Mole people. They’re people who fascinate us in a rather strange way. They’re people who live in the same cities as us, but don’t live in the way we think. They don’t live in houses or apartments, or in trailers or boathouses, or even on the streets. They don’t work jobs like we do, if they have jobs at all. They live hidden from us. Out of sight, out of mind for most people. They’re a mystery, an enigma of modern society. In H.G. Wells’ book The Time Machine he described the Morlocks, a race of people who lived entirely underground and couldn’t come up during the day time. In Walt Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame they had the court of miracles. Sylvester Stallone’s Demolition Man had another group of people with an entire civilization within a civilization underground. Even child friendly fare like the Box Troll and Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles made living in sewers not only awesome, but surprisingly hygienic as well (I actually WANTED to explore sewers as a kid because of that).
People living underground, right under our noses. Not just squatting in some empty hole in the ground or living under bridges like fairy tale trolls. Stories about people like that have captivated our collective imagination in many ways. The best part about this? They’re real. They might not be as fantastical or as expansive as Box Trolls, but they’re real, and the people who live there are real. The hardships that they face are real, and the stories they have and the things they’ve created down there are just as real.
One of the biggest and most interesting of these mole people is those living in the expansive flood tunnels underneath Las Vegas, Nevada. Now we’re going to look at 15 of the most interesting facts about this very specific group of underground dwellers.
15. There Is A Virtual City Underneath The Strip
Las Vegas is a very strange city when you think about it. It is in the middle of the Mojave Desert, one of the harshest deserts on earth. The name Las Vegas translates to ‘The Meadows’ in Spanish. Does it have an oasis there? I’m not sure, but it’s an oddly ironic name for a city that, in all rights, shouldn’t even be there. There were barely a few hundred, or thousand people there at the most, before gambling was legalized in 1931, and it just exploded in both significance and population ever since.
The neon lights of Las Vegas Strip, and Las Vegas in general, are the brightest human-made objects on earth. No joke. An astronaut from orbit can see Las Vegas at night, and possibly even from the moon. And right underneath all those bright shining lights is another city that surface dwellers don’t know about. Beneath the 1000 miles of flood tunnels underneath the city that was built in the 1990s, there are anywhere from 500 to 1000 people living, hidden from society. Most right underneath the dazzle of the Las Vegas Strip. It would be something out of a cheesy horror movie if it wasn’t so real.
14. It Has Existed For Years
There weren’t always people living in the tunnels of Las Vegas, largely because the flood tunnels didn’t exist until the 1990s when they were built. But it wasn’t long before the downtrodden of Las Vegas made their way there. We aren’t entirely sure how long they’ve been there, but it is a safe bet to say ‘the beginning’ is the most apt answer. Matthew O’Brien, the author of the book Beneath the Neon: Life and Death in the Tunnels of Las Vegas has based his book on more than 12 years of direct research on the people who live in the floor tunnels, and that’s just the time he spent researching an already existing people. Just how long have they been there? And more importantly, just how many people have actually spent all these decades living there?
What must it be like to spend decades living underground? These people DO leave the flood tunnels at times to get what they need and make a living, of course. But just the sheer isolation and ability to live as an urban hermit in one of the largest metropolitan cities in the world. It must be a very, very unique way to live. I’ve actually wondered how people did it for decades before, but now there are actual people you can talk to who can answer those questions.
13. People Have Lived And Died There
The life of homeless people isn’t easy. You’re at the mercy of the elements, the cold, the hot, the sun, the rain, and a million other conditions that make life remarkably hard for people who don’t have a permanent home with decent facilities to take care of themselves with.
People who have lived away from society have died in their makeshift underground homes. Whether it’s from drug overdose, as sadly is quite often among people who’re extremely down on their luck, or from other more natural conditions that would easily overcome the people there as they would have had a very limited time (or ability) to get emergency medical services on time (or at all. Going down the maze like tunnels to evacuate someone is no easy task). But these are not the biggest dangers that are in the flood tunnels
12. The Biggest Threat? Desert Rain
So what is the biggest danger that the underground Las Vegan dweller? It’s not the isolation, it’s not the drugs. It’s not the authorities or other criminals. It isn’t even the living conditions. All of these can make life very difficult for anyone. But the biggest danger is… the desert rain.
