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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.
Both types of Mole People have appeared in different media appearances:
- The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, as well as their sensei Splinter and one of their primary villains, The Rat King, live permanently in the New York sewer system.
- The Marvel Comics character Mole Man is the ruler of a race of mole men called the Moloids who live in Subterranea.
- The Marvel comic book series X-Men has featured a society of superhuman mutants, known as Morlocks after the H. G. Wells characters, who live in the tunnels below New York City.
- The 1956 science fiction film The Mole People (film) features a party of archaeologists who discover the remnants of a mutant five-millennia-old Sumerian civilization living beneath a glacier atop a mountain in Mesopatamia. They use humanoid mole men as their slaves.
- The 1962 French science fiction film La jetée is set in a post-apocalyptic world, wherein survivors live below Paris in the galleries of the Palais de Chaillot.
- The 1981 John Carpenter film Escape from New York features "Crazies" - underground-dwelling cannibals.
- The 1984 horror film C.H.U.D. portrays mole people as mutated cannibalistic humanoids that come up from the sewers and prey upon the citizens of New York.
- The 1985 film Subway featured mole people.
- The 1990 film Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (film) based on the comic, the Turtles and their Master Splinter live in New York's sewer system, however they are forced to leave their home when the Foot Clan discovers their lair, though they later return there to take on the Foot and The Shredder.
- The 1991 film Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, it is revealed they abandoned their lair as the remaining Foot members are aware of it, began living with April O'Neil in her new apartment, but later discover an old abandoned subway station which they turn into their new lair. The station and subway cars remain their home throughout the reminder of the film and serves as their lair in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III. It is also the Turtle's lair in the live-action TV series, Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation. The abandoned subway station, is actually based on real-world decommissioned New York subway City Hall Station, of the former Interborough Rapid Transit company. However, the station is not completely abandoned as it appears in the movie. Trains currently pass through the station daily as they turn around to head uptown, passengers are allowed to ride through the station, but the train does not stop and so they cannot disembark.
- The 2007 film TMNT, the Turtles and Splinter live in a new lair, located in the sewers.
- The "Troglodistes" in the French black comedy film Delicatessen (1991) are a group of vegetarian rebels who live in the sewers.
- In the 1993 film Demolition Man, Denis Leary's character Edgar Friendly is the leader of the homeless “Scrap” people who live in the underground “Wasteland,” or the ruins of old Los Angeles.
- Outside Society, a 1994 short documentary film by Steven Dupler, went underground in New York to cover the homeless community living in the Amtrak tunnel as well as the NYC subway system. It was awarded the Nombre D'Or Prize for Best Documentary in 1995 by the International Broadcasting Conference's Widescreen Film Festival in Montreux, and also received the United Nations' UNESCO Prize for Best Direction, Human Rights Programming, at the 1995 International Electronic Cinema Festival in Amsterdam.
- In the 1996 film Extreme Measures, a community of mole people is preyed upon for use in medical experiments.
- Marc Singer's 2000 documentary, Dark Days, follows a group of people living in an abandoned section of the New York City underground railway system, in the area of the so-called Freedom Tunnel.
- The 2006 film Urchin features a society of mole people who call their home "Scum City".
- Vic David's 2008 documentary, Voices in the Tunnels (formerly titled In Search of the Mole People), explores the lives of people who lived in the New York subway tunnels.
In literature and publications
(Alphabetical by author's last name)
- The novel Enclave by Ann Agguire which features a post-apocalyptic version of society based on the assumption that people in NYC moved underground to escape biological warfare.
- The novel La Promesse des ténèbres by Maxime Chattam features communities of people living underground in New York City, including the "mole people" who live in the lowest parts. Jennifer Toth's book is cited by the author.
- In the James Patterson novel Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment, the Flock (a group of genetically altered children) take refuge in an abandoned subway tunnel in New York City, meeting up with a young mole person and observing other mole people living there as well.
- Mervyn Peake's 1959 novel Titus Alone of the Gormenghast series features a poor, displaced, underground society who live in an area known as the "Under River".
- Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child's sci-fi/horror novel Relic and its sequel Reliquary deal with mole people living in numerous communities in the subway tunnels, sewers and service tunnels beneath Manhattan.
- The 2001 novel The Manhattan Hunt Club by John Saul is about a secretive gentlemen's club in New York that turns hunting of humans into a sport in the tunnels under New York City.
- Neal Shusterman's 1999 novel Downsiders features an entire city of people below New York.
- The Mole People: Life In The Tunnels Beneath New York City (1993) by Jennifer Toth is discussed above, under Urban folklore.
(Alphabetical by show title)
- In the 1964-1973 cartoon Underdog, there was an episode called "The Molemen" that featured a race of humanoid moles. The Molemen are an evil society of giant moles who live underground, led by the evil King Mange (voiced by Allen Swift) and plan to conquer the world by stealing all the food in the world, thus making everybody weak, sluggish and without energy. With this advantage, the Molemen and their ants would have no problem conquering the world. As Sweet Polly was investigating the thefts, she was captured by King Mange, and Underdog was called to rescue her, but he was succumbed to the Mole-Hole Gun, the Molemen's secret weapon. Afterwards, he was captured. King Mange threatened to destroy Sweet Polly if Underdog didn't do what Mange said. Underdog got Polly free, and had the answer to everyone's energy problems. He filled every water reservoir in the world with his Super Energy Vitamin Pills, filling the water with tremendous energy. Soon after, the citizens had enough energy to escape the Molemen attack and the Army had the strength to fight. King Mange was eventually defeated and arrested.
- In the Spider-Man episodes "Menace from the Bottom of the World" and "Spider-Man Battles the Molemen," there was a race of Molemen who fought Spider-Man twice when they were duped by a criminal named Mugs Riley (who disguised himself as a Moleman) into abducting buildings from the surface.
- In the 1976-1984 cartoon Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle, the episode "Tarzan and the Land Beneath the Earth" had Tarzan ending up in the underground city of Terrapolis which is inhabited by a race of Mole People who have been abducting the Mako Trees on the surface in order to power their city's furnace.
- In ThunderCats, there is a race of mole people on Third Earth that are humanoid moles.
- The 1987-1989 television series Beauty and the Beast featured Vincent, a lion-like man who lived among a group of homeless people in the tunnels of "The World Below" which is beneath New York City.
- In the first-season episode of the television series Bones, entitled "The Woman in the Tunnel", the team worked on the dead body of a woman doing a documentary on mole people.
- A community of people living underground in New York City is featured in the fifth-season episode entitled "Control" of the television series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
- Neil Gaiman's 1996 television series Neverwhere depicts highly fictionalized dwellers in their world of "London Below", who are literally invisible to those who dwell aboveground.
- The show Upright Citizens Brigade features a "Moleman" character in one episode, who leaves his girlfriend with only his clothes to remember him by. This causes a stranger to ask the woman if she is wearing "Moleman perfume."
- In Johnny Test, there is a race of Mole People that are led by Zizrar.
- A running gag on The Simpsons is Hans Moleman. He suffers multiple deaths.
- In Ugly Betty, season 1 episode 16, in a conversation between Betty and Charlie (Henry's ex-girlfriend), she asks "what about the mole people" when Betty assures her that riding the Subway is one of the safest ways during the snowy weather.
- In Criminal Minds, season 9 episode 17, the BAU investigates a ring of homeless people who live in the Las Vegas storm drain tunnels.
In video games
- In the game Deus Ex, the protagonist briefly visits an enclave of mole people living in a hidden tunnel adjoining Brooklyn Bridge Station.
- In the game Fallout: New Vegas, post-apocalyptic residents of a dystopian Las Vegas dwell throughout the metro and sewage tunnels.
- In the game Metro 2033, post-apocalyptic Russians dwell in the miles of metro underground due to nuclear winter and mutated beasts that roam freely above-ground and constantly attack the dwellers underground.
- 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