There is a whole other world deep in the dark beneath our feet. As mankind goes about its daily business, with throngs of people hurriedly churning back and forth and endless traffic zipping along on various errands, underground there is a dank, forgotten place that most people never give much thought. Vast, sprawling warrens of underground sewer systems, pipes, and tunnels exist under all of our bustle; murky, shadowy places full of blackness and silence, secretly coexisting with the upper world of light and tireless human activity.
It is perhaps no surprise that such innately spooky places as sewers have long been the setting of a multitude of creepy tales and horror stories. However, what of the mysteries that exist there outside of the world of pure fiction? There are things lurking within the dark, meandering sewers of the world that suggest there is more to these places than we may suspect. Let us take a look at some of the mysterious alleged denizens of the stygian depths of the world’s sewers.
Alligators in New York
One of the most enduring and well-known cases of strange animals in sewers is the stories of alligators roaming New York City’s sewer systems. Accounts of alligators lurking under New York’s streets date back to the 1930s, when it is said to have been popular for families to buy baby alligators as pets. The story typically goes that when the alligators got too big to be properly cared for, they were flushed down the toilet or otherwise released into the sewer system, where they survived on a diet of rats, garbage, or anything else they could get their teeth into.
Over the years various frightening reports surfaced of sewer workers coming across alligators lurking in the city’s sewers. Sometimes the reports were embellished with details such as albino alligators or alligators that had somehow reached freakish sizes larger than normal. There were even stories of alleged mutant alligators that had developed abnormal coloring or other physical anomalies.
In 1959, a curious account was reported in the book The World Beneath the City, by Robert Daley, which is a history of the development of utilities in New York City. One chapter of the book is entitled “Alligators in the Sewers,” and stems from a series of interviews conducted with long time Commissioner of Sewers in New York, Teddy May.
In the account, May explained that alligators had been sighted in the sewers since 1935 by sewer workers, but no one took such reports seriously at first. When the sightings continued and started truly spooking utilities workers, May personally ventured into the sewers. It was there that May was startled to come across alligators with an average length of 2 feet. Seeing that the stories were indeed true, a campaign was launched to eradicate the animals with poisoning, as well as flushing the alligators out to be shot by gun toting hunters. In the account, May claimed that all of the sewer alligators had been wiped out by 1937.
Cryptozoologist Loren Coleman, who has done extensive research on the history of alligators in New York’s sewers, has uncovered many historical articles outlining actual alligators being found, captured, or killed in the sewers of New York, particularly during the 1930s. The results of his findings have the historical significance of establishing a link with the supposed urban legend of alligators in the sewers and real historical cases of alligators being killed and even officially hunted down there. The results of Coleman’s findings were published as “Alligators-in-the-Sewers: A Journalistic Vehicle,” in the Journal of American Folklore, September-October 1979.
One intriguing article that Coleman uncovered was a story that originally appeared in The New York Times on Feb. 10, 1935. The article describes how several youths who were shoveling snow into a manhole cover near Harlem River came across an alligator measuring 7 to 8 feet long thrashing about in the icy water below. The teens, led by a Salvatore Condoluci, proceeded to capture and kill the animal. Many years later when interviewed about the incident, Conduluci insisted that the event was true and factual.
Articles such as these uncovered by Loren Coleman, as well as the accounts outlined in Daley’s book, clearly are at odds with the current official stance that alligators in the sewers of New York have always been pure urban legend. It seems through these accounts that the knee jerk response of alligators in New York’s sewers being merely a myth are glossing over some of the history of alligators in fact being found there.
Many modern day reports seem to further point to the reality of alligators in the sewers. On July 22, 2013, a live 8-foot-long alligator was pulled from a sewer near Central Park. The alligator had allegedly long been preying on dogs, which prompted a hunt for it culminating in its capture. The alligator was killed, and an analysis of its stomach contents revealed the remains of at least two dogs, some rats, and a wristwatch fortunately with no hand still attached to it.
In 2010, an alligator measuring 2 feet long was found under a car near a sewer opening at Newton Avenue and 29th Street, in the heart of Queens, New York. Surrounded by startled onlookers, an Emergency Service Unit used a long pole and a noose to corral the creature into a cage and capture it. The animal was handed over to City Animal Care & Control officers, who sent it to a wildlife sanctuary. In an perhaps ominous addition to the story, in the wake of the baby alligator’s capture, Animal Care and Control spokesman Richard Gentles stated that between two to four alligators or crocodiles are rescued in the city by his agency every year. It is not known how many of those statistical alligators were recovered from sewers.
It seems clear that regardless of whether dramatic reports of giant, mutant albino alligators existing under the streets are true or not, there certainly seems to be some truth to the idea that at least regular alligators can indeed be found in New York City’s sewers.
