A MAN has lived in the tunnels beneath America’s most populous city for more than 25 years – he’s often dubbed “the last of the mole-men.”
A homeless person who lives below New York City is referred to as a “mole”. However, not many people dare to go through the dark tunnels anymore.
Walter Wengert lived in the Freedom Tunnel, an Amtrak railroad tunnel that runs under the West Side Highway.
For decades the train tracks were deserted and many people, like Walter, called them home.
In the early 1990s, however, the tunnels became active again and many “mole people” left the tunnel in droves, but Walter still stayed.
Walter lives at the last gate on the service road in a small alcove that is filled to the brim with things.
However, he managed to create a makeshift bathroom, kitchen, living room and bedroom upstairs.
“I’ve lived here for over 20 years,” he told Erik K. Swanson, a YouTuber with more than 124,000 subscribers.
Swanson did an interview with Walter in 2008 and released footage of it on his YouTube channel earlier this year.
“I came here with a brother around 1988,” Walter explained after originally staying there. “It got a little worse down there, so we just walked over here.”
Walter said at the time people lived up and down the tunnel, either in log cabins, tents, or woodsheds.
He said that he and his brother befriended the people and stayed in different parts of the tunnel before taking refuge at the site of his current home.
Walter’s brother died in 1993, at which point he began renovating his home to make it more livable.
“It was difficult down here back then,” he said. “They had all these people. They fought like cats and dogs. You can’t trust anyone.”
He added that he is now enjoying the rest after all the other mole people have left.
“I couldn’t have all my stuff the way I do now,” he said. “So many different bad people down here, along with the good people who just, you know, wanted a place to stay.”
Walter said he made friends with several people in the tunnels, but there was “always a problem” when people got into arguments.
“They wouldn’t think anything of stealing my stuff or getting into a fight with anyone, and they’d get their revenge.”
A common retaliation was to set fire to a person’s “square” or home.
It was around 1995 when Walter said the authorities had come to clean up the tunnel.
He said he managed to escape the mass exodus as he failed to draw attention to himself.
“And I’ve been here the whole time and it’s my home,” he said. “This is my home.”
A few people have come back since the tunnels were cleared, but Walter said everyone else was keeping their distance.
Walter receives no food stamps and says he makes money reselling books or computers he’s repaired and canned.
“I’m better off alone. In a way, I prefer it that way,” he said. “And I am fine. You won’t find many people here who have as much as I have.”
Walter and his brother were featured in a New York Times article in the ’90s, and have also been featured in Time Magazine and a few documentaries about the life of mole people.
“I’ve actually had my so-called 15 minutes of fame a few times,” he said.
According to Swanson, Walter died in 2012 – the YouTube video was dedicated to his memory.