In 1993, Jennifer Toth wrote The Mole People: Life in the Tunnels Beneath New York City, which chronicled an orderly society of homeless individuals living deep under New York’s busy streets. The book was an instant hit and yet, garnered tons of controversy. Was her work accurate? Do “Mole People” really exist?
The Chaos Book Club
Today is Day 7 of the Chaos book club. Chaos is an adventure thriller along the lines of Indiana Jones or books written by Clive Cussler, James Rollins, Douglas Preston, or Steve Berry. If you haven’t already done so, please consider picking up a copy at one of the following locations:
The Mole People
Generally speaking, the term “Mole People” refer to underground urbanites. These homeless folks live in tunnels, shafts, or other buried structures. And they are not a myth. For example, back in 2009 the Sun reported on an elaborate indigent community under Las Vegas:
“Steven and Kathryn…have a neat, if compact kitchen, a furnished living area, and a bedroom complete with double bed, wardrobe and bookshelf featuring a wide selection including a Frank Sinatra biography and Spanish phrase book…But their life is far from the ordinary…Because, along with hundreds of others, the couple are part of a secret community living in the dark and dirty underground flood tunnels below the famous strip…Despite the risks from disease, highly venomous spiders and flooding washing them away, many of the tunnel people have put together elaborate camps with furniture, ornaments and shelves filled with belongings.” ~ Pete Samson
Beginning in 1974, homeless people began to move into Manhattan’s Freedom Tunnel, an abandoned structure located under Riverside Park. By 1991, a large and boisterous shantytown had sprang up, leading to complaints from residents. New York City responded by bulldozing the rickety homes, cordoning off the tunnel, and evicting hundreds of homeless people. These individuals became the inspiration for Jennifer Toth’s critically-acclaimed The Mole People: Life in the Tunnels Beneath New York City.
The Mole People: Life in the Tunnels Beneath New York City
Toth claimed to have visited the Freedom Tunnel during its heyday. She interviewed the residents and spun wild stories about their lives and surroundings. She even claimed that a homeless man named Blade wanted to kill her, which forced her to flee the city. Her book was a sensation. But there was just one problem…much of it was probably fabricated. Joseph Brennan, who hosts the Abandoned Stations site, puts it best:
“Here’s the problem in a nutshell: every fact in this book that I can verify independently is wrong. I’m referring to her descriptions of the tunnels…Since she fictionalizes the setting as much as she does, then other facts she claims also should be subject to a re-examination. There are too many exaggerations and inventions in the tunnel descriptions to make it believable that the rest is absolutely straight reporting.” ~ Joseph Brennan, Fantasy in the Mole People
Still, although Toth’s book was more fiction than non-fiction, the Mole People were all too real at that point in time. In 1990, John Tierney described the Freedom Tunnel and its residents in the article, In Tunnel, ‘Mole People’ Fight to Save Home.
“These men and women may be the most stable homeless settlement in New York City, although some of the old-timers would not describe it that way. After 15 years in the tunnel, they do not consider themselves homeless. They have plywood shanties and cinder-block bunkers with rugs, beds, night stands, kerosene lamps, wood and gas stoves, paintings on the walls, pets in the yard.” ~ John Tierney, New York Times
The Mole People in Chaos
I’m fascinated by “lost tribes.” So, the idea of the Mole People as a sort of lost tribe of underground denizens has always intrigued me. When it came time to write Chaos, I wanted to incorporate my own version of the Mole People. Thus, the Colony and its mysterious leader Ghost were born.
Mary shook her head. “That’s not funny. If Ghost heard about this…”
“I’m sick of Ghost. He’s a stubborn old bastard whose time has passed.”
“You’re serious aren’t you?”
He sneered. “Damn right I’m serious. Someone needs to take a stand. Our people are dying. The healthy ones are deserting in droves. If we wait any longer, the colony will be extinct.” ~ David Meyer, Chaos
I hope you enjoyed today’s entry in the Chaos book club. Tomorrow, we’ll be stepping a little further back in time to examine the legend of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Lost Subway Car. I hope to see you then!
Chaos Book Club
- October 17: Chaos has Arrived!
- October 24: The Story of Chaos
- October 25: The Great Train Robbery?
- October 26: Is Treasure Hunting Immoral?
- October 27: What was Operation Paperclip?
- October 28: Nazi Treasure & ODESSA?
- October 29: Do the Mole People Exist?
- October 31: FDR’s Lost Subway Car?
- November 1: Do Alligators Live in New York City Sewers?
- November 2: The Mysterious Minamata Disease?
- November 3: Die Glocke & Nazi Wonder Weapons?
- November 4: Buildering: The Art of Climbing…Skyscrapers?
- November 5: The Strange Case of Red Mercury?
- November 6: The Island of Stability?
- November 7: The Nazi Atomic Bomb?
- November 8: The Nth Country Experiment?
- November 9: Why did America really bomb Hiroshima?
- November 10: New York’s Forgotten Subway Tunnel?
- November 11: Alfred Ely Beach’s Last Secret?
- November 12: The Strange Science of Superconductors?
- November 13: What’s Next for Cyclone Reed?