The system’s far more intriguing history is written on its walls, says Bwogger Armin Rosen. Tunnel graffiti is a running history of everyone who found their explorations momentous enough to permanently commemorate….

But there’s nothing boastful or egotistical about the hastily-scrawled notes found on practically every flat and indeed most of the cylindrical surfaces in the tunnel system, and if the point of the near-ubiquitous Benoit tag is to say “I was here,” then the “I” is conspicuously absent–to this day the tunnels’ most notorious explorer is without face and name.

The artist of the less notorious but just as abundant “mouse” graffito leaves tantalizing clues as to his identity: “still here in ’06, if anybody cares,” reads one note adjacent to the 119th street parking garage. But the mouse artist remains anonymous as well. This penchant for anonymity is hardly surprising in an environment as alienating as the tunnel system. Subterranean in both the literal and figurative sense, the tunnels are the domain of a subversive and adventurous few–It takes a particular kind of person to want to go down here, and an even more particular kind of person to actually go down here. Tunneling therefore creates a sense of kinship with the past; an ironic sense of connection within a world that doesn’t seem to be connected to anything. Among such kindred spirits, identity is nothing more than an afterthought; an annoying bit of ephemera that has to be discarded in the interest of leaving something truly enduring. Benoit will endure. John Galt, who apparently misses the point of even tunneling in the first place, probably won’t.

More photos and commentary after the jump!



Mouse tag underneath Schermerhorn.







John Galt, lame tunneler.





Guy who writes Simpsons quotes in a storage room beneath Pupin, cool tunneler.





Wall beneath Pupin: 

Many taggers have the psychologically revealing tendency of casting their explorations in some kind of allegorical or even religious light. Whether they truly believe their journeys to be descents into Hell or whether they see such explorations more figuratively after reading Inferno in Lit Hum is anybody’s guess. My favorite of these graffito: a tag on a one-way door beneath Kent that reads “Door to Hell.” And for all we know, it might be.


A very clever tag by someone with very good taste in movies. Note that self-absorbed jackass John Galt has draw attention to himself by putting a box around his tag, and in so doing has forever emblazoned his lameness in permanent black ink. Very uncool, John. Very uncool.


The tunnel system forks a couple times before ending at this emergency power generator underneath Pupin (see right).  And although I was disappointed that there was (apparently) nothing else to explore I�d be lying if I said I wasn�t eager to get out of the stuffy, dank and deserted confines of the Columbia tunnels and finally breathe comparatively fresh air among other human beings, as opposed to breathing heavy and very likely polluted air in complete solitude. Of course one of the best parts of tunneling is the knowledge that you have just recently gone on a fantastic adventure while the people around you have been going about the drab rigmarole of their daily lives tunnel-free. But these pangs of superiority only reminded me of the sad fact that we may soon all be living tunnel-free, although this could provide motivation for an even more ambitious tunneling endeavor: finding an above-ground entrance to the now-abandoned 91st street subway station.

-Armin Rosen