4. The Abandoned Atlantic Avenue Subway Tunnel

Photo from inside the now defunct Atlantic Avenue Tunnel. Photo by Vlad Rud via Wikimedia Commons

The Atlantic Avenue subway tunnel is the oldest in New York. It was originally built in the mid-19th-century to combat excess aboveground traffic from the Long Island Railroad. Cornelius Vanderbilt, head of the LIRR, decided to build the tunnel, and thus the modern subway system was born.

The tunnel took about seven months to build, and was constructed with a cut-and-cover method: workers cut into the tunnel, covered it with a wood frame, and fortified it with bricks. There was even a murder that took place during the tunnel’s construction, which occurred when one of the workers shot a contractor who told them they could not take Sundays off work. The body apparently still rests in the subway walls. The tunnel was shut down in 1859.

Walt Whitman, who lived in the area, ruminated on the tunnel, writing: “The old tunnel, that used to lie there underground, a passage of Acheron-like solemnity and darkness, now all closed and filled up, and soon to be utterly forgotten.”

But it was not forgotten. In 1980, a 19-year-old student named Bob Diamond heard a rumor that John Wilkes Booth’s body was buried in the Atlantic Avenue tunnel. Fascinated, he began to hunt the body down, searching through old records. He eventually stumbled upon the plans for the tunnel, managed to locate its abandoned ruins, and was put in charge of it, in a rapid-fire series of events that shows just how fruitful urban exploration can often be. Diamond hopes to someday see trains running through the tunnel once again, but for now, it remains a mysterious relic of transportation past.