Williamsburg Bridge, New York, NY, USA
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Until the 1920s, the Williamsburg Bridge had the record for the longest suspension bridge span on Earth.  New Yorkers celebrated its opening in December 1903 with fireworks over the East River.  Sitting on the bridge, I imagined a full procession of men in top hats and coats, carriages drawn by horses, and press photographers with large wooden box cameras.  
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From the top of the bridge, the emotions that emanate from the spectacle of the city cannot be more unique.  Perched on a narrow beam, I felt the wind, and the tower gently swaying. Büyük Valide Han, Istanbul, Turkey
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Istanbul is an overload of senses. The crimson color in the evening, the smell of roasting mackerels by the river, and the chanting for prayer five times a day.  The streets bustle with life–crowds moving about, cats searching for food, and cars fighting for lanes.  Despite this concentration of inhabitants, Istanbul has a hidden layer rarely visited.  
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In Eminönü, buried among textile merchants and bric-a-brac stores, a hidden architectural treasure called Büyük Valide Han still maintains its two levels, three courtyards, and countless domes that constitute the roofs.  It was built in the 1650s as a city inn, its name meaning “the Grand Inn of the Mother Sultan.” Tour Saint-Jacques, Paris, France
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“I was near you again, my beautiful wanderer, and you showed me, in passing, the Tour Saint-Jacques under its pale scaffolding, rendering it for some time now the world’s great monument to the hidden.”   From Mad Love (1937) by André Breton Old Croton Aqueduct, Bronx, NY
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Surrounded by brackish waters, New York residents had a limited supply of fresh water, although the population rapidly increased after the American Revolutionary War.  The main sources for water were cisterns and wells that were easily contaminated, and epidemics such as cholera and yellow fever spread quickly.  The Old Croton Aqueduct is a masonry tunnel that supplied fresh water to New York City for the first time, thus facilitating the city’s development into a greater metropolis.  The construction began in 1837 and took five years to complete, but it was abandoned after the New Croton Aqueduct opened in 1890 in response to the unprecedented growth of the city. 
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Going inside a subterranean structure that has been abandoned and largely inaccessible for more than a century evokes an eerie feeling of time travel.  Sitting in the comfort of my own room and staring blankly at reproductions on my computer screen could not be enough.  I trudged through the damp tunnel for hours and felt the hand-laid brick with my bare hands, while being careful not to disturb the tiny sleeping bats.  With wet feet, I felt the aura of the space, cloaked in complete black. <br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br>Zeyrek Cistern, Istanbul, Turkey #1
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            There are hundreds of Byzantine cisterns underneath Istanbul, historically known as Constantinople for more than a thousand years until 1453.  Although the largest one, the Basilica Cistern, is well preserved as a tourist attraction, there are many other beautiful cisterns that are left in neglect.  One such cistern is in the neighborhood of Fatih, next to the Zeyrek mosque, which was originally a church built in the twelfth century.  The renovation efforts of this Byzantine cistern seemed to have been in halt for a long time when I went for a visit.  In an empty lot on a hill, young boys were playing amongst the crumbling bricks that were probably nine hundred years old.  They seemed to be unaware of the grand historical monument underneath.  After descending into a small dirt hole in the ground, I glided through a flooded hallway with humble vaults, to a set of steep stairs leading into a giant hall with rows of elegant marble columns.  A small opening high up by the ceiling let in a faint ray of light that illuminated the cavernous space, and the wet marble glistened as if under moonlight. <br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br>Michigan Central Station, Detroit, MI, USA
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Detroit was once one of the wealthiest cities in the world with the rise of the American auto industry in the early 1900s.  Now, the population of the city is reduced to about half of what it was in 1950.  The desolation and poverty are plainly visible.  Every direction I turned, I saw an abandoned building from the Gilded Age.  The streets conjured up what I imagined New York’s SoHo or TriBeCa to have looked like in the seventies.
