What’s Lurking Beneath Moscow?

The cartoon above depicts Moscow Metro chief Dmitry Gayev putting up a sign in the subway that translates to, “Checked, no ghosts!”

Like most cities that have a subway system, Moscow’s Metro has its share of urban legends.

The ones about paranormal activity in the Moscow Metro appear to be so prevalent that Gayev had to publicly dispel these rumors. In this Russian news article, he says (roughly translated)

The Metro is a very boring organization… there are no ghosts here, or anything like that. I’ve worked in the subway for 18 years and I have not seen any… At night, I have shouted “Where are you, dear?” and nobody has been found.

As Halloween draws near, let’s take a look at some Moscow subway tales that have had the Russians so spooked. Which one is the most popular?

After briefly surveying Russian blog entries such as this translated post, the winner seems to be the Ghost Train. It’s centered around a completely empty train that appears once a month after midnight, driven by prisoners who died while working on the construction of the subway.

This translated post lists more stories, including the Preobrazhenskaya Square Station, which is “built on the bones of the dead” – a huge cemetery, and rumored to be haunted by priests that were killed by Bolsheviks.

The post also mentions a tribe that lives underground, of people who once descended into the ground and has since lived there in the darkness.”

Russian blogger Anastasia Carroll gives an overview of the history of the mystique of the Moscow underground in her post here.

The Moscow underground is one of the most mysterious areas of Russia. The labyrinth under Moscow was started in XV century in the reign of Ivan the Terrible. He dug Russia along and across. Some tunnels led to the neighbor principalities hiding in their bosom mysterious stories and unrevealed facts and maybe treasures of Russian ancestors.

She also mentions diggers, who have explored the underground and have found deep dungeons, neolithic caves and “pilot objects that the diggers don’t want to talk about because they don’t have enough information.” It seems like these diggers are similar to what Americans call urban explorers.

In the second post of this series, Carroll talks about legends that these diggers have brought back to the surface. One of them is mutants – giant rats, ducks with fish skin, and weird insects.

They have also have brought back a fair share of ghost stories.

While exploring the tunnels underneath the Sklif medical institute, diggers have claimed that they encountered a ghost of a woman that appeared from a concrete wall. In an attempt to escape, one digger hit his head badly and they took him upstairs to the hospital. While waiting for the doctor, they were shocked to see on a wheelbed the body of the woman whose ghost they had just seen. She had died 30 minutes ago when the diggers were still underground.

I’ve never heard of ghosts in the subway during my eight year stay in New York City, but there is a widespread urban legend of the Mole People, which echoes the Russian underground tribe I mentioned earlier. The 1993 book by Jennifer Toth, The Mole People: Life in the Tunnels underneath New York City depicts vivid and harrowing images of individuals and communities living underneath the NYC subway system. A debate has been raging on since. Here’s an article from The Straight Dope that gives a pretty fair account on both sides.

The article ends with,

Parts of Toth’s book are true, parts of it aren’t, and you take your chances deciding which are which.

There are also stories about about people being attacked by giant killer rats in the NYC subways. I have personally witnessed an abnormally sized rat the size of a cat scurrying across the subway tracks. Luckily, it ran away instead of savagely biting off a chunk of my arm, but it fit the physical description pretty well. So, yeah, it’s most likely that parts of the rumors are true, and parts of them aren’t.