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1936_07_11--010_SP Underground Empire

THE SATURDAY EVENING POST 11 The most complicated traffic intersection in the world, it is generally agreed, is at Herald Square. There, beleaguered on all sides by the clamor and roar of the twentieth century, Horace Greeley sits in his editorial chair, his statue ignored in the tumult. Herald Square has not three levels, but six, and the intersection is so unusual that a model of it now is on exhibition at The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. First of all, there is, on its steel pillars, the structure of the Sixth Avenue Elevated. Below that are the bus lines. Then, one under another, digging deeper into the ground, are the B. M. T. subway, the Hudson- Manhattan tubes, the new Sixth Avenue subway, and the tunnels of the Pennsylvania-Long Island Railroad. The first of New York's present-day subways became a reality in 1904, but they were contemplated long before. Few people know that the city's pioneer subway was actually built in 1869-70; it was the ambitious dream of an innovator named Beach. Beach constructed a tunnel under lower Broadway from Murray Street to Warren as a sample of a railroad he intended to run north under Broadway and Madison Avenue and then beneath the Harlem River. The tube was made of brick, was eight feet in diameter, and the passenger car was propelled by compressed air. Beach gambled his own modest fortune on the project, and, with considerable flag waving and civic to-do, the first experimental run was made without accident in 1870. That was Beach's moment of triumph, but it was brief enough. The structural engineers of the time took a hand; stroking their pontifical beards, they reported that it was extremely doubtful that a railroad could be built safely under narrow streets lined with such " tremendous " structures as the old Astor House. The Subway of 1870 BECAUSE the engineers said no, the financiers said no, and Beach's dream ended in his own bankruptcy and public forgetfulness. The public forgot so completely that when a segment of the Beach tunnel was discovered during subway excavation in 1912, it provided big news for the papers. The diggers found also, worn and rotted, the car that had carried silk-hatted officials on that first triumphant trip. Innovations usually are greeted with ridicule. The public laughed at Watt and Fulton and Duryea. A verse of a topical song of the 1870's always achieved raucous laughter in the variety theaters. It lampooned the Beach tunnel and went something like this: The bill for the underground railway is passed, From York up to Harlem it will go very fast; The work will be finished in five hundred years— That's where the laugh comes in. Much later, when the present underground system was proposed, Russell Sage, the millionaire, spoke his piece to the papers. "The proposed subway," he said, "is the most foolish thing ever heard of. New York people will never go into a hole in the ground to ride. Why, no ! Preposterous !" Mr. Sage, to be sure, was a heavy stockholder in the prosperous elevated railroads, but there were many disinterested persons who agreed with his pronunciamento. Go down in the earth like miners in a shaft? Preposterous. Yet three years ago there were 840 miles of subway trackage, and when present construction is completed, there will be 1100 miles, exclusive of yards and siding. In the year ending June 30, 1935, approximately 1,602,000,000 fares were paid on the subways and 75,000,000 more on the Hudson & Manhattan Railroad, which burrows under the river to the New Jersey suburbs. At the Times Square Station alone 77,381,807 persons passed through the stiles. All these New York people went down in a hole in the ground to ride. In one way, subterranean New York is as mysterious as dark Borneo ; nobody knows exactly what is there. Thousands of conduits, wires, tunnels and pipes creep along below the sidewalks, but there is nowhere in existence a master blueprint which charts their courses. The utility companies have maps of their own lines, the city can usually locate its sewers, but there is a distressing inconclusiveness about the geography as a whole. The explanation of this confusion is simple. Many of the networks were dug before there was thought of underground planning; it didn't seem possible, a few decades ago, that the subsurface would ever be crowded. It is. One street in the Times Square section has beneath it a solid mass of cables and conduits reaching from curb to curb. A peashooter couldn't be inserted between them. In these days when, say, the Steam Corporation wants to dig a trench for a new main, it really needs one of those miraculous divining rods in which our grandfathers put their trust. Divining rods being currently unavailable, the 'company has no choice but to make exploratory borings. This is inefficient and expensive, and it takes a lot of time, but it is the only sure way to find out what is lying there. Here is a summary of some of the winding miles which go into the useful labyrinth that is less than seven feet underground: More than 5000 miles of gas mains, 35,669 miles of cables carrying electric current, forty-eight miles of steam mains, more than 4000 miles of water mains, millions of miles of telephone and telegraph wires, the police and fire alarm signal systems, and, still a little farther in the darkness of the earth, 3000 miles of sewers carrying refuse to the rivers. Manhattan Air Mail IT IS surprising to discover how few New Yorkers I are cognizant of the complexity of their town. Not one resident in ten, for instance, knows that twentyeight miles of pneumatic air tubes link the various main postal stations. So speedy is the service that it is possible for a Jersey commuter on his ferry to pass an incoming liner and to find mail from the liner on the desk when he reaches his office. This system has carried as many as 10,800,000 letters in a single day, and 6,000,000 a day are regularly handled. What the air mail means to transcontinental communication, tube mail means to the metropolis. The tubes, in use since 1897, are four feet underground. They are eight inches in diameter, made of metal, and through them twenty-eight-pound torpedoes are propelled by energized air at a speed of thirty miles an hour. Each torpedo carries about 500 letters. An estimate of the time saved by this method of transport is easy. It takes more than an hour for a letter to come downtown from Harlem by mail truck; in a tube the trip is made in fifteen minutes. The modern tendency is to take the advances of engineering for granted. It is difficult indeed to convince the youngster (Continued on Page 53) JOSEPH JANNEY STEINMETZ Even the Marriage License Bureau is Directly Accessible From the Subway JOSEPH JANNEY STEINMETZ Sunlight Never Finds its Way Into Thls Flower Shop Far Below the Street Level COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK EDISON COMPANY One of the Many Nerve Centers Uncovered When the 8th Avenue Subway Was Built


1936_07_11--010_SP Underground Empire
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