Monday, 31 March 2014

Yes Virginia, There Were Cows in the Tunnels

Happy Birthday to us! Yes, it's the blog's first birthday this week and to celebrate I decided to revisit everyone's favourite post, "Ginger" the 300lb nude statue found in Brooklyn, and the folks at Historical Perspectives Inc. Unfortunately Ginger's identity still remains a mystery so this post is dedicated to a topic that's just as sexy - cattle tunnels.

"The city of New York is replete with tales of mythic creatures in various shapes and sizes – as well as degrees of lethality – lurking beneath the streets, dwelling in the dark, ambling through the miles of tunnels that carry the city’s water, effluent, and utilities. Most notably are the infamous alligators of New York that have yet to be tapped to fill the demand for women’s purses at upscale shops on Fifth Avenue, yet alone confirmed. What few New Yorkers do not realize is that another type of creature, far less lethal but massive by comparison, once did stroll beneath the pavement.   
The west side of Manhattan’s Midtown was once home to the city’s abattoirs and an assortment of noxious industries that grew up around the processing of animals into meat and various by-products (e.g., glue, swill milk, and bone meal). For years, cattle and other cloven-hoofed animals were shipped in trains from the Midwest to the stockyards of New Jersey, where they were then ferried across the Hudson River to short-term holding pens on docks and pens tightly packed along the shore of West Street. Herding the cows (and sheep) across the street and the rail line that ran along the waterfront was a dangerous affair. Cowboys on horseback were hired to escort trains along the shoreline, stopping traffic and herds in order to prevent collisions.
In a 1990s study of Manhattan’s West Side Highway – now known as Route 9A – two cattle tunnels were identified by Historical Perspectives, Inc. Research completed by Cece Saunders and Faline Schneiderman recovered blueprints, building permits, and lithographs of these two brick features – built in the 1870s and 1930s – to safely allow animals passage to their impending fate. One was built at West 34th Street; the other slightly north at West 38th Street. Documents indicate that at least one of the tunnels was never dismantled. Of note is the careful consideration given by the State Historic Preservation Office as to whether the purported tunnels, if uncovered in an excavation, should be treated as archaeological features or historic structures. Neither tunnel has been confirmed archaeologically, but they have captured the public’s interest and attained mythological proportions."

Historical Perspectives, Inc. is a women-owned cultural resources consulting firm that has been in business since 1982. The firm offers a wide variety of archaeological and historic structures services including archival research and archaeological reconnaissance surveys to visual impact analysis, historic structures recordation, and interpretive exhibit and publication development. Incorporated in the State of Connecticut, HPI works throughout Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. HPI has also completed over 400 individual projects in New York City."

Faline Schneiderman, MA, Vice President
Historical Perspectives, Inc.

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