Sunday, April 18, 2010
The West Portal Tunnel Calamity
Entrances to Hell in San Francisco #866
As indicated earlier in this series, those unfortunate riders who are condemned to surrender themselves daily to the foul grasp of the San Francisco Muni have ample reason to project it as a particularly truculent manifestation of hellishness. Who amongst us has not experienced the manifold perils and indignities suffered on board the J-Lurch, or died of boredom on the N-Judas as it treacherously and glacially makes its lonesome way to Ocean Beach, or paused to observe one’s fingernails grow while waiting for the 19-Polk-a-long bus line to show up? And which of us can restrain feelings of sincerest sympathy with those compelled to place their physical economies at risk while riding the 22-Feel More?
But the quiet scene pictured above at Market and Collingwood bears silent witness to a far more sinister history. One week in 1971 the police were deluged with reports of missing persons who, expected home for dinner by their spouses, disappeared without notice during the evening rush hour. The police were called in and quickly established that the missing commuters were daily patrons of the same three Muni underground lines: the L-Terrible, the M-Motionsick and the K-Homicide.
It soon became obvious that the passengers had disappeared somewhere inside the West Portal Tunnel. A team of sewer inspectors and experts from the UC Berkeley School of Mining were quickly dispatched to investigate. Alas, despite extensive investigation, no trace of the railway cars with their cargo of vanished riders was discovered. It was suggested later that the their true destiny may have been suppressed by the authorities, since traces of sulfurous fumes hovering over human skeletal remains were detected in the tunnel for months afterwards.
Today we know that the same authorities had indeed conspired to cover up the true fate of the doomed passengers. Moving quickly to shut down the tunnel, a new one was constructed with doubly reinforced fire-proof walls, its length now extended down Market Street to the Ferry Building.
Nothing is left today to remind us of this horrible episode except a peaceful image of grass-covered rails and a barricaded corridor leading into the bowels of Hell beneath our beloved city.
[Thanks Lew Ellingham and F.S. Rosa.]