Given that they are living in flood tunnels that were specifically designed to contain these rains, and not for people to live in. It doesn’t rain often in the desert, but when it does, the tunnels can become flooded very quickly, and are turned from rather ramshackle, makeshift homes to death traps. The community living underneath the Las Vegas strip are in a state of constant dread of the flooding that occasionally happens. They actually developed their own system of communicating with one another in order to warn each other when it happens.
Sadly, it doesn’t always work. On August 3rd, 2016, a flood did happen, and unfortunately, 3 of the people died that day in the flood. Many were injured as a result. This is one aspect of underground living that all the fantastical movies and TV shows we have seen do not touch upon.
11. They Live On Forgotten Gambling Money
For all their low-cost lifestyles, what is the means that these people earn their living? All the things they have cannot always be obtained by dumpster diving. They also need things like food, which are things you generally don’t want to get from a dumpster. While some of them do have some regular (if menial) jobs, others are more enterprising… and creative in ways few people are.
One individual called Steven puts on his best set of second-hand clothes and then goes into the casinos and looks for chips that were accidentally left behind by gamblers leaving. He claims to have found over 997 dollars at one point. The usual amount of money that they take home from such a trip is 50$, which would be enough to buy them food to last a week.
10. And Sometimes Gamble It Away Themselves
Las Vegas is the world’s most famous gambling capital in the world, and while many of the tunnel dwellers do surface to scrounge for cash among the lights and the machines… and sometimes fall prey the allure and end up joining the gamblers in losing their money again, instead of taking it back home and trying to live on it.
It’s sadly a reality for a lot of them as well. This isn’t due to a lack of priorities, but the addiction is real… and addiction is often the reason why they ended up in that place in life to begin with. Steve, the guy we spoke about earlier who once found 997$ in the machines? He ended up homeless and living in the tunnels due to heroin addiction, and losing 50 or 100$ at the gambling tables is a small cry compared to the level of addiction that’s found elsewhere. Though they still end up losing money that could have been useful elsewhere.
9. They Create Art Down There
The flood tunnels are, by default, drab and extremely Spartan in appearance. This is done for very obvious reasons… the flood tunnels were designed to contain the floods from the rains, and not be habitable in any way. However the plain appearance of the walls doesn’t mean that they cannot be transformed into something else. Something beautiful and interesting.
The artwork that they created on the tunnel walls is nothing short of amazing. These artworks are done similar to sanctioned street art on buildings, but are done with the finesse of fine arts paintings. Others are collages of cut outs that are tapped into place to form scenes… and others are simply the true inner feelings of the artists, which show the anguish they underwent while in rehab (or not being able to go into rehab).
8. They Even Have A Foundation Dedicated To Them
The underground people of Las Vegas are also unique among most underground dwellers in that they are not only among the best documented case of mole people in the modern world, but they also have a foundation that was dedicated to bringing light to their existence in the dark flood tunnels underneath Las Vegas.
Shine a Light foundation was started by Matthew O’Brien, the same author behind the book Beneath the Neon: Life and Death in the tunnels of Las Vegas. Not only has the organization brought a lot of attention and assistance to them, but has been directly responsible behind a lot of their art projects (and let’s face it, paint is not cheap. All those creations they made need a lot of cans of spray paint for them to turn out the way they do).
7. There Are Children Living There
So this lifestyle they lead is hard. According to one individual who was living there, he said he was 52 years old, but felt like he was 76. Life is very hard when you’re homeless and forced to live in such circumstances. But many of these people are full-grown adults. Whether hard on their luck, have made a lot of mistakes, or succumbed to drug addiction, they are adults… and there surely cannot be homeless children now, can there?
But according to Matthew O’Brien, there have been rumors of children that have been living with some of the adults. Most likely the children of the homeless adults, but they’ve been notoriously difficult to find. Matthew said that he found children’s toys and other amenities down there that adults don’t really need, and he did say that the adults living there do make their best to protect them and keep them out of sight.
Just what must be like to have to spend time there among the tunnels of Las Vegas? Even relatively poor children would have relatively normal childhood memories. Growing up in a dark underground place is definitely a unique experience, but probably not the best for very obvious reasons.
