The lost cow tunnels (?!) of NYC

Nicola Twilley of the great site Edible Geography recently revisited a fascinating topic she’d previously covered at her blog: historic cow tunnels. As she notes, “at the request of new Gizmodo Editor-in-Chief Geoff Manaugh … I opened up my cow tunnel case file again, and dug up some exciting new evidence — including blueprints!”

As she details in the opening of the Gizmodo article,

Like every other major metropolis, New York City has tunnels for people, tunnels for cars, and lots of tunnels for trains. But it also has something rather more unique: tunnels for cows. Or does it? This is the story of New York’s lost, forgotten, or perhaps just mythical subterranean meat infrastructure.

The first time I came across a mention of the city’s cow tunnel(s) was in Raising Steaks, historian Betty Fussell’s study of beef and its role in American culture. The underground structure (or structures, depending on whose version of the story you believe) was supposedly built at the end of the nineteenth century: an infrastructural response to the cow-jams that had begun to block streets in the Meatpacking District of Manhattan. (The increased quantity of cattle arriving in the city was due, in part, to another infrastructural innovation: the railway.)

Twilley documents her efforts to confirm the existence of this unique piece of America’s food system with her usual verve and her flair for great accompanying imagery. Check out the full piece here.

From “The Manhattan abattoir,” by V. L. Kingsbury, 1877, published in Harper’s Weekly, via the New York Public Library.


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