Garbology: The Archaeology of…Garbage?

Archaeology is, in many respects, the study of ancient human garbage. But in 1973, Professor William Rathje of the University of Arizona took this to a whole other level. Yes, he assigned his students to study garbage. But not ancient garbage. Instead, he asked them to study modern garbage from people living in Tucson, Arizona. What did The Garbage Project and garbology teach us about modern man?

The Birth of Modern Garbology?

The garbology project was led by the central tenant that “what people have owned — and thrown away — can speak more eloquently, informatively, and truthfully about the lives they lead than they themselves ever may.” It consisted of two parts. First, trash from various urban neighborhoods was examined, sorted by raw material, and recorded. Second, the contents were compared with anonymous questionnaires filled out by people living in those areas. The results were, to put it mildly, shocking.

For example, 10-15% of all garbage was food. The students discovered large amounts of edible food, with middle-income households “wasting” more food than either the poor or rich. Also, people underreported the amount of alcohol they drank, by as much as 60% in some neighborhoods. Middle-class folks consumed the cheapest alcohol. Rich and poor alike tended to drink more expensive stuff.

“Garbage doesn’t lie. The evidence of junk-food wrappers, liquor bottles and girlie magazines often flies in the face of what we tell ourselves — and what we tell others — about what we do.” ~ Witold Rybczynski, We Are What We Throw Away

Most people have little understanding of their own trash. And they have even less understanding of trash as a whole. Remember those fast food containers environmentalists hated so much in the 1980s? Well, from 1980-1989, they accounted for less than 0.1% of all landfill garbage. Disposable diapers – another product scorned by many environmentalists – were less than 1%.

Garbology: The Truth about our Garbage?

So, what kind of trash dominates landfills? Paper is the #1 contributor, making up 40-50% of landfills. Construction debris adds another 20-30%. The third largest category is yard waste (grass clippings, leaves, and the like). Much of this garbage has yet to biodegrade due to the fact that landfills tend to be “mummifiers” (this is the case with ancient landfills as well). Thus, newspapers from as far back as 1952 have been recovered in readable condition and food scraps “remain unchanged after 30 or 40 years.”

Interestingly enough, garbology studies show modern society produces far less trash per person than our predecessors. Much of this is due to technological advances. For example, individual homes no longer produce 1,200 lbs of coal ash per year. And modern packaged foods produce far less waste than the alternative.

Another interesting conclusion is that modern society recycles far less than you might expect. During the 1980s, 78% of people claimed to recycle. But only 26% actually did, irregardless of income level, political views, or even environmental views. And to be honest, recycling as a whole is somewhat of a sham. 40% of what we recycle actually ends up in landfills. For example, outside of PET soda containers, most plastic ends up being dumped in landfills, due to its low value and lack of usability. Paper and glass often suffer the same fate.

While there is plenty of physical space for all this trash, bureaucrats have made it increasingly difficult to open new landfills. So, is there a way to further reduce the amount of trash society creates? Recycling is one option but it only goes so far, especially since much of it ends up in landfills anyway.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

In their book, Rubbish! The Archaeology of Garbage, William Rathje and Cullen Murphy suggest charging individual families different prices for garbage removal, presumably based on volume or weight. I would take this one step further and suggest privatizing and deregulating the entire garbage industry.

Rather than bureaucrats hiring politically favored contractors, let trash collection companies compete against each other for business. If they saw fit, they could charge consumers based on individual trash, rather than the current one-size-fits-all strategy. Consumers would be incentivized to produce less trash. Landfill owners would be incentivized to make better use of their space as well as find profitable uses for materials already stored within their own landfills. And garbage firms would be incentivized to recycle trash in order to resell it. Let the free market work and who knows? Maybe the so-called trash problem will resolve itself.

Alfred Ely Beach’s Last Secret?

On April 9, 1873, Governor John Adams Dix signed the Beach Pneumatic Transit bill into law. After more than three years of legislative battles, Alfred Ely Beach was finally poised to begin work on New York’s City first real subway system. But the proposed system was never built. What happened?

