The tunnel was built by Robert Moses in the 30s so that the trains could run while still allowing riverside access in the park—oddly the expansion of highways the same area by Robert Moses effectively blocks easy access to the river … but the mixed nature of Mr. Moses civic projects is a whole separate topic.
In the 1950s the tunnel was abandoned. Trains no longer ran along riverside and the giant, man-made caverns became a haven for homeless people. At its height hundreds of people lived in the tunnel. In the 1970s the tunnel was reopened for trains and a massive (and brutal) eviction followed. The shanty towns were bulldozed and the tunnel was chained off.
Through the 70s and 80s graffiti artists and a new more secretive population of homeless people visited the tunnel creating artworks and a network of secret homes and entrances.
Today I walked the entire length of the freedom tunnel (from 125th to 66th st) with some other urban explorers who were kind enough to show me the way.
Here are the photos I took— I hope you enjoy them…though, nothing compares to the actual experience.
Just inside the 125th st entrance I was struck by the interplay of the colors of the graffiti with the rust stains that have accumulated on the gravel from the grate above.
Not long after we entered a train came and we had to hide.
A way out... and a flag. Much of the newer graffiti referenced Sep 11.
The piles of debris are remains of the shanty towns homeless people built in the tunnel. They are packed with all of the stuff of everyday life: books, stuffed animals, bedding, clothes, pots, pans, dishes… there is something terrifying about seeing a whole life compressed, heaped up and forgotten transformed into trash.
The tunnel is not completely dark, exits exists at many points letting in light and noise from the playground and parks.
The “freedom mural” for which the tunnel is named.
History has many layers—in the tunnel the dark ages of New York City are palpable--