Fort Totten

Bayside, Queens, is a neighborhood a few miles from the Queens-Nassau County border flanked by Whitestone and Douglaston. The neighborhood is centered around Bell Boulevard, known for its wide variety of culinary options and stores. The area, which was considered rural until around the turn of the century, attracted many movie stars in the 1920s and 1930s and boomed around the end of World War II. The neighborhood provides access to Little Neck Bay, with views of the Throgs Neck Bridge, and has retained much of its history over the years, including at its storied federal military base, Fort Totten. From the oldest living organism in New York City to a scandalous murder, here are the top 10 secrets of Bayside.

1. There are secrets tunnels at Fort Totten

Fort Totten flies flag at full mast in Bayside.
Fort Totten flies flag at full mast.

From the Civil War through the 1980s, around 100 acres of land on Bayside’s Willets Peninsula was used as a federal military base known as Fort Totten, which was originally constructed to defend an eastern approach to New York Harbor by the Confederates. Fort Totten became obsolete as a defensive structure over the years, mainly used for casualty support and hospital care. Though, a myth has circulated for years that there is an escape passage between Fort Totten and Fort Schuyler in the Bronx, which is actually partly based on facts. At Fort Schuyler, there is a corridor that appears to go deeper underground, which is now impassable but may have been used 150 years ago. The tunnel most likely leads to a dead end, though some believe that the fort’s bricked-up archway might be a cistern or reservoir.

There are still other interesting tunnels underneath the structure. Fort Totten’s barrel-vaulted vehicular access tunnel was built in 1870 out of concrete, linking the fort’s 27-gun battery with the rest of the fort to aid in the transportation of ammunition into the Main Magazine. Its walls are covered with graffiti designs, some of which date back over a century. One such phrase etched onto the tunnel is “Remember the Maine,” a rallying cry after the U.S. battleship Maine was destroyed in an explosion near Havana. Though many champion the Holland Tunnel as the first vehicular tunnel built in New York City, other reports say Fort Totten’s barrel-vaulted tunnel should hold the title.