The Chaos Book Club

Today is Day 19 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. Thanks to those of you who’ve bought the novel already. If you haven’t already done so, please consider picking up a copy at one of the following locations:

Kindle * Nook * Kobo * iBooks * Smashwords * Paperback

Alfred Ely Beach’s Pneumatic Subway Tunnel

Yesterday, we briefly examined the story of Alfred Ely Beach. Simply put, he was a brilliant inventor who recognized the need for a subway system in New York City. But he knew that Boss Tweed, the corrupt leader of Tammany Hall, would never let him build it. So he secretly constructed a demonstration tunnel under the streets of Manhattan, hoping that public opinion would force Tweed’s hand.

The tunnel was a hit and Tweed saw an opportunity. He joined forces with Beach and together, the two men lobbied the legislature for permission to expand the system. However, the proposal stalled, partly due to concerns from the Astors and other wealthy families that subway tunnels would undermine their properties.

The Pneumatic Subway runs into Trouble

Still, with Tweed at his side, Beach was in pretty good shape…that is, until the Orange Riot of 1871. That year, Tweed allowed Irish Protestants to parade in the city, celebrating the 1690 Battle of the Boyne. But for the second straight year, the parade erupted into violence between Irish Protestants and Irish Catholics. Some sixty civilians and three members of the New York State National Guard died in the riot. Tweed’s inability to control the people led others to question his leadership. An anti-Tweed campaign initiated by the New York Times and the political cartoonist Thomas Nast gained steam.

The Times proceeded to publish a series of articles exposing massive corruption in Tammany Hall (the Democratic Party political machine in New York City). This culminated in Tweed’s arrest in 1871. Tweed was released on bail and was even re-elected to the state senate a little while later. But the damage was done. Tammany Hall began to crumble and Tweed was rearrested.

Beach was forced to separate himself from the tarnished politician. He accomplished this with such vigor that he created a pseudo-mythology that continues to this day. In this revised version of history, Tweed and Beach had never joined forces. Instead, Tweed had fought Beach’s every effort to build the subway system. Thanks in part to this campaign, Beach finally gained political approval in 1873. But that was by no means a sure thing.

“Now that the Beach Pneumatic Tunnel bill has been signed by the Governor, let us hope that it will not be buried with the Central Underground and Vanderbilt projects. The public interest demands a road through the backbone of the island.” ~ Daily Graphic

Unfortunately, a financial crisis was about to erupt, one that shared some general similarities to the current crisis. Following the Civil War, the U.S. government granted land and subsidies to railroad companies, creating the framework for massive expansion. Investors responded to the false signals by pouring cash into the industry. Of course, the boom was unsustainable. The Panic of 1873 led numerous banks to fail and many factories to close. It also dried up Beach’s funding sources.

The End of the Pneumatic Subway System?

Eventually, Beach gave up and closed his demonstration tunnel. He died in 1896, having never seen his dream of underground transit come to light. It would be another eight years before the first underground line of the New York Subway system opened to the public.

Alfred Ely Beach’s Pneumatic Subway System in Chaos

Unfortunately, Beach’s demonstration tunnel was destroyed back in 1912. There’s a very slim chance that some remnants of the waiting room might still exist. However, this is highly unlikely.


When I sat down to write Chaos, a question popped into my mind: What if Alfred Ely Beach started to build his own full-scale subway system under New York prior to the crash? It’s clear he was the type of man who’d do whatever it took to achieve his goals. And it’s not like he didn’t have the capabilities…after all, he built his demonstration tunnel in relative secrecy and with his own funds.

Working on that assumption, I dug up maps for Beach’s planned route, one of which you can see here (figure 10-22). Then I went to work, constructing the remnants of a “lost subway system” buried deep under New York.

I clambered off the rock pile, ignoring my protesting muscles. I was tempted to call for a brief rest but all that changed when my beam fell upon the wall at the end of the tunnel.

