Now and then, the Transit Museum sponsors a tour of old City Hall station. That hallowed, buried place. ForgottenNY visited a while back and I just went in December.
You wait on the platform at the current City Hall station and a train takes you into the loop, where the #6 turns around before heading back uptown.
The loop is where it's all happening. It's the backstage area, behind the curtain, where the wonder lies. You climb out on a wooden bridge and the train roars away, screaming around the curved track, leaving you behind in the semi-dark, in shadows lit by dusty chandeliers and bare bulbs that trace the City Hall arch like lights around an ingenue's dressing-room mirror.
You stand in the former waiting area, in the smell of chlorine, like an indoor swimming pool, while the guide gives his schpiel. They hand out earplugs because this may be the noisiest place in the entire subway system. Train on curved track is a nightmare of sound, all twisted metal and skull-ripping buzz saw.
In the intervening quiet, in the claustrum of that room, you may feel your bowels contract and the breath go out of your lungs. It's a catacomb feeling, a bit claustrophobic. You look up, at the sunlight coming through the stunning jewel of glass above, and exhale. This is what New York used to be.