Week 1: City Hall Station
Catherine and I knew that the old City Hall station was still there, hidden away under lower Manhattan for decades. But we also knew the only way to visit it was to try and snatch up expensive tickets at a blink-and-they’ll-sell-out tour hosted by The NYC Transit Museum a couple times a year. So we resigned ourselves to instead take our first “The Monarch Papers: Illustrated” photo on the glass blocks laid in the sidewalk of City Hall Park. Glass blocks which still allow light to cast down into the old, forgotten station. But then we did a little digging.
While searching for the above ground remnants of the old station, we read that even though the southbound 6 train’s last stop is at the new City Hall stop, and everyone has to get off there, the train still travels through the old City Hall station to loop around and head back north. We decided, laws be damned, we were going to try and ride the empty 6 around the loop, through the old station.
We took the 4 to the 6 and then went one stop north so we could then head back down to new City Hall station, heading south. We were in the front car, with the conductor a thin metal door away, and waited as everyone obeyed the automated voice asking everyone to depart the train, hoping we’d go unnoticed. And then the conductor opened the door and saw us. Not sure what to do, I asked, “Sir, can we ride through?”
The conductor looked at us for a beat and finally said, “You should move down to that window there, it’s taller. You’ll have a better view.” We thanked him, scurried over to the taller window, and planted our faces, and cameras, to the glass. The conductor then began the long slow loop into the dark. The grinding wheels, the squealing brakes, the pitch black. It was eerie and exciting, but we were prepared to miss the station entirely in the inky dark.
But the lights were on. First a tiled placard on the wall, in the dark. “City Hall.” Then a lit arch slowly rolled into view. The station was lit. Waiting down there in the dark for us, and our readers, and Brandon Lachmann. A strange, otherworldly beacon that brought tears to my eyes. I had dreamed of that secret place for decades, and there it was, looking back at us in the black. And then it was gone, and we emerged back into the northbound light.
The train came to a stop, and the conductor emerged, smiling in reaction to the smiles on our faces. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was holding back tears. Overwhelmed by the moment, for me, for you, overwhelmed by his kindness. And then he said, “I went as slow as I could so you could really see her.” And then we were off the train, surfacing in the cold. We’d just seen magic down there, below the streets of lower Manhattan. Magic in more ways than one.