It twinkled brightly, casting additional beams in hundreds of different directions. As my eyes grew accustomed to the light, I realized that the wall wasn’t the end of the tunnel.

It was part of an entirely separate tunnel.

A perpendicular tube connected to the one in which we stood, forming a T-intersection. Keeping an eye out for explosives, I strode forward and stopped at the point where the two tunnels intersected each other.

I shone my light about the new tube in both directions, marveling at the spectacle before me. It wasn’t gigantic, maybe two feet taller and five feet wider than the current one. But it was unlike any tunnel I’d ever seen. There were no signs of crumbling concrete or ugly metallic beams. In fact, the entire passageway looked like it belonged in an art museum.

It was almost perfectly cylindrical except for a deep, smooth groove carved out of the red-bricked floor. Arching beams, painted bright red, sprouted out of the ground and ran across the ceiling before returning to the ground again. Brightly colored, ornate tiling covered the walls.

My remaining doubts melted away. Still, I could scarcely believe that I was looking at an abandoned subway tunnel constructed decades before the rest of the system. But it wasn’t just any tunnel.

It was Alfred Ely Beach’s lost subway system. ~ David Meyer, Chaos

Chaos by David MeyerCy Reed’s triumph is all too brief. And even though he’s found Beach’s lost system, that’s of little consequence…what really matters is what’s hidden inside the maze of underground tunnels. You can read more about his thrilling adventure by getting a copy of Chaos at one of the above links.

That’s all for now. Tomorrow, we’re going to venture into the world of science to examine the strange world of superconductors. Stop by tomorrow to check it out…you won’t want to miss it!


Chaos Book Club


New York’s Forgotten Subway Tunnel?

In 1912, city officials and representatives with the Degnon Contracting Company were preparing to excavate for the planned BMT Broadway subway line. Holding lanterns above their heads, they climbed into a dark ventilation shaft in City Hall Park and proceeded to find themselves in a well built, but slightly dilapidated tube. They quickly discovered a tunneling shield as well as the rotted remains of an old wooden train within the vicinity. What was Alfred Ely Beach’s forgotten pneumatic subway tunnel?

The Chaos Book Club

Today is Day 18 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. Thanks to those of you who’ve bought the novel already. If you haven’t already done so, please consider picking up a copy at one of the following locations:

Kindle * Nook * Kobo * iBooks * Smashwords * Paperback

New York before the Subway System

By the mid-1800s, public transportation in Manhattan was a nightmare. Streetcars and carriages raced down crowded streets at reckless speeds. Accidents were a way of life. So, after London opened its first subway in 1863, New Yorkers started clamoring for one too.

At the time, Boss Tweed was the major figure in New York politics. He ruled Manhattan like a king and collected kickbacks from all sorts of businesses, including the streetcars. Tweed didn’t want to give up the income, at least not without a hefty replacement.

Alfred Ely Beach’s Pneumatic Subway System

Meanwhile, a man named Alfred Ely Beach had become intrigued at the idea of building his own subway system under New York’s streets. Beach was the owner of the Scientific American magazine and had invented a typewriter for blind people. He was also fascinated by pneumatics, a system that used compressed air or vacuums to propel cylindrical containers through close-fitting tubes. Although the technology was usually used to send mail from one place to another, Beach thought it could move people as well.

At the 1867 American Institute Exhibition, he unveiled a prototype of a pneumatic subway system. His tunnel was 100 feet long and made of plywood. Using a steam-powered fan, Beach proceed to transport a 10-person subway car from one end of the tunnel to the other and back again.

Alfred Ely Beach versus Boss Tweed

Beach believed he had the answer to the city’s transportation problems. But since he knew Boss Tweed wouldn’t give him a chance to build his pneumatic subway, he decided to go over Tweed’s head and appeal to the public. So, he got a permit to build two pneumatic mail tubes under Broadway. After it was approved, he amended the bill to allow for a much larger tube which would supposedly hold the smaller ones.

