Mole people (tunnel people or tunnel dwellers) are homeless people living under large cities in abandoned subway, railroad, flood, sewage tunnels and heating shafts. The term may also refer to the speculative fiction trope of an entirely subterranean society.
While it is generally accepted that some homeless people in large cities make use of 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. 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 New York City Subway historian Joseph Brennan, who declared, "Every fact in this book that I can verify independently is wrong." Cecil Adams's The Straight Dope contacted Toth in 2004, and noted the large amount of unverifiability in her stories, while declaring that the book's accounts seemed to be truthful. A later article, after contact with Brennan, was more skeptical of Toth's truthfulness.
Sightings as recent as 2014 of mole people have been reported by various college students in the greater Boston area including Cambridge, Jamaica Plain, and Dorchester.
Other journalists have focused on the underground homeless in New York City as well. Photographer Margaret Morton made the photo book The Tunnel. Film maker Marc Singer made the documentary Dark Days in the 1990s, and a similar documentary, Voices in the Tunnels, was released in 2008. In 2010, anthropologist Teun Voeten published Tunnel People.
Media accounts have reported "mole people" living underneath other cities as well. In the Las Vegas Valley, it is 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 is in Clark County: according to the Clark County Regional Flood Control District 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 of the Las Vegas Valley mole people, and included photographs.
Stock character version
There are three distinct stock character version of mole people:
- The first and most famous example of "mole people" are the Morlocks, who appear in H.G. Wells's 1895 novel The Time Machine.
- Conceptually linked to the Morlocks are socially isolated, often oppressed and sometimes forgotten subterranean societies, most often seen in science fiction. Examples include Demolition Man, Futurama (in the form of "Sewer Mutants"), C.H.U.D., and The Matrix.
- Another version is literally a race of humanoid moles. Examples include The Mole People (1956), Underdog, Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle, ThunderCats, and Johnny Test.
In Marvel Comics, two very different underground "mole people" societies exist: the Morlocks, a society of mutant outcasts, named after the subterranean race from H.G. Wells' novel, that live in the abandoned tunnels and sewers beneath New York City; and the inhabitants of Subterranea, a fictional cavernous realm far beneath the Earth's surface where various species of subterranean humanoids exist. The Moloids (or Mole People) are the inhabitants of Subterranea most commonly depicted in the comics. Moloids usually serve as soldiers for the Mole Man, a human from the surface world who discovered Subterranea and subsequently became ruler of the Moloids. Mole Man is frequently an antagonist of the Fantastic Four.
- Avinguda de la Llum
- Freedom Tunnel, an abandoned railroad tunnel in New York City frequently inhabited by homeless people
- Sewer alligator
- Underground living
- Urban exploration, the exploration of man-made structures including tunnels as a hobby
- 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 0-300-06559-0.
- 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.
- "Mole Men". TV Tropes. Retrieved 2015-09-25.
- 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