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The Wonders Of Tunneling

Staff-Writer-turned-Spelunker Henry Golub totally explored Columbia’s tunnel system and lived to tell the tale. He also likes inflating his word count and eating burritos.

Whoa. Tunnels.

Beneath Columbia’s campus—below Spec’s lair—lies an extensive tunnel system where the school used to run maze experiments on NYU students. Few people have since entered the labyrinth, but those who have tell of extraordinary sights: a secret entrance to JJ’s, Alexander Hamilton’s arm and leg (which he gave up for Hamilton tickets), and even witches.

Now, I don’t believe in Alexander Hamilton, but I could not resist seeing for myself the other wonders lying beneath Morningside. I had to find the tunnels.

Everyone’s heard the rumors that pulling Carman’s fire alarm three weekends in a row reveals a secret entrance, but I’m not a nogoodnik. Instead, I turned to a quieter method of tunneling: climbing down the manhole on 115th St.

A moldy stench hit me hard as the cover clinked shut, so after reaching the bottom, I ran somewhere that smelled more like Lerner lobby than EC. I couldn’t see a thing.

I crept along and began hearing squeaks and taps. I switched on my light (which took me 200 words to remember) and saw dark shapes scurrying away.

Even after thousands of years, the flashlight is still the most useful tool we have.

“Impossible!” I thought, “Gray hamsters!”

What other fantastic creatures could lurk beneath our school?

Not magical elderly women, apparently. Soon after, I came across what I thought were witches but were actually just art students spray painting the wall. They glared at me.

“Tunneling is fun!” I shouted.

“Screw off!” they shouted back.

I took their advice and passed by a group of bearded students. I let them know my feelings about tunneling, but one of them threw a rock at me.

Finally accepting that we live in a world without witches, without fun tunnels, and without a real replacement for Jon Stewart, I found myself in another chamber, embittered, and my flashlight gave out. I trudged ahead but tripped over something. I stepped over it and tripped again. It appeared that horizontal planks spaced at even intervals lined the passage.

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”

I heard a whistle off in the distance and rattling and chugging noises growing louder and louder. My heart skipped a beat. Was this the moment I had been waiting for? The reason people go tunneling?

I waited, and the noises became deafening. A light appeared, and I saw it: The 1 Train in all her glory. It didn’t throw a single rock at me.

So now you know that the subway runs through Columbia’s very own tunnel system. Go figure.

Editor’s note, 10/17 10:00 pm: A line in this post has been edited for clarity.

Marauder’s Map of Tunnels via Wikimedia Commons

Man’s Best Friend via Wikimedia Commons

Magnificence on Wheels via Wikimedia Commons

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1 Comment

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous It feels like Planet of the Apes down there. You can see the original ground floor entrances before the ground floor was raised to fourth. It is a cool way to get around Columbia when the weather really sucks. Our own version of MIT’s infinite corridor. The real reason they shut it down was there are these huge asbestos-covered steam pipes down there.

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