In 1868, Beach and a team of workers entered the basement of Devlin’s Clothing Store at the corner of Broadway and Warren Streets. Using a tunneling shield and working only at night, they began to cut a hole through the earth. Despite making every attempt to keep the project a secret, people began to wonder what was going on. But Beach refused entrance to curious onlookers.

In just 58 days, Beach’s demonstration pneumatic subway tunnel was complete. It was 8 or 9 feet in diameter and measured 312 feet long. One entered the system by going through Devlin’s and proceeding into a lavish waiting room that held elaborate chandeliers, paintings, a grand piano, and even a fountain full of fish. The subway car – a cylindrical wooden vehicle that held enough seating for twenty-two people – was equally opulent.

On February 26, 1870, Alfred Ely Beach finally opened the doors to his magnificent pneumatic subway tunnel. People lined up around the block just to get a glimpse of it. The New York Herald called it Aladdin’s Cave, and marveled at how people could miraculously transport from one end of the tunnel to the other.

The price of admission was $0.25 and all proceeds were donated to the Union Home and School for Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphans. The public took over 400,000 rides during the first year. After entering the car, people would ride to the end of the short tunnel via air pressure from a 48-ton fan. Then the fan reversed, sucking the car back to the start of the pneumatic subway tunnel.

The Pneumatic Subway: Lost…and Rediscovered?

The tunnel was a massive hit and Tweed saw an opportunity. He joined forces with Beach and together, the two men lobbied the legislature for permission to expand the system. However, the proposal stalled in the legislature, partly due to concerns from the Astors and other wealthy families that pneumatic subway tunnels would undermine their properties. When everything was said and done, the system was never built, for reasons we’ll explore tomorrow.

After Beach’s lost tube was rediscovered in 1912, it was dismantled in order to make room for the new BMT Line. This is hardly surprising:

“Unlike the nation’s other early cities or many of the well-known Old World cities that exude a cherished past, New York rarely uses its history in constructing its identity or in stimulating its economy. Perhaps because the city has always been a place where people have come to build new lives, New York and its citizens have rarely wanted to look back. Instead, the past for them often either lies in the way of progress or is enshrined in memory in some other part of the world.” ~ Anne-Marie Cantwell and Diana diZerega Wall, Unearthing Gotham

Alfred Ely Beach, the Pneumatic Subway Tunnel, & Chaos

Alfred Ely Beach and his tunnel play very important roles in Chaos. Initially, I wanted to resurrect his demonstration tunnel but that proved impossible. The tunnel was indeed destroyed back in 1912. There’s a very slim chance that some remnants of the waiting room might still exist. However, this seems pretty unlikely.


But that doesn’t mean that the demonstration tunnel was Beach’s only underground secret…

What were you up to, Beach?David Meyer, Chaos

Chaos by David MeyerCy Reed soon figures out the answer to his question…and in the process, uncovers a mystery that’s rested quietly beneath New York’s streets for over a century. You can read more about his thrilling adventure by getting a copy of the Chaos paperback from any of the links above.

That’s all for now. Tomorrow, we’re going to take a closer look at Alfred Ely Beach and the mystery that underlies a good portion of Chaos. Stop by tomorrow to check it out…I hope to see you then!


Chaos Book Club


Buildering: The Art of Climbing…Skyscrapers?

On November 11, 1918, Harry Gardiner signed some insurance papers at the Bank of Hamilton and purchased a $1,000 bond. But Gardiner wasn’t technically inside the bank at the time. He was outside, dangling far above street level, practicing the little known art of buildering. After completing his business, Gardiner finished scaling the building, as his own personal way of celebrating the end of World War I.

The Chaos Book Club

Today is Day 12 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. Thanks to those of you who’ve bought the novel already. If you haven’t already done so, please consider picking up a copy at one of the following locations:

Kindle * Nook * Kobo * iBooks * Smashwords * Paperback

The Human Fly?

