody really reacted. The ad was a flop, and Apple even proposed running a printed apology in The Wall Street Journal. Jay Chiat shot back, saying that if Apple apologized, Chiat would buy an ad on the next page, apologizing for the apology. It was a mess:


In 2004, the ad was updated for the launch of the iPod. The only change was that the woman with the hammer was now listening to an iPod, which remained clipped to her belt as she ran. You can watch that version too:


Chiat\Day adman Lee Clow gave an interview about the ad, covering some of this material.

Check out Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld's excellent first-person account of the ad. A similar account (but with more from Jobs's point of view) can found in the Steve Jobs biography, and an even more in-depth account is in The Mac Bathroom Reader. The Mac Bathroom Reader is out of print; you can read an excerpt online, including QuickTime movies of the two versions of the ad, plus a behind-the-scenes video. Finally, you might enjoy this 2004 USA Today article about the ad, pointing out that ads for other computers (including Atari, Radio Shack, and IBM's new PCjr) also ran during that Super Bowl.

* = A Note on the Airing in 1983

Update: Thanks to Tom Frank for writing in to correct my earlier mis-statement about the first air date of this commercial. As you can see in his comment below, Hertzfeld's comments above (and the dates cited in other accounts I've seen) are incorrect. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Frank, in which we discuss what it was like running both "1984" and "Lemmings" before they were on the Super Bowl!

Update 2: You can read the story behind this post in Chris's book The Blogger Abides.

This post originally appeared in 2012.


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