Although I was born in New York City, lived there for several years, and was quite familiar with Manhattan, which is what most of us mean when we say “New York City,” I didn’t have a clue about what lay beneath its sidewalks. My enlightenment began one day in 1978, in the library in Port Arthur, Texas, where I stumbled upon a 223-page book called “The World Beneath the City,” written in 1959. I can honestly say that I have never been more startled by reading anything than I was by what I read in those 223 pages.
Last week, for example, I mentioned that one number that startled me was this: As of 1959, there were 19,000 miles of electrical cables buried below the streets of Manhattan because telephone poles were disallowed as of 1917 when the city first warned the companies that had erected a maze of poles to move them, and then just chopped them all down when the warning was laughed off because the companies said the city couldn’t do without them.
One result of that is that as of 1959 there was an incredible 15 million miles of telephone wires below those streets. That’s enough wire to stretch around the planet 600 times! How much more of it is down there now? Beats me! I did my best to research it, but could find no numbers anywhere.
And think — 1959 was over 50 years ago. Who knows what the numbers might be today? I don’t, nor do I know by how much the 1959 numbers for sewer lines (5,000 miles), water mains (5,600 miles) or gas mains (7,000 miles), have been exceeded today.
And here’s something that will make you think. As of today, New York City contains about 8 million people, divided into five parts: 1.4 million in the Bronx, 1.6 million on Manhattan, 2.2 million in Queens, 2.5 million in Brooklyn, and 476,000 on Staten Island.
Staten Island, by the way, which had only 174,000 people on it when I lived there and was almost all open land, now looks like one giant stretch of one or two family homes, but get this: The 1.6 million people who live on Manhattan occupy a small 22.8-square-mile island. Compare that to Payson’s 15,000 people in 19.4 square miles. The difference? In each square mile of Payson there are 790 people; in one square mile of Manhattan there are 71,340 people. Ugh!
That’s right! Manhattan Island is only 13-1/2 miles long, and at its very widest point is less than 2-1/2 miles wide, which is not really that much bigger than Payson.
OK; enough of that. How about some things that are fun to read?
First of all, there is a section of Manhattan that is called the “Piecrust.” It’s an area where there are so many subway or train tunnels below the streets that the buildings have no basements. For example, the super high class Waldorf Astoria Hotel ends just one quarter of an inch below the street.
And imagine this: In the Piecrust area, the New York City police were nagged by phone calls from a woman who kept telling them that a gang of murderers were going down into the sewer near her apartment carrying bloody bags full of body parts. The police ignored her for a while, but finally gave in and sent a couple of cops over to see what was going on.
You will hardly believe what they found — next week.