Buildering, or urban climbing, is the practice of scaling buildings. It supposedly began at Cambridge University sometime during the 1800s. However, I imagine that as long as people have created buildings, other people have attempted to climb them.

Buildering first reached a wide audience in 1905 when Harry Gardiner began to scale skyscrapers without equipment. Dubbed the “Human Fly” and wearing nothing but clothes, tennis shoes, and rimless spectacles, he climbed over 700 buildings in his life. His feats brought fame to himself as well as to the buildings he conquered. Recognizing a good opportunity when they saw it, companies like the Detroit News started to hire him to climb specific buildings.

The Art of Buildering Grows

In 1910, a second builderer started his own career. An owner of a clothing store, looking for publicity, hired George Polley to climb his building. Polley did so and received a suit for his efforts. Soon after, he was traveling the world and scaling buildings. Polley was a born showman and liked to “pretend to lose his grip” while climbing. As the crowd gasped, he’d reach out and grab a windowsill, stopping his descent. Over the course of his 17-year career, Polley is believed to have climbed over 2,000 buildings, including the 406 foot tall Custom Tower in Boston.

While Gardiner and Polley were the best known builderers of their era, they weren’t the only ones. Many others attempted to climb buildings, with some suffering tragic falls in the process. It wasn’t long before city officials began to legislate against buildering, turning the previously legitimate exercise into an illegal sport.

Still, buildering continues today, most notably the “French Spiderman,” Alain Robert. Earlier this year, Robert scaled the world’s tallest building, the Dubai-based 2,700 foot tall Burj Khalifa.

Buildering in Chaos

In 2008, I barely missed an opportunity to watch Alain Robert scale the New York Times building and I’ve been kicking myself ever since. The history of buildering is unique, full of personalities, and for the most part, untold.

The hero of Chaos, Cy Reed, is a skilled mountain climber. As such, he’s able to bring his skills to bear when he needs to break into the mysterious offices of ShadowFire.

Crouching on the sill, I rubbed my sore fingers. Then I carefully edged out of the frame and grabbed hold of a protruding brick. I pulled my feet onto another brick, keeping two points of contact between the building and myself.

I started to climb.

I moved hard and fast, doing my best to ignore the howling winds and drenching sheets of rain. My fingers and toes danced from bricks to vents to pipes to windowsills. It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t precise but slowly, very slowly, I ascended the building.

I caught a brief rest at the fourth floor and then again at the sixth floor. Feeling renewed, I headed out again, eager to finish the climb. Eager to at last fully understand the Bell.

Rain soaked my body as I worked my way up a piece of piping to an outcropping. I lifted myself onto it and edged my way toward another pipe.

Suddenly, I heard a crack.

Something crumbled under my foot.

I slipped.

My hands flailed out, looking for something, anything.

Nothing. ~ David Meyer, Chaos

Chaos by David MeyerAdmittedly, things look bad for Cy Reed. But they’re about to get worse…a whole lot worse. If you want to know what happens next, consider picking up your very own copy of Chaos today.

Well, that’s it for now. Tomorrow, we’ll be turning our attention to strange science, specifically an exotic material named Red Mercury. Once upon a time, Red Mercury was feared across the globe. Was it a hoax? Or did Red Mercury actually exist? Stop by tomorrow to find out…I hope to see you then!


Chaos Book Club

Do Alligators Live in New York Sewers?

On February 10, 1935, a 16 year old boy named Salvatore Condulucci was shoveling snow into an open manhole. Suddenly, he saw movement and shouted, “Honest, it’s an alligator!” But are sewer alligators real things? Or is this just an urban myth?

The Chaos Book Club

Today is Day 9 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:

Kindle * Nook * Kobo * iBooks * Smashwords * Paperback

Sewer Alligators

I actually mention the 1935 sighting in my book. It’s perhaps the most famous account of a sewer alligator living in New York City. According to the original newspaper article, Condulucci and his friends fashioned a slipknot and hauled the gator to the surface. It was surprisingly big, measuring almost eight feet long and weighing 125 pounds. Upon reaching street level, the creature, starved and cold, snapped at the boys with its powerful jaws. They proceeded to beat it to death with their shovels.