Strange, Sewer-Dwelling Humanoids
In 2008, The Daily Mail reported that sewer workers Workers at Southern Water’s treatment plant in Eastbourne, East Sussex, described being haunted by a strange humanoid figure said to look something “like a zombie.” The figure reportedly would follow the workers around and occasionally laugh at them menacingly. In addition, workers told of hearing mysterious muffled conversations emanating from behind tunnel walls. The creature allegedly scared the workers so much that they were afraid to enter the tunnels to work.
After persistent reports of the strange figure stalking workers, Mark Wey, a sewage treatment worker, got permission from his bosses to hire a paranormal investigator to launch an investigation. Although no physical evidence of any such creature was found, the parapsychologist reported immediately feeling a strong presence, and said there was definitely something unusual there.
Another report of a strange sewer dwelling humanoid comes from an article by Michael Burke entitled Green Thing Sparks Rumors, in The New Valley Dispatch, Mar. 5, 1981. The article describes a harrowing account of a small, 4-foot-tall humanoid creature said to look like something half-human and half-dinosaur, which was seen emerging from a sewer in New Kensington, PA. A group of youth allegedly chased the creature, and one even managed to grab the thing’s tail, upon which it let out a screeching cry prompting the startled boy to let go. The dinosauroid humanoid then reportedly slipped away back into a sewer tunnel.
Interestingly, the incident took place near Dixonville, PA, where several miners were allegedly killed or went missing in 1944 due to an alleged “alien creature” said to be lurking in one of the mineshafts there. The mysterious monster was said to lurk in the darkness and snatch away hapless, unsuspecting miners. Whether this rather spooky story has any connection with the case of the saurian humanoid or not, it is still a bizarre account in its own right.
The Black Swine of London
In the 1800s, a bizarre story circulated around London that the sewers of Hampstead were home to a population of strange, black pigs said to roam about in the filthy, slimy darkness. The story goes that a pregnant sow somehow made its way down into the sewers through a drain or some other opening, where it got lost and subsisted on the constant influx of offal and garbage. The sow subsequently gave birth to and reared its young in the sewer, and it is alleged that the pigs multiplied there. It is said that the black pigs of the sewers became numerous and were known for their aggressiveness and ferocity.
Throughout the 19th century reports of sightings of very large black pigs lurking in the sewers propagated the story to the point that it became somewhat akin to London’s own version of alligators in the sewers of New York. There were various accounts of the “Black Swine of Hampstead,” and a good number of Londoners at the time believed the creatures were down there.
The Daily Telegraph, 10 October 1859, made mention of the sewer dwelling black swine in an editorial which said:
This London is an amalgam of worlds within worlds, and the occurrences of every day convince us that there is not one of these worlds but has its special mysteries and its generic crimes. Exaggeration and ridicule often attach to the vastness of London, and the ignorance of its penetralia common to us who dwell therein. It has been said that beasts of chase still roam in the verdant fastnesses of Grosvenor Square, that there are undiscovered patches of primaeval forest in Hyde Park and that Hampstead sewers shelter a monstrous breed of black swine, which have propagated and run wild among the slimy feculence, and whose ferocious snouts will one day up-root Highgate archway, while they make Holloway intolerable with their grunting.
With the coming of the 20th century, stories of the black swine of London’s sewers faded into obscurity. It is now considered to be mostly a largely forgotten urban legend, yet it is still intriguing to think about whether these stories had their foundation in some grain of truth, as is often the case with many such supposed myths.
The Bizarre Sewer Monster of North Carolina
In April, 2009, the company Malphrus Construction sent a surveillance camera into the sewer system beneath Cameron Village in Raleigh, North Carolina, in order to examine the infrastructure of the pipes. During their investigation, the camera came across something that no one had ever expected to encounter down there; slimy, pulsating blobs attached to the wall which appeared to be living organisms of some kind. The weird blobs were even seen to visibly react to the light of the camera, seeming to flinch and draw away from it.
The story immediately became a sensation, and the bizarre creatures were nicknamed “The Cameron Village Sewer Blob.” News stories ran with it, and video footage of the grotesque blobs captured by the camera became insanely popular on YouTube. The internet was awash in discussion and debate as to the nature of the creatures, with theories ranging from some kind of undiscovered animal, to mutant monsters, to aliens from another world. At first it was speculated that the footage was even a hoax, but Raleigh public works issued a statement officially acknowledging that indeed the footage was very real.
Scientists at the time were just as stumped as everyone else. No one had ever really seen anything quite like it and biologists for Raleigh Public Utilities were at a loss to explain what the organisms were. Ed Buchan, the environmental coordinator at the Raleigh Public Utilities Department, at first claimed that he had never seen anything like it in all of his time with the department. For a time, the mysterious, slimy blob phenomenon of Cameron Village was a total enigma.