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The Michigan Central Station has become a symbol of Detroit’s former radiance and present decay.  When it opened in 1913, it was the tallest rail station in the world, designed by the same architects that designed New York City’s Grand Central Terminal.  The main waiting hall was modeled after an ancient Roman bathhouse with marble walls and gold-plated chandeliers.  The station is now threatened with demolition after more than a decade of neglect. <br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br>Richmond Power Station, Philadelphia, PA, USA  #1
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To celebrate the entry into an era of electricity, Philadelphia Electric Power Company built one of the most monumental power stations in the 1920s by the Delaware River in Port Richmond.  Constructed in the style of neoclassical architecture, the Richmond Station flaunts 130-foot cruciform ceilings in its turbine hall that once housed the largest Westinghouse turbo-generator in the world.  Since its closing in 1985, it has been continually damaged by weather and scrappers looking for valuable metal.  Recently it was denied historical designation by the Philadelphia Historical Commission.  Power plants like this from the Progressive Era epitomize the promise of wealth and prosperity that industrialization seemed to offer. <br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br>Richmond Power Station, Philadelphia, PA, USA  #2
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            Looking down from the level where the giant turbo-generators lie dormant, I could see an impressive cluster of smaller machineries that I could not identify.  As I tried to imagine how they used to function, the rusty machines seemed to come alive.  They then reminded me of the Dada portrayal of people as machines. <br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br>Sulukule, Istanbul, Turkey
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            Being a new stranger to Istanbul, I decided one day to wander alone without
            a map, completely unaware of potential dangers in different neighborhoods.
            From the metro station Topkapi-Ulubatli, I walked along the Theodesian
            Walls, up the hill towards Edirnekapi, where the fifth-century Chora Church
            is located.  Then I saw a large area of demolition, with some
            half-dismantled houses still standing, pink and blue and yellow walls among
            the rubbles.  The demolition seemed to have stopped and there was no one
            around me.  Only when I walked among the ruins, to my shock, I realized that
            there were families living in these barely standing structures. Small kids
            were playing in piles of old bricks and dirt, looking at me with their
            curious eyes.  On top of the hill, a beautiful mosque towered over the whole
            area. 
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            Later I found out that I was in an area that Istanbul locals consider one of
            the most dangerous neighborhoods.  An average urbanite would not venture out
            to that area in his or her lifetime.  It is called Sulukule, meaning “the
            Water Tower,” originally inhabited by the Romani people.  It was famous for
            the colorful entertainment houses, where visitors were welcomed with music,
            dance, and food of the secular Romani culture. Sulukule used to boast its
            cultural heritage since the Byzantine era, until recently when the city
            municipality began to carry out an urban renewal project.
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            The mosque on the hill overlooking Sulukule was built for Mihrimah Sultan,
            the daughter of Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-1566).  It was designed by
            Mimar Sinan, who is considered to be the greatest Ottoman architect.  In
            1539, Princess Mihrimah was married off at the age of seventeen to a grand
            vizier, and remained obliged in an unhappy marriage until her husband’s
            death in 1561.  There are rumors that Sinan was in love with the princess,
            and that he built the domed structure with an astonishing number of windows,
            which no one at the time could even dare to design, in order to express his
            love for her.  The hundred and sixty-one windows create an extraordinarily
            luminous interior, which may symbolize the inner beauty of the aging
            princess.  The construction of the mosque began the year after her husband’s
            death. Another legend has it that she ordered Sinan to stop after only one
            minaret although she was entitled to two, as a manifestation of her
            loneliness.  The resulting structure, which happens to stand on the highest
            hill of Istanbul, is arguably the most feminine and elegant Ottoman mosque.
             Demolition Zone, Moraenae, Seoul, Korea 
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I have never lived in modern high-rise apartment buildings.  I also never understood why they are so unsightly.  In Korea, the rate of redevelopment is astonishing. Seeking abandoned structures in Seoul, I came across countless houses with traditional rooftops being bulldozed to make way for new apartment buildings.  Many houses were still full of personal memorabilia like family photographs.  Residents had evacuated quickly as if a natural disaster were approaching.  These scenes reminded me that the sense of security offered by man-made shelters is fragile and fugitive.  The high-rise apartment buildings will some day meet the same fate of being evacuated and demolished. Tarlabasi, Istanbul, Turkey
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            Like any growing metropolitan cities, Istanbul is undergoing constant
            transformation.  In the last twenty years, the migration of population from
            Turkey's countryside to Istanbul, and the expansion of the city’s boundaries
            have doubled the population to 13 million.  Tarlabasi is a good example of a
            neighborhood that has gone through many changes in its demographics and
            economic level.  Historically it was a prosperous neighborhood inhabited by
            Greeks and Armenians, until the 1950s when they began moving out of Istanbul.
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            Tarlabasi then became one of Istanbul’s most notorious slums, occupied by
            Kurdish people from eastern Turkey, Roma people, mixing with African
            immigrants and refugees from Iraq.  While living in that neighborhood for a
            few weeks, I saw many houses from Ottoman era left in neglect and abandoned
            buildings beyond repair. Many Turkish locals told me never to walk home
            alone at night, always to watch my bag, and not to wander alone even during
            the day.  Most of those who warned me of these dangers have never actually
            explored the neighborhood, since it is considered a “no-go” zone for middle
            and upper class city dwellers.
