Historic Tunnel Found From Fort Schuyler to Queens

SUNY Maritime History Professor David Allen climbs down a hidden ladder at Fort Schuyler

The visitors have heard the urban legend about an escape passage built between Fort Totten in Queens, to Fort Schuyler in the Bronx, where the Long Island Sound and the East River meet. Historians, park rangers and common sense suggest it is a myth. The technology needed to build a tunnel under more than 100 feet of water, simply didn’t exist at the time, they maintain. But speculation has been stoked by tantalizing clues - including dead-ending corridors and walled-up chambers in both forts. The enduring tale prompted the History Channel to run a segment on it recently. David Allen, 53, is fascinated by the myth. When he’s not teaching history at SUNY Maritime College, housed in Fort Schuyler, he enjoys exploring the Throgs Neck fort’s complex maze of underground tunnels.

A few months ago, he discovered a passage that appears to go under the bay headed directly for Fort Totten. “Every legend is based in some fact,” Allen said, before climbing down a rusty ladder hidden in the school’s storage cabinet. “This may be the escape tunnel they designed for the fort.” Allen was referring to a cold, dank corridor in the bowels of Fort Schuyler. He carefully lowered himself onto a second ladder, this one made of rope, as he shined a flashlight into the mouth of the passageway.

To his left was a stairway leading to the fort’s center. On his right, the tunnel appeared to go deeper underground. It was filled with about 18 inches of water, rendering it impassable. But 150 years ago, the sea level was about 1-1/2 feet lower, Allen said. The tunnel would probably have been dry. SUNY Maritime Provost Joseph Hoffman said he saw a round, 4-footwide exit to what he believes was the tunnel about four years ago at the sea wall near the fort. But after exploring the area on a boat at low tide with the Daily News, Allen was unable to find it. Bronx historian Lloyd Ultan, 71, has heard of this passage. However, he’s adamant it doesn’t go anywhere. “It would lead people to believe it’s the beginning of the tunnel, but there isn’t any,” Ultan said. Fort Totten Urban Park Ranger Geoffrey Martin is equally skeptical. He tells curious visitors the technology needed to build such a tunnel didn’t exist during the Civil War. “It would have been very hard for them to cover this up,” he continued. And “there would have been no reason to build a tunnel like this.” The narrow and mildewing Fort Totten tunnel featured on the History Channel is a dead end, he said, instead of continuing on to Fort Schuyler.

Martin is convinced the Bayside fort’s bricked-up archway, which visitors believe could be the passage, is really a cistern or reservoir. Allen was able to slip a camera through the archway where a brick was missing and found what appears to be a room. The photos show what appears to be an exit in the corner leading toward the water, he said. But Allen may never know where it goes. The city Parks Department, which oversees Fort Totten, has no plans to open up the archway, officials said. Though he would like to believe the secret passage exists, Allen said there just isn’t enough evidence to persuade him. “There have been people looking for this thing for the last 100 years” he said. “Now it’s up to us to discover the truth.”

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With the price of the toll on the Throggs Neck I’m surpised a couple of domers did not try re-open or complete the tunnel across and just park their cars at Ft. Totten, now that would be creative.

Professor David Allen was one of my favorite teachers at Maritime. I’ve found a few artifacts myself on the campus, always wanted to go into the tunnels, but haven’t, a few good reasons. Also, its almost entirely inaccessible unless you have official backing of some sort to open them up. Not to mention the tide…

For a moment I thought the picture of the tunnel was real, but its obviously a sketch, bummer.

I heard that ““back in the day”” you could just climb down somewhere… I mean they have that staircase at the base of the bridge pillars that goes to something inside.

Everything that is not commonly traversed is pretty much locked up now, except the part of the fort behind the chapel. Then again it will probably be renovated into something considering how limited space on campus is.

If I remember correctly the part of the fort behind the chapel is the one place they should have locked up… or at least set up a wiz quiz station.

That’s the whole shebang, there’s no tunnel to Totten. I’ve checked every possible lead, so unless it’s through a hundred year old brick wall, that’s what there is.

Class of 91 here. There is the seawater flushing tunnel that supposedly ran across (North to South) through the fort under the center. Additonally there was a rain water sewer that ran around the circumferance of the inside wall. This collected the rain water from the roof of the fort and the parade grounds and dumped it into a collection sewer in the sub-basement of the center bastion. Additionally there is a tunnel under the transformer vault in the South Western Bastion. This tunnel is depicted in a drawing that I hope to post soon. Back in 98 I came back to the fort and scanned in several drawings. One drawing was a plan and elevation view of the mining casemate. This mining casemate is located in the concrete filled South West bastion of the fort. The tunnel ran from the old mine control “switchboard” where the transformer vault is today out to the waters edge where the cables dropped into the water. The tunnel merely went to the seawall and did not actually go under the water to Fort Totten. Let me see if I can resurect the old drawings from my old hard drive. There were also supposed to be tunnels that ran from the Fort back down towards the main campus. I suspect that some of the old houses get their steam via these old tunnels.

Also check out this link where I wrote about the tunnels over a decade ago :slight_smile:

The area behind the chapel was the location of another Endicot Era fortification. It contained a disappearing gun mount called Battery Gansevoort. The rooms behind the chapel are the shell and handling areas for this gun. The gun “tub” has been filled in all the way to the top with concrete. If one does a search under disappearing gun mounts (12") you can see the structure that is still under the filled in area on top of the demi-bastion.

Brendan Thompson ‘91’

Here is the casemate drawing. I hope it fits. Depicts state of completion of the stregthening of the torpedo casemate due to possibility of fire from City Island. I believe the upper casemates which were filled with sand have been emptied and that is where the planetarium is.

Hungry for more? I’ve got some drawings of the original magazine structure by the 1st class walk. The center bastion sewer. The disappearing gun mounts 12".

DAVID ALLEN IS FULL OF SHIT. I was at student at SUNY Maritime from August of 2007 until December 2008. I left the school to join the Marine Corps and left for boot camp in February of 2009. Allen pulled one of the most unprofessional stunts I have heard of. I would use his title of professor very lightly it more like thief. He literally took my research that I was compiling and updating him on while writing a research paper that was never completed about the history of the Fort and apparently used it and took credit for it. Mind blowing that this guy did this, you could imagine my face when I opened a letter from my mother while on Paris Island and this article was in it. The computer that I was using to write this paper and has all my research on has since crashed but I will get it fixed and this idiot will have to face the music
-Matthew Clinton