Afterward, the neighbors speculated on the sewer alligator’s origin. They finally decided that it must’ve somehow taken refuge on a steamer in the “mysterious Everglades.” Then it sailed to New York where it fell into the water. It swam into a sewer conduit which led to its eventual discovery. After being killed, it was taken away by a sanitation truck to be incinerated.

After a brief spurt of alligator sightings in New York during the 1930s, it would be almost seven decades before the next alligator was reported. In the summer of 2001, a small gator was caught swimming in Central Park’s Harlem Meer. But other than that, there’s not much to report…that is, unless we consider the stories of Teddy May.

A Sewer Safari?

In his fascinating 1959 work, The World Beneath the City, Robert Daley recounts conversations he had with Teddy May, who is somewhat of a “sewer legend” in New York. May’s exact job title is uncertain although it’s believed he might have held the position of Foreman or District Foreman.

According to May, he once discovered a colony of two-foot long sewer alligators. He believed that they had been sold by unscrupulous pet dealers to satisfy a Depression era fad for painted turtles. How did May handle this menace to his beloved sewers?

“Within a day or two of admitting that there really were alligators in his sewers, Teddy May was able to face the problem of eliminating them. A few months later they were gone. Some succumbed to rat poison. Others were harassed by sewer inspectors into swimming into the trunk mains, where the Niagara-like current washed them out to sea. Some were drowned when blockages filled their secluded pipes with backwash–to the very top. And a few were hunted down by inspectors with .22 rifles and pistols–not as part of the job, but as sport–possibly the most unusual hunting on earth, a veritable sewer safari.” ~ Robert Daley, The World Beneath the City

May was known to be a yarn-spinner and most historians are doubtful that this “sewer safari” ever took place. In fact, these same historians usually doubt the veracity of the 1935 account as well. Back then, newspapers were known to print outrageous stories in order to sell papers. And the fact that the sewer alligator was incinerated before it could be photographed does merit some suspicion.

But could an alligator survive in the sewer? The answer seems to be yes. While New York’s above-ground climate isn’t conducive to gators, its sewers are an entirely different matter. Sewers are actually quite warm, due in part to decomposing waste, and a gigantic rodent population is readily available as a source of food.

“As noted from alligator growers and authorities…the darkness in the sewers is not a problem for gators and actually increases growth in these animals. Also, the temperature is routinely high (easily 95-97 degrees F with +60% humidity). Food, breeding materials, and access to other environments are not in short supply in the NY and other urban sewers. Alligators are also able to resist infections in lots of nasty conditions…I stand behind my sense that alligators could and may have already bred in the sewers.” ~ Cryptozoologist Loren Coleman

A Sewer Alligator…in Chaos?

Of course, all this is not to say that sewer alligators do live in New York – only that it’s possible. Since much of Chaos takes place in the tunnels and sewers deep under New York, it was only natural that my hero Cy Reed would come face-to-face with one of these fabled creatures. And unfortunately for him…well, I’ll let you read it for yourself…

Suddenly, the alligator reared upward. The movement was so fast I didn’t have time to react.

Its head turned toward me and I saw its eyes. They were red as blood, yet dark as night. As I stared into them, I felt like I was looking into the soul of the devil himself.

The gator lunged at me. My instincts took over and I dove to the south. As I rolled through the water, I seized the machete from my waist with my free hand.

I rose to my feet. The gigantic alligator was just a few feet away. I backed up, trying to get some breathing room.

It followed me.

I backed up farther. It continued to follow me, gnashing its teeth in the process. Looking down, I studied the small puny objects in my hands.

I’m going to need some bigger weapons.David Meyer, Chaos

Chaos by David Meyer

That alligator, as you’ll find out, is far more mysterious and deadly than even Cy realizes. Well, that’s it for today’s entry in the Chao book club. Tomorrow, we’ll be leaving New York City and traveling to Japan in order to peel back the layers of the mysterious Minamata disease that plagued that country during the 1950s. I hope to see you then!


