Atlantic Avenue Tunnel Tour

Saturday, November 21, 2009, I joined an Open House New York tour of the abandoned Atlantic Avenue Tunnel, the oldest subterranean rail tunnel in the world. It runs for half a mile underneath Atlantic Avenue in the Cobble Hill neighborhood in Brooklyn. The tour was lead by Bob Diamond, who rediscovered the tunnel in 1981, and still leads tours to raise money and awareness to complete the excavation of the western end where there is rumored to be an overturned locomotive and the lost 18 pages of John Wilkes Booth’s diary containing vital information about Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.

I think this tour is an absolute must for jaded New Yorkers. It’s unlike anything else I’ve ever done in New York City, from the descent down a ladder into a manhole in the middle of the intersection of Atlantic Avenue and Court Street, to the fascinating history and storytelling of Bob Diamond. But this is a photography blog, so to learn more about the tunnel, visit the Brooklyn Historic Railway Assocation and Wikipedia.

I brought my camera not knowing what to expect, or if I’d even be motivated to take photos. I ended up wanting to shoot like crazy, but when I do that I find my ears shut down and I’d miss Bob Diamond’s amazing presentation. I was also hampered by the lack of light. The first half of the tunnel was lit with a string of far-spaced single incandescent bulbs powered by a generator on the street outside the manhole. The rest of the tunnel was lit by the flashlights we were all instructed to bring. I had my flash with me, but that wouldn’t have helped, as it would have illuminated the people near me but the light would have fallen off too soon to illuminate the tunnel as well. So I shot without flash at ISO 3,200. The photos are really noisy on enlargement, but they look okay in JPEGs on screen. Still, most of the photos came out blurry due to camera shake. I shot with my 16-35 mm f/2.8 lens wide open, but even at ISO 3200 I was shooting at speeds as slow as 1/4-second. You’ll notice lens flare in many photos, because I forgot to bring my lens hood, which could have helped to prevent a lot of it.

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