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            Now, Tarlabasi has been chosen for a wholesale redevelopment plan. The
            renderings of the plan show sleek row houses with people dressed in suits
            and modern clothing, which have very little to do with the current
            residents. 
            Arthur Kill Ship Graveyard, Staten Island, NY, USA
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Near the southernmost point of New York, there is a deserted graveyard of boats.  Vessels of all sizes—tugs, barges, cargos, and ferries—are left to sink and corrode. Therein lies even the fireboat Abram S. Hewitt, which fought the fire that killed more than 1,000 people on the steamship SS General Slocum in 1904.  This event was recorded as the worst loss-of-life disaster in New York history until September 11, 2001.
Manhattan Bridge, New York, NY, USA
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The Manhattan Bridge is the most exquisite bridge in New York.  For years I only looked up at the pigeon-blue domes and elegant metal latticework in admiration.  Finally when I climbed to the top I could look down to appreciate its beauty, while feeling the entire bridge vibrate every time the subway trains passed by. Freedom Tunnel, New York, NY, USA  #3
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In the 1930s, Robert Moses covered the New York Central Railroad line to
expand and improve Riverside Park, creating a tunnel underneath. With an
increased use of cars and trucks for transportation, the tunnel was soon
abandoned and became a haven for the homeless.  Hundreds of people moved
into the tunnel and built their dwellings, creating underground communities.
In 1991, the tunnel was reopened for use by Amtrak, and the shantytown was
bulldozed.  It is impossible to know what actually happened to all the
evictees. 
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The tunnel is called the Freedom Tunnel in reference to the graffiti artist
“Freedom,” who created large murals in the eighties and the early nineties
to commemorate the former residents.  Only after having walked through the
tunnel, I could understand the implicit meaning of its name–freedom to live
beyond surveillance. Hangang Sewer, Seoul, Korea
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As a child I had a morbid fear of deep water.  The Han River for me became synonymous with death, not only because it seemed so wide and bottomless but also because I was repeatedly told that the water was toxic.  Everything becomes exaggerated in a child’s mind.  I always imagined that I would instantly die if I fell into the river.  
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Recently, having discovered that the movie Gwoemul (dir. Bong Joon-ho) was filmed in an actual sewer under a bridge on the Han River, I sought out this monstrous space.    
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The gaping mouth of the sewer reeked of carrion; many decaying carcasses of fish and birds were strewn about.  After spending hours inside the dark hollow, with only faint rays of light and echoing sounds of cars, I felt the space transform into a concrete temple, or a dead forest. Michigan Theater, Detroit, MI, USA
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The Michigan Theater must have been the most glorious movie palace when it was built in 1926.  Its seating capacity of 4,050 was not enough to accommodate the crowd on the opening night.  The lobby could hold as many as 1,000 people waiting for the next showing.  After being partially demolished in 1976, it is now used as a parking garage, with large parts of the remains barely intact. Bennett School for Girls, Millbrook, NY, USA
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In the quiet village of Millbrook stands a 200-room Victorian gem that has been deteriorating for more than 30 years.  Halcyon Hall was originally built in 1893 as a luxury hotel, then sold to a college for women.  Generations of young women from prominent American families have been educated in Bennett School over its 85-year history.  Now this enchanting Queen Anne style structure stands dilapidated with collapsed floors and rooms full of debris. 
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As I stood on the stage of the auditorium, I remembered what a harrowing experience it was to be on stage for the first time.  As the sounds from my cello resonated throughout the school auditorium, I felt my limbs go numb, wishing that the seats were empty. Yedikule, Istanbul, Turkey #1
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            Across the tracks from the suburban train station Yedikule, named after the historical Fortress of Seven Towers nearby, there is an old abandoned railway depot.  It covers a large area by the Sea of Marmara, with more than a dozen warehouses and buildings, some of which have been subject to devastating fires.  Over the years of neglect, the complex has turned into a kind of a magical forest, with tall trees and rare flowering plants.  In Istanbul, the nature seems to prevail faster than other cities I have visited.  The unique climate, a mixture of weather conditions in Mediterranean and Black Sea regions, and the fertile soil make this city a paradise for wild flowers and birds. Glenwood Power Plant, Yonkers, NY, USA
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The Yonkers Power Station of the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad was built between 1904 and 1906 when the steam locomotives were replaced by diesel-electric locomotives.  The roof superstructure of the building shows exposed metalwork on the façade which creates an intricate pattern juxtaposed with the more solemn brick body.  Two tall smoke stacks ringed with metal tie rods rise from one side, making the whole structure look like a two-headed sea monster rising out of the Hudson River. Freedom Tunnel, New York, NY, USA #1
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The Freedom Tunnel is a well-known tourist attraction among the underground travelers, such as urban explorers and graffiti writers.  To pay homage to Freedom’s murals from the eighties and the early nineties, graffiti writers from all over the world have put their marks in the tunnel.  Most murals and doodles are found under the ventilation ducts, from which natural light pours in, creating eerie spotlights for the underground gallery.