Chaos Book Club

FDR’s Lost Subway Car?

Deep below Manhattan, an abandoned subway track gathers dust. At the end of Track 61, a rusty subway car rests quietly. Popular rumor holds it was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s personal car. Supposedly, it was used to help him secretly enter the Waldorf=Astoria without revealing that he was partially paralyzed. This subway car is considered by many to be the Holy Grail of urban exploration. But is it the real deal? Or just a myth?

The Chaos Book Club

Today is Day 8 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:

Kindle * Nook * Kobo * iBooks * Smashwords * Paperback

The Invisible Track 61?

Track 61 is invisible to the average subway rider. It’s part of a hidden layup yard connected to Grand Central Terminal and lies beneath the Waldorf=Astoria. Many years ago, the Waldorf had a small cement platform installed next to the track. An elevator was built to connect the platform to the hotel. In effect, Track 61 became “an exclusive platform for the Waldorf’s use.”

According to legend, President Roosevelt used the platform whenever he was in New York City. He would take a private subway car to Track 61. Then his driver would drive FDR’s armor-plated Pierce Arrow car from the subway car into the elevator. From there, the car would ride up to the hotel’s garage, allowing the President to access the Presidential Suite without anyone knowing about his paralyzed legs. Later, Track 61 fell into disuse although it was used by the famous artist Andy Warhol when he hosted “The Underground Party.”

A Lost Subway Car?

On May 8, 2008, Matt Lauer of the Today Show visited Track 61 for a segment called “The Mystery of Track 61.” At one point, he examined a mysterious bulletproof car located at the end of the track. An MTA spokesman declared that it was FDR’s private subway car. Is this true?

Although it made great copy, most rail historians consider the story to be false. President Roosevelt did ride in a private subway car called the Ferdinand Magellan. But the Ferdinand Magellan now resides in Florida, not New York. Also, there is no evidence that FDR ever used the platform. According to Joseph Brennan, the earliest surviving story to that effect came from author William Middleton in 1977. So far, Brennan has been unable to find confirmation of the story.

So, what is this car then? The most likely theory is that it’s an old Pennsylvania Railroad express-baggage car from the 1940s. It was probably left behind for servicing. Thus, it appears that FDR’s lost subway car is, in fact, nothing more than a legend.

FDR’s Lost Subway Car & Chaos

The story of FDR’s lost subway car has taken on a life of its own and as I mentioned earlier, it is considered somewhat of a Holy Grail to urban explorers. When I wrote Chaos, I wanted Cy Reed to pay a special visit to the subway car. Unfortunately for him, he wasn’t the only one in the area.

Cold, stiff fingers wrapped around my neck, choking off my reply. My head flew to the side, bashing into the door.

Foggily, I reached for my belt.

But my machete was missing.

With my head plastered to the door, I twisted my eyes to the side, seeing a murderous gaze staring back at me. My eyes bulged as they caught a glint of light.

It was my machete.

I didn’t know the man who held it. But I knew what he wanted.

He wanted to kill me.

And he was going to use my own blade to do it. ~ David Meyer, Chaos

Chaos by David MeyerIn real life, the area around Track 61 once held a squatter community, similar in some respects to the Colony from Chaos. According to Brennan, “inflation and a poorly thought-through campaign to cut down on single room occupancy buildings” caused an increase in homeless people, some of whom relocated to the Waldorf platform.

Well, that’s all for today. Tomorrow, we’ll be moving to another New York City topic from Chaos, one that touches on cryptozoology. Alligators in the sewer! I hope to see you then!


Chaos Book Club

Do the Mole People Exist?

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:

Kindle * Nook * Kobo * iBooks * Smashwords * Paperback

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

Chaos by David MeyerBut as those of you who are reading the book know, the Colony members aren’t your typical Mole People. They’re hiding a secret…one that might kill them.

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