Ever wondered what it's like to climb down a manhole in the middle of the street? Take the Atlantic Avenue Tunnel Tour and you'll have the chance to find out!
The Atlantic Avenue Tunnel is the world's oldest subway tunnel, built in Brooklyn in 1844 to put the Long Island Rail Road train underground (so it would stop running over pedestrians). The excavated tunnel is approximately half a mile long, running from Boerum Place to the East River.
Lost since the early 1900s, many had tried to find the Atlantic Avenue Tunnel, but had never put all of the right clues together. The tunnel was finally rediscovered and excavated in 1980 by Bob Diamond, who now runs a monthly tour, allowing the public to experience this historically fascinating trip back in time.
One of the coolest parts of the tour is its start - the intersection at Atlantic Avenue and Court Street is closed off so that tour-goers may enter the tunnel, which one must do by climbing down a ladder through a manhole in the middle of the street (thereby earning a few confused looks from passing motorists). After the first ladder into the street, there is a short walk to the tunnel opening and a stairway down to its floor.
Mr. Diamond then leads the group through the deep dark tunnel, sharing its history and secrets with the wonderful enthusiasm and knowledge only found in someone so deeply involved in the project for so long. They believe that behind one of the walls there is a historic locomotive that has yet to be excavated. The tunnel has also served as a possible site for moonshiners, pirates, the mafia, and lost pages from the diary of John Wilkes Booth. There are even rumors of paranormal activity – ghostly green lights have been sighted that then drift into a wall.
A documentary is being made about Mr. Diamond and his discovery, called The Tunnel; for more information, check out the project's Facebook page.
Tours are scheduled monthly, usually on a Sunday, and last about an hour and a half. The tour meets at the old Independence Bank building (now a Trader Joe's grocery store) at the SW corner of Atlantic Avenue & Court Street, under the clock. Reservations are required – call 718-941-3160 for reservations and further information. They ask that you please wear sneakers or boots (no high heels) and bring a flashlight. It's very dark, so if you don't have a flashlight you will want to quickly make friends with someone who does.
The Brooklyn Historic Railway Association (BHRA) was formed in 1982 to restore the historic tunnel, and continues to conduct both maintenance and the tours. Their website is a source for extensive historical information and photos. There are also art events occasionally held in the tunnel, so keep checking the Art Events page for updated schedule information.
The next tour is scheduled for February 14th, in case you were looking for something different for Valentine's Day. And while you're in Brooklyn, why not make a day of it? Smith Street is lined with restaurants and shops, making it a great place to spend a Sunday afternoon. Or stay on Atlantic Avenue and go to Chip Shop for some authentic fish and chips or their (in)famous deep-fried pizza.