Subway explorer reveals NYC's "Undercity"
Steve Duncan explores a tunnel in "Undercity"
January 4th, 2011
01:41 PM ET

Subway explorer reveals NYC's "Undercity"

Steve Duncan jokes that he's too old to be running through underground tunnels. But he loves it. He's risking arrest, injury or even death to explore hidden parts of New York's subway system and the people who live in its dank corridors. Duncan's curious obsession is documented in the 28-minute film "Undercity."

It's a jolt when the viewer first sees filmmaker Andrew Wonder and Duncan wait momentarily for a quiet, empty subway platform and then jump down onto the rails. Wearing gloves and a backpack and carrying a flashlight, Duncan tells Wonder that the main objective is to avoid getting killed. "It's always a gamble," he says.

The duo move swiftly, careful to not be seen. A train screams by, so close it's frightening. They duck so that no one inside the train spies them. If Duncan gets caught, he says, he'll probably face criminal trespassing and reckless endangerment charges. That's unfair, he thinks. The public has a right to see what lies under their city.

When he tried to climb Notre Dame in Paris, he tells Wonder, the police arrested him, but they understood why someone would want to explore a beautiful and complex landmark. "But in New York, nobody seems to understand why I want to see these amazing structures," he says. "It kinda makes me sad that there's so much suspicion around just appreciating the city."

Another scene is shot at 1 a.m. on a weekday. Duncan waits until he's sure no one is watching and pulls a crowbar from his bookbag. He pries open a manhole and climbs into a sewer beneath Canal Street, what was once an above-ground waterway. Duncan tells Wonder he only wants to show him the entrance, but he can't resist. The urban explorer looks out along the dark tunnel and says there's a brick archway if they walk down 50 feet. They shouldn't go, Duncan says, but he starts walking anyway, ducking under dripping glops of goo he calls "snotsticles." They meet a cast of characters seemingly dreamed up for a novel, including a woman who followed a stray cat into the underground 28 years ago and never left.

Post by:
Filed under: New York
soundoff (21 Responses)
  1. Brooke

    ive also been interested in this kind of stuff, I'm forever looking to see what I can see out the windows when I'm in the subway. I would be really paranoid though about the trains coming through.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Andre

    sounds cool

    January 4, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Cesar

    Articles and comments are so much more pleasant without monkey using other peoples' names.

    January 4, 2011 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Meghan

    [vimeo 18280328 w=500 h=281]

    January 4, 2011 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Meghan

    Sorry, you can watch the doc here:

    [vimeo 18280328 w=500 h=281]

    January 4, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Frank

    People of the United States and N.Y.C.,
    This just goes to show how easy it would be for a terrorist to plant a bomb or biological weapon in the N.Y.C. subway system.Ducan is lucky the Rats that I have seen that are as big as a large cat down there did not have him for dinner ,I would also not put it past the just barely human inhabitants down there wanting to have him for dinner in addition.

    January 4, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Ry

    While it might be interesting to have this culture's existence verified, in an effort to make a name for himself, this man has played a critical part in the inevitable destruction of these people's homes and lifestyle. It is unlikely that they are doing any significant harm to anyone, but I doubt the government will allow their underground homes to remain because of the perceived dangers that cultures like this conjure in the narrow and intolerant views of mainstream America. While I support transparency in public agencies and interactions, the private lives of citizens are best left undisclosed.

    January 4, 2011 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • A. Lurker

      "Citizen" is fast becoming a quaint anachronism, devoid of any rights and lacking any honor. The concept will be gone in a few generations, a vote at a time, at which point the govenment will tell us that, almost by magic, there are no longer any enemies who want to hurt us, that we have "won".

      January 4, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
  8. purga

    I'm sure the city has a detailed architectural plan elsewhere that showed all those hidden crevices, including a restroom for the original builders. The guy is certainly very courageous to explore places like that & to make it publicly known despite knowing the consequences of doing it if discovered.

    January 4, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
  9. NamVetNavy

    He'll probably live under there soon..

    January 4, 2011 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Benjamin

    After centuries of atomic radiation, the denizens of the New York subway depths will found a new religion, one based on the worship of the world's last operational nuclear missile, the ALPHA-OMEGA BOMB. Hey, I saw it in a movie, so it must be true!

    January 4, 2011 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
  11. observer

    .
    . . . "They meet a cast of characters seemingly dreamed up for a novel, a woman who followed a stray cat into the underground 28 years ago and never left"

    . . . I can't stop thinking about that ... or laughing about that ...

    January 4, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
  12. RUFFNUTT

    anyone ever see that movie C.H.U.D. ?

    it deal with people that go exploring underground... and the bad things that can happen.

    January 4, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Chris

    I doubt that anyone who walks on a bridge ever stops to realize that there's been a woman living underneath it for 28 years. What a fascinating film. Short, but sweet. I felt as though I was right alongside him. Brilliantly shot.

    January 4, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse |
  14. RUFFNUTT

    I'M sure they smelled her tho..

    January 4, 2011 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Charles F Offdenson, LTV Inc

    This is not news. People have been doing this for decades (http://ltvsquad.com/Blog/?p=2060). There are entire websites up dedicated to exploring in NYC. Let's call this one what it was – two tourists who came to NYC and had a media event.

    C.F.Offdensen, LTV Inc.

    January 4, 2011 at 6:03 pm | Report abuse |
1 2