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Exploring the Brooklyn "ruins"

by Camille Pepe Sperrazza 

I've climbed the Machu Picchu. I've crawled through the pyramids in Egypt. Now I can say I've explored the "secret" tunnel beneath busy Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. 

On Sunday, March 7th, I climbed down a ladder placed into an open manhole on Atlantic Avenue to begin our underground journey, and learn the fascinating history of our borough. 

Trucks and cars zoomed above us, but we didn't hear a sound, as we entered a world of darkness, lit only by flashlights we had brought with us. 

Mounds of dirt were piled high in this first part of the tunnel, an archeological site. This is what Brooklyn's Bob Diamond, then a 19-year-old college student, had to dig through in 1980 to unearth a second area -- the world's first subway, built in 1844 to bring passengers from our area to Boston. There, people could sail ships that would transport them worldwide. It's my understanding that this long haul never materialized, but interestingly, the shipping company evolved into Cunard Cruise Lines, which owns the Queen Mary 2, that now happens to sail from the Brooklyn piers. 

We crouched our way through the first part of the tunnel, and squeezed through a hole in the wall. On that other side, we climbed a makeshift staircase down into the actual tunnel. Here, we were greeted by Bob himself, who led us through the entire length of the tunnel, providing colorful commentary and anecdotes, each step of the way. It was interesting to learn, for example, that people busted the tunnel during the early 1900's, in search of "weapons of mass destruction" believed to be buried here. We saw the holes. 

The atmosphere of the tunnel is damp, and a comfortable 60 degrees. We wore old clothes and sturdy boots as the ground is dirty and rocky. The impressions of the actual rail tracks were evident throughout many parts of the tunnel. They are on one side, Bob explained, because horses used to transport passengers on the opposite side. Imagine trains, horses, and people all working their way through this huge tunnel in complete darkness. 

As fascinating as the tunnel is, what's even more intriguing is learning how Bob, single-handedly, discovered this tunnel that countless experts and scholars assured him did not exist. It's a powerful lesson about determination, research, and hard work. 

We hiked to the opposite end of the tunnel, which is sealed by rock. If all goes as planned, this barrier is expected to be broken, and old steam engines may be discovered. It is rumored that pages of John Wilkes Booth's diary may also be there. 

As everyone who has traveled the world in search of "ruins" knows, it's not about viewing piles of rocks. It's about learning, listening to the stories, and understanding history. How incredible that this rich history lies beneath one of the busiest streets in our borough, unbeknown to so many. What a great way to spend the day. Update: This tunnel is now closed to the public

For more information, 
contact "Commodore" Camille today. 

This article was accurate when it was written, but everything in life changes. Enjoy the journey! 

Copyright: Camille Pepe Sperrazza