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Cow Tunnels

The westernmost part of Manhattan, between 34th and 39th street, is pretty industrial. There’s a bus depot, a ferry terminal, and a steady stream of cars. But in the late 19th early 20th centuries, this was cow country. Cows used to be ferried across the Hudson River from New Jersey, herded across Twelfth Avenue (now the West Side Highway), and brought to this part of town to be made into beef. You’ve heard of the meat packing district. This was like the meat hacking district. It was nicknamed "Abattoir Place." It was a hive of bone boilers and hide stretchers and lard renderers. There was a disassembly line for every single part of a cow. As more and more cows were ferried to the slaughterhouses in Manhattan, it became impossible for passing herds to to coexist with Twelfth Avenue traffic. Not only did the number of cows increase, but so too had the number of carriages, and trains, and, eventually, cars. Cows were in the way. There were reports of epic cow jams on Twelfth avenue. That’s why people invented cow tunnels. Or at least the story of cow tunnels. At one point there might have actually been tunnels made expressly for cows to march underneath Twelfth Avenue to the abattