Life Underground and alligators in the sewers

 Thirty years ago the Metropolitan Transit Authority started their Arts for Transit program in an attempt to lighten up everyone’s commute with both beautiful and whimsical artwork placed throughout the city’s subway stations. Mosaics, glass, bronze and other materials now adorn the previously decaying and forgotten walls and corridors of our subways.

Located in the 14th Street and 8th Avenue station are over 100 little cast-bronze sculptures depicting life in NYC.  Every day, more than 30,000 people walk through this Subway Station at rush hour, passing by his little bronze sculptures.


The sculptures are located in unexpected places: under stairs or pillars, on railings, on benches and  suppose to surprise commuters. Most of these  bronze figures are no more than 8 inches tall.
Life Underground   is a permanent public artwork created by American sculptor Tom Otterness for New York Subway. It was commissioned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Arts for Transit program for US$200,000 — one percent of the station's reconstruction budget. 


Otterness drew inspiration for his characters from New York’s Tammany Hall era, when powerful political bosses ruled the city. He also looked to the work of famous caricaturist Thomas Nast. Images of coins, tokens and moneybags are present in most of the figures.

 Before installing the sculptures, Otterness built a full-scale model of the 14th Street subway station steps in his studio.



 The work took 10 years to complete and the artist ended up making four times the amount of work he was originally commissioned to create.   He said, "I kept putting more and more work in. I put probably five times what they paid me to put in. Finally my wife stopped me..."




One of the bronze sculptures  on the station makes reference to the old legend of alligators in the sewers.  It's long been rumored there are thriving colonies of alligators lurking in New York City's sewer system.  According to the tale in 1930s wealthy people brought baby alligators back from Florida vacation.  But when the funny pet grew they flushed them  down the toilet. The alligators eat sewer rats and became bigger and bigger. 


Meyer Berger, reporter,  who wrote the About New York column for The Times, recounted in 1957 that in the mid-1930s, sewer alligators “seemed to thrive below the pavement” in “rather frightening numbers.”  The column  added: “They were destroyed systematically and the threat of an alligator invasion died away.” In 1959 the writer Robert Daly published a book  "The world beneath the city". In this book he told about the interview with the superintendent of  New York Sewiering  System who claimed to see alligators. Other books continued the legend.

You can find the works by Otterness  in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and  the Guggenheim Museum in New York.  But it is much better to go to the Subway and try to find all of the  almost 150  small bronze figures.