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Graffiti has lost the power it once had as a means of expression.  Nevertheless, I can understand why there are groups of young people who religiously follow the subversive lifestyle of a graffiti writer.  In Europe I met many art students who asked me if New York  subway cars were covered in graffiti as in the photos from the 1970s.  Every time the question made me smile as I gave a negative answer.  The New York downtown art scene from the seventies and the eighties has been romanticized by many young aspiring artists, writers, and musicians.  They dream of living in abandoned cast-iron lofts, painting in the streets and tunnels, making sculptures on empty piers, and nightly carousing in clubs where everybody is intimately acquainted with one another. Petite Ceinture, Paris, France
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Abandoned rail tracks circle around the outer rim of central Paris.  Called the Petite Ceinture (“little belt”), the railway was built in 1852 to connect different railroad stations at the city limits and has been disused since the 1930s.  One of the tunnels that this railway runs through holds a hidden entrance to the vast network of the Parisian catacombs. 
Ossuary, Catacombes de Paris, Paris, France
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After studying in Paris for a few months in college, I thought I knew the city quite well, but years later I realized that I had missed an entire layer underneath.  There are about 185 miles of tunnels, and only a mile is open to the public as a museum.  Some sections date back to 60 BC when limestone was first excavated to build temples, forums, and baths.  By the 18th century, some of the quarries that had been dug over centuries started to collapse and pose safety threats.  So the existing quarries were reinforced and new observation tunnels were constructed in order to monitor and map the whole system.  
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Around the same time, Paris struggled with overflowing cemeteries.  In the city center, a mass grave called the Cimetière des Innocents became so unsanitary that it was causing serious maladies in nearby residents.  Starting in 1786, the contents of the cemetery were moved into the subterranean quarries.  Every night for two years, a macabre procession of horse-drawn carts filled with exhumed bones traveled from what is now Les Halles district, crossing the Seine, into the Montparnasse quarter.  
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Now, the catacombs house the remains of over 6 million people. <br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br>Innundated Gallery, Catacombes de Paris, Paris, France 
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In Paris I developed an obsession with carbide lamps.  These lamps burn acetylene gas produced when water reacts with calcium carbide, and they create a warm ambient light that is powerful and irreproducible.  They were invented in the 1890s and were widely used in mining for decades.  Even now, when exploring extensive underground spaces with water but without any electricity and easy access to exits, it is advisable to use carbide lamps, because they last very long and can always be refilled.  With modern battery-powered lights, there are more risks of malfunction which could, in rare cases, result in death. <br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br>Cemetery Stairway,  Catacombes de Paris, Paris, France 
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The sense of time becomes warped in the catacombs.  Nothing seems to change in the 20-meter deep tunnels—the temperature at 14ºC year-round, the constant water levels, and the damp, stagnant air.  When the lights are turned off, the darkness and the silence are so complete that I would start doubting my own existence after a few minutes.  Listening to my own breath, I would pace, tread, crawl, clamber for hours with little food and water and still feel alert and agile. Two hours become ten hours at a moment’s notice, and only once I finally exit, my limbs would be stiff like those of a corpse. Hell’s Kitchen Tunnel, New York, NY, USA
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Whenever I was struck with an unbearable ennui, I used to go alone to a dead-end tunnel on the west side.  Sometimes I would see a man sleeping there with a black cover pulled all the way over his head.  One day, when he wasn’t there, I decided to do a shoot.  As soon as I set my camera on the tripod and got ready, I saw a shadowy figure approaching.  Promptly I put my clothes back on and yelled out to him.  A brittle old man sat in his black office chair without a word.  When I calmly told him about what I was doing and asked him to sit on the other side of the camera, he silently cooperated.  After I was done, he offered me his shirt to wipe off my feet.  Then he started talking to me about how he was sent to Rikers Island and was abused above ground.  He had at last found peace and quiet in that tunnel.  I contemplated on how the tunnel was once built for the prosperity of the city but is now a sanctuary for outcasts who are completely forgotten in the average urban dweller’s everyday life.  After he finished his somewhat incoherent monologue, he kindly walked me out.  In the daylight he thanked me as we parted ways.  It must have been an unusual day for him.  
