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Mole people is a term used to refer to homeless people living under large cities in abandoned subway, railroad, flood, and sewage tunnels and heating shafts. These people are also sometimes referred to as "tunnel people" or "tunnel dwellers.
While it is generally accepted that some homeless people in large cities make use of accessible, abandoned underground structures for shelter, urban legends persist that make stronger assertions. These include claims that "mole people" have formed small, ordered societies similar to tribes, numbering up to hundreds, living underground year-round. It has also been suggested that they have developed their own cultural traits and even have electricity by illegal hook-up. The subject has attracted some attention from sociologists but is highly controversial due to a lack of evidence.
Jennifer Toth's 1993 book The Mole People: Life In The Tunnels Beneath New York City, written while she was an intern at the Los Angeles Times, was promoted as a true account of travels in the tunnels and interviews with tunnel dwellers. The book helped canonize the image of the mole people as an ordered society living literally under people's feet, reminiscent of the Morlocks of science fiction writer H.G. Wells.
However, few claims in her book have been verified, and it includes inaccurate geographical information, numerous factual errors, and an apparent reliance on largely unprovable statements. The strongest criticism came from Joseph Brennan, a New York subway enthusiast who declared that, "Every fact in this book that I can verify independently is wrong."
A widely read question & answer column, Cecil Adams's The Straight Dope, covered the claims on two separate occasions. The first, published on January 9, 2004 after contact with Toth, noted the large amount of unverifiability in Toth's stories while declaring that the book's accounts seemed to be truthful. The second, published on March 9, 2004 after contact with Brennan, was more skeptical of Toth's truthfulness.
Other journalists have focused on the underground homeless in New York as well. Photographer Margaret Morton made the photo book The Tunnel, film maker Marc Singer made the documentary Dark Days, and anthropologist Teun Voeten wrote Tunnel People.
Media accounts have reported "mole people" living underneath other cities as well. In Las Vegas, it's estimated about 1,000 homeless people find shelter in the storm drains underneath the city for protection from extreme temperatures that exceed 115 °F (46 °C) while dropping below 30 °F (−1 °C) in winter. Most of the inhabitants are turned away from the limited charities in Las Vegas and find shelter in the industrial infrastructure of the Las Vegas Strip, similar to most cities. The Las Vegas Channel 8 News sent their Eyewitness News I-Team with Matt O'Brien, the local author who spent nearly five years exploring beneath the city to write the book, Beneath the Neon. Las Vegas resides in Clark County and the Clark County Regional Flood Control District stated the valley has about 450 miles (720 km) of flood control channels and tunnels, and about 300 miles (480 km) of those are underground.
A September 24, 2009 article in the British paper The Sun interviewed some of the inhabitants and included photographs.
Mole People (humanoid moles)
Besides a name given to the tunnel-dwelling homeless people, there is also a type of Mole People that are depicted as humanoid moles in different fictional depictions and often used as stock characters.
- Avinguda de la Llum
- Freedom Tunnel
- New York City Subway
- Sewer alligator
- Underground living
- K'n-yan, fictional subterranean land in works by H. P. Lovecraft
- "The Tunnel People of Las Vegas". Daily Mail. 3 November 2010.
- Pat Hartnan (14 December 2010). "Homeless People Go Underground". Housethehomeless.com.
- Toth, Jennifer (1993). The Mole People: Life in the Tunnels Beneath New York City. Chicago, Illinois: Chicago Review Press, Incorporated. ISBN 1-55652-241-X.
- Brennan, Joseph (1996). "Fantasy in The Mole People".
- Adams, Cecil (2004-01-09). "Are there really "Mole People" living under the streets of New York City?". The Straight Dope (Chicago Reader, Inc.).
- Adams, Cecil (2004-03-05). "The Mole People revisited". The Straight Dope (Chicago Reader, Inc.).
- Morton, Margaret (1995). The Tunnel. The Architecture of Despair. New Haven, London: Yale University Press. p. 169. ISBN 0300065590.
- Voeten, Teun (2010). Tunnel People. Oakland, CA: PM press. pp. 320, includes one map and one 16–page b&w photo insert. ISBN 978-1-60486-070-2.
- Daily Mail, "The tunnel people of Las Vegas: How 1,000 live in flooded labyrinth under Sin City's shimmering strip," November 3, 2010
- "I-Team: 'Beneath the Neon' -- Underground Las Vegas". 8newsnow.
- Samson, Pete (2009-09-24). "Lost Vegas: The People Living in the Drains Below Las Vegas". The Sun.
- Haughney, Christine, (February 6, 2012). "The Fiery End of a Life Lived Beneath the City". The New York Times.
- Landowne, Youme & Horton, Anthony (Oct 1, 2008). Pitch Black. El Paso, TX: Cinco Puntos Press. ISBN 978-1-933693-06-4.
- Morton, Margaret (1995). The Tunnel: The Underground Homeless of New York City. Yale University Press.
- NYU Portfolio Review: The Mole People - Jennifer Toth, The Mole People: Life in the Tunnels Beneath New York City - Chicago Review Press, 1993.
- Straight Dope article: Are there really "Mole People" living under the streets of New York City?
- Straight Dope article: The Mole People revisited
- Joseph Brennan - Fantasy in The Mole People
- Teun Voeten - Tunnel People