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The Quick 10: 10 Underground Cities

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As I mentioned the other day, we're headed to Seattle in October. As I was researching things to do, I came across the Seattle Underground Tour, which many of you said was pretty awesome. It made me wonder how many other cities out there have something similar. Here are a few of them.

1. Seattle. I'll start with Seattle, just in case you didn't read the post on Wednesday.
In 1889, a cabinet maker was heating some glue It boiled over when he wasn't looking and set fire to the wood chips below. Before you could say "Mrs. O'Leary," the fire spread across town and consumed most of the business district downtown - 25 entire blocks, to be exact. Rather than relocate, the citizens and government of Seattle just decided to regrade the city streets higher and build on top of all of the old stuff. These days, all of the "old stuff" can still be found underneath. It's been somewhat refurbished and made more structurally sound for touring purposes.

2. Portland, Oregon. The Shanghai Tunnels of Portland, AKA the Portland Underground, may have a pretty shady past. The tunnels connected a bunch of basements of business and bars in the Old Town/Chinatown district and are said to have been built to get goods from the docks to the businesses without clogging up the streets in town. But more than one source says the tunnels were used for other purposes: to kidnap (shanghai) people who got too drunk in the bars and then sell them into the slave trade, using the tunnels to get them to the docks and ship them out. It's never been proven, but Portland Underground Tours will give you a good idea of how it could have happened (they maintain that it absolutely did happen).

3. Atlanta. Underground Atlanta is a well-known shopping district now, but disappeared from the maps for many years. It was street-level back in the 1800s, but during the 1920s, concrete viaducts were built to accommodate the growing traffic flow of the busy city. The construction of the viaducts raised the streets a level and everything underneath was abandoned"¦ until the 1960s, when it was rediscovered. It's a fun shopping and entertainment district today, but if you keep your eyes peeled, you can still see remnants of the past: hand carved wooden panels, decorative brick, granite arches and marble accents.

4. Beijing. On the other side of the ocean, Beijing has its own underground city called Dixia Cheng. It was originally a bomb shelter, and is maintained as such, but it opened as a tourist attraction for several years as well. It's currently closed to tourists, but if you ever find yourself lucky enough to check it out, you'll see a silk factory that has taken up shop in one of the underground meeting rooms, signposts to major landmarks and murals with slogans like "Accumulate Grain."

5. Vegas. Sick of the neon and the showgirls? There's another side to Vegas, but you're not going to find a tour of it - and you probably don't want to. A maze of storm tunnels have been turned into makeshift living quarters for about 300 people. Most are just humble piles of blankets and belongings, but a few people have managed to almost make apartments out of the larger rooms that connect the storm drains.

6. The Magic Kingdom. Yep, there's a whole other level to the Happiest Place on Earth. The part you see is actually the first floor. The ground level is under your feet. It's where the cast members roam, how food and merchandise is brought into stores, and where the employee cafeterias, offices and break rooms are located. Disney built this first, then used the soil scooped out from the creation of the Seven Seas Lagoon to make the park that sits on top of it.

7. Chicago. It looks like Chicago could have an underground city of its own - or at least a mini one. In the late 1850s, residents of the Windy City were having issues with drainage and flooding because the city sat nearly even with Lake Michigan. The solution? To raise parts of the city up another four or five feet. And the real kicker was this: although the City of Chicago was paying for the street regrades, individual property and business owners were responsible for doing something about their own buildings. If you couldn't afford it, tough. i bet if you know where to look, there's plenty of interesting underground structures hidden just below the street.

8. Rome. You don't get much more ancient than this. The catacombs in Rome and the surrounding area are arguably the most famous ones in the world (see #9). At least 40 catacombs contain thousands of bodies that lie up to four stories below the ground. The oldest catacombs - St. Priscilla's - dates back to the late second century, but you'll find nine Popes in the largest and most popular catacombs, St. Callixtus.

9. Paris. Paris has it's own catacombs, but that's only part of what is known as Carrières de Paris - the quarries of Paris. There are more than 177 miles of tunnels and quarries under the streets of the City of Light, and they have become a hotbed of activity for artists known as cataphiles.

10. Burlington, Wiltshire, England. There's about 35 acres of city 100 feet below ground in Burlington. The 60 miles of roads were to carry the Prime Minister and his entire Cabinet in case of a Cold War emergency. It was build to keep up to 4,000 people alive for up to three months. It even included an underground lake. It was, of course, never used, and was actually put up for sale several years ago. One company, Octavian, bought a small piece of it to use to store 800,000 cases of wine. "It's a nice idea going from a red scare to red wine," the managing director of the company said.

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
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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.

1. ON SCIENCE

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

2. ON NASA FUNDING

"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

3. ON GOD AND HURRICANES

"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

4. ON THE BENEFITS OF TECHNOLOGY INVENTED FOR USE IN SPACE

"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

5. ON THE DEMOTION OF PLUTO FROM PLANET STATUS 

PBS

"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

6. ON JAMES CAMERON'S TITANIC

"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

7. ON DEATH BY ASTEROID

"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

8. ON THE MOTIVATIONS BEHIND AMERICA'S MOONSHOT

"[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

9. ON INTELLIGENT LIFE (OR THE LACK THEREOF)

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."

10. PRACTICAL ADVICE IN THE EVENT OF ALIEN CONTACT 

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
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40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
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Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.

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