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A couple years later, I learned that the man was a violent schizophrenic. Revere Sugar Factory, Red Hook, Brooklyn, NY, USA 
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As I started venturing out in 2005 to neighborhoods with industrial ruins, I immediately fell in love with Red Hook.  The Revere Sugar Factory is the first abandoned factory I entered alone.  After seeing its giant dome in a Brooklyn waterfront tour video, I hopped on the F train to Smith 9th street, a stop at which I had never gotten off before.  Walking in the general direction of the waterfront, I came across deserted parks, housing projects, giant empty grain silos, and 19th-century brick warehouses.  It was no wonder that Al Capone started out in that very neighborhood as a small-time criminal and got the wound that lead to his nickname, “Scarface.”  It was a late afternoon, and the silence of the streets made me apprehensive.  Walking along Beard Street, I saw an abandoned warehouse with a small hole in the fence I could barely fit through.  Only after some minutes of being inside did I realize I was already in the six-acre sugar factory complex.  Revere Sugar Factory, Red Hook, Brooklyn, NY, USA
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The Revere Sugar Factory was built in 1910 by the American Molasses Co. and was once owned by Antonio Floirendo, known as the “Banana King” for his vast banana plantations in the southern Philippines.  After its doors closed in 1985, it had been in ruins for more than twenty years.  The vast complex became a habitat for different kinds of animals and plants.  When I heard dogs barking, I thought they were guard dogs, but soon I realized that a pack of feral dogs lived there, along with swans, ducks, rodents, and bees nesting in the barrels full of old sugar.  The floor of the domed structure was covered in old molasses and stamped with animal footprints.  Nature had reclaimed the space.  When manmade structures are neglected for decades, interiors become exteriors and artificial spaces become natural spaces. Revere Sugar Factory, Red Hook, Brooklyn, NY, USA
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After a few visits, I grew so comfortable inside the sugar refinery that it turned into a giant playground.  Time seemed to flow backwards as I became a child again—climbing ladders, hopping on beams, throwing pebbles through open floors, swinging on chains.  I would also sit by the water and squint at the sunken ship, or climb to a rooftop and watch the Statue of Liberty in the sunset.  
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As the new IKEA made its way to Red Hook, the Revere Sugar Factory was demolished in 2007. Nursing Home, Coney Island, Brooklyn, NY, USA
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The sole of the foot contains the thickest layer of skin on the human body.  Like a hoofed animal, I walked over a field of shattered glass.  Then I hopped onto a pipe and perched like a lonesome pigeon. <br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br>Utility Tunnels, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA
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When I was a student at Columbia University, I heard a fantastic rumor that under the campus there were secret tunnels that a group of students used to transport nuclear materials.  For some bizarre reason I imagined a band of footballers running around holding bombs in their chests.  Countless overnight stays inside the old Butler Library stacks with organic compound symbols, protein structures, and metaphysical jargon had depleted my sense of adventure, so I quickly dismissed the rumor and never gave it a second thought.  The vast majority of the students around me did not venture outside their comfort zones, and regrettably I was one of them. 
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Two years after my graduation I learned that the rumor had some basis in truth.  At the Pupin Physics Laboratories, a team of scientists split the nuclei of uranium atoms in 1939, which then played a major role in initiating the Manhattan Project, and the subsequent production of atomic bombs.  From its decommissioning in 1965 until its dismantling in 2008, the 65-ton magnet of the cyclotron, a particle accelerator, was sitting in Pupin’s basement, which could be accessed only through the utility tunnels.  In 1987, a student who led an underground tunneling group got expelled for stealing uranium-238 from a forgotten storage room connected to the tunnel system.  He later became a journalist mistakenly captured by Afghanistan’s Taliban government. 
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Creeping through the tunnels under my alma mater, I learned more about its history than I ever did as a student.  I saw obsolete artifacts like coal hoppers and the original foundation of Bloomingdale Insane Asylum, which was relocated when Columbia bought the property in 1892.  I also learned that the tunnels were used during the infamous Columbia University protests of 1968.  Five buildings were occupied by students indignant about the school’s decision to build a gymnasium on public property with a separate entrance for the local black residents.  At the same time they protested faculty involvement with US military intelligence during the Vietnam War.  The anti-racist and anti-war sentiments swept over the youthful protesters, who took any measures they could to protect their ideals.  A violent police raid on April 30, 1968 left 150 students injured, and more than 700 were arrested.