Gradually, scientific theories about what could realistically be responsible for what was caught on the sewer camera started to emerge. One of the first such theories was that the blobs represented a colony of bryozoans, which are small animals that stick out tentacles to feed and retreat into small tubes when disturbed.
Other biologists disagreed with the bryozoan theory. Dr. Timothy S. Wood, a bryozoans expert with the Department of Biological Sciences at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, firmly denied that bryozoans could be the culprit, stating:
“No, these are not bryozoans! They are clumps of annelid worms, almost certainly tubificids. Normally these occur in soil and sediment, especially at the bottom and edges of polluted streams. In the photo they have apparently entered a pipeline somehow, and in the absence of soil they are coiling around each other. The contractions you see are the result of a single worm contracting and then stimulating all the others to do the same almost simultaneously, so it looks like a single big muscle contracting.”
Yet another theory describes the mystery creature as being a a colony of tubifex worms, which can occur in pond sediment and also sewage when they work their way into the pipes. Since tubifex worms will flinch from bright lights, it is thought that this would explain the reaction of the creature in the footage to the camera light.
Other investigators have disagreed with the tubifex worm theory due to several apparent problems with this explanation. It is pointed out that there is not a single individual worm to be seen on or around any of the three objects in the video. Instead, the creatures appear to be smooth, complete cysts or sacs that move and throb or pulsate as a complete entity rather than a loose mass of worms.
What is this strange creature? It appears that for all of the ideas put forth about what the “real” explanation is for the North Carolina sewer monster, the story is still somewhat of a mystery, and no single explanation has totally satisfied everyone.
Giant Rats of Tehran
Several reports from Tehran, Iran, have described super-sized rats emerging from the sewers to roam the streets, with some specimens claimed to be up to 11 pounds. It has been speculated that winter snows raised the water levels of the sewers and flushed the creatures out.
Not only are the rats huge, but they also allegedly exhibit unusual physical characteristics. Tehran city council environment adviser Ismail Kahram told an Iranian website that the rats seemed to be mutated, possibly from chemicals in the sewers. Kahram said of the rats:
“They are now bigger and look different. These are changes that normally take millions of years of evolution. They have jumped from 60 grams to five kilos, and cats are now smaller than them.”
According to an article in the Huffington Post from April 3, 2013, a Dr. David Baker, laboratory animal veterinarian at LSU, told them that he doubted that Tehran’s rats were some kind of mutants. Instead, he suggested that even common types of rat can reach ridiculously large sizes under the right circumstances and that there are various types of giant rat around the world. Baker added:
“During the Middle Ages, black rats in Europe reportedly grew large enough — and children were small enough — to carry off babies. Those had to have been some big rats.”
The rats in Tehran are reportedly so large that they have locals in a panic. In response to this, it has been reported that Tehran has actually hired teams of men armed with sniper rifles with infrared scopes to hunt down and exterminate the rodents. Whether the rats are mutated monsters or not, it nevertheless seems that Tehran has quite a rat problem.
Giant spiders of Tokyo
Tokyo already has its share of giant sewer animals in the form of the giant rats that are said to inhabit various underground passages beneath the city. However, enormous rats might not be the only spooky creature to lurk in Tokyo’s sewers.
In the 1970s, Tokyo utilities workers came across a rather bizarre find along one sewer tunnel. While walking through one area, one of the workers felt his foot brush up against something unusual. Upon feeling at his leg to see what it was, his hand came away covered in thick spiderwebs much to his surprise and horror.
Upon illuminating and investigating the site, workers described seeing a vast web that hugged the ground and covered an area of several square meters. The web was littered with the numerous desiccated corpses of cockroaches as well as full grown rats. Further investigation revealed a tunnel-like opening within a pile of refuse in the corner of the tunnel that allegedly measured at least 25 cm (about 10 inches) in diameter. The actual occupant of the web was never seen, and the perhaps understandably shaken workers did not intend to stick around to see it either, instead opting to leave.
The account seems to describe perhaps the web of some sort of funnel web spider, although apparently much larger than any currently known to exist. It would be interesting to know, if the report is to believed, just how big the mysterious spider of this web truly was.
It would seem that there are a plentitude of mysteries in the dark, subterranean recesses of the world every bit as perplexing as those in the world above it. The expansive, meandering tunnels, tubes, and pipes beneath our feet are perhaps more than just barren, inky black places of concrete, garbage, effluence, and ephemera. Maybe they are the home of ancient, baffling mysteries of nature as well.
As we continue as a species to build bigger and grander mega-metropolises, it is maybe a good idea to keep in mind that there is more to our cities than meets the eye. For far below our thrumming urban streets lies another weird world going about its own business, hidden from the eyes of humankind.