6. They have full on furnished apartments
Perhaps calling the underground dwellers as ‘homeless’ might be a misnomer if you’ve seen the type of furnishings they have kept you’d think that they were trying to win a ghetto apartment competition. Joking aside, many of them, at least those who are clearly intending to stay for a long time, have clearly went through a massive effort in order to make their homes as livable as possible. Obviously with little to no money to spend, the extent of just how much furnishings they have gathered out of scourging and using discarded material to make a rather surprisingly livable place is unbelievable.
Some, as pictures above, even have a queen sized bed that’s been put on a rather stable elevated platform in order to protect the fabric against the occasional floods. While they might not have much, they have discovered a talent for fabricating things from close to nothing. It’s sad how some people’s creativity seems to flourish only when they have hit rock bottom.
5. It’s Amazingly Cold Down There Despite The Desert Heat
Las Vegas, if it needs repeating again, is in the middle of the Mojave Desert. Deserts are not known for being cool or having nice pleasant weather (and I know this, having grown in a coastal desert area). But you wouldn’t know that if you walked down in the tunnels. It could be 100 degrees (Fahrenheit since it’s the US) outside, but it could be as much as 25 degrees colder within the tunnels. In fact, it can be so cold at times that some of the homeless just put their packaged meat products on the ground because it is cold enough to act as a makeshift refrigerator and keep their food fresh for longer.
This is probably the biggest reason why the homeless of Las Vegas chose to live underground. The tunnels are cool enough to be comfortable and they are protected from the harsh sun outside. Pretty logical if you ask me.
4. The authorities are unconcerned about them…
For all the attention that the tunnel dwellers have received over the years, and for all the history of police involvement in removing people who live in underground locations (or attempts thereof) such as in New York City, it would seem like a matter of time before the Las Vegas PD would swarm in and remove the residents.
But the strangest thing is, I don’t think the authorities care. Not just the police, but the people involved with making sure that the tunnels are fully functional in their original task. I have not been able to find a single news report or any such posting anywhere that even implied that the authorities are anything but completely apathetic to the people living in the tunnels.
Even after we’ve seen the organization, the book, the charity raised… their entire reaction to this doesn’t even amount to a single solitary ‘meh’. It seems like with the complete lack of interest from the authorities, this one mole community is there to stay for a good long time.
3. Most are there only temporarily
Most of the homeless who live there are temporarily that way. These are people who are down on their luck and just need a place to stay. This isn’t something that most of them intend to do for the long term. This is for very obvious reasons… a lot of these people have the skills and qualifications to get decent jobs, but they have not been able to for a while, or they have suffered some misfortune that caused them to lose everything and wind up where they are. So it’s apparent that these people will likely only be living in the flood tunnels for a few months at the most before getting off the streets and starting afresh again.
2. But Some Permanently Live there
For a small group of the underground dwellers, there are some that are simply never going to leave the tunnels. This isn’t a result of a lack of ambition or skills or addiction or mental illness. But these people have, in the simplest terms imaginable, decided to reject society as much, if not more, than it rejected them. These are the people who have been living there for more than 10 or more years and outright have said that if they went anywhere else, they’d end up homeless again, and thus would rather stay where they are homeless and known, instead of being homeless and unknown.
There’s a special sort of thing that goes on in the minds of these people. There’s a saying that most people don’t truly understand freedom, and those who do simply cannot live in society as we know it. Are these the people who truly understand freedom? Or maybe they’re the ones who understand society more than anyone else.
1. Charities Raised 15,000$ in 24-hours To Help
Shine a Light foundation is one of the few dedicated charities that are made for one very specific set of homeless people. A few years ago they had managed to accomplish something that seemed rather difficult to believe. I actually lost the link to this, but I had uncovered that a charity that was raising money for the homeless of Las Vegas had raised no less than 15,000$ dollars in no more than 24 hours to aid the poor and destitute that are living within the flood tunnels.
This is a massive testament to the good will of the average person, and the hard work from people like Matthew O’Brien who had spent a massive portion of his life to bring awareness to what was going on down there beneath the glitz and glamor of Las Vegas.
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