Much has been written about the Atlantic Avenue tunnel since Bob Diamond rediscovered access through a manhole to the storied passageway in 1980. Diamond shares this body of knowledge on occasional tours of the tunnel, an exploration I was eager to take – a lighting designer underground for two hours without light, except for the jittering, swirling, white-to-blue light of portable flashlights.
For the photo essay, scroll down, to read the entire textual story, link to Urban Omnibus
Once on the concrete platform, intent on getting to Brooklyn on time, I lost all thoughts of the sidewalk, streets, buildings and people above.
We descended the narrow ladder through a metallic-rimmed manhole right in the middle of the street, almost in the crosswalk
The darkness begat dreaminess, with shadows on walls and ceiling and flashlight beams moving, searching for clues in the stone
Bob regaled us with the amazing history of the tunnel: the transportation, geology, the methodological digging of seven months, the criminal, the politically unethical and mercenary, the gunfight, the pirates, the Smokey Hollow slum gangs, the mustard gas and five-foot rats — in short, the folklore and the facts.
The best part about this activity, I decided, would be experiencing a 165-year old excavation by the illumination of 70 flashlights.
Looking back from the monumental wall, the darkened passage is defined by glimmering archways, a coppery, incandescent glow shot onto the barrel vault by clear glass incandescent-filament bulbs – a cathedral of stone, brick and dirt.
I returned to reality – the overground world of daylight and cold and then I descended once again, this time to the A train platform, enjoying the solidity of the comparatively grand concrete and tiled stairway.
As I walked home I found my view adjusted: manholes, drains, basements, vault covers — there is a world down there!
The vertical layers of New York City arranged themselves in my mind’s eye – I will never take over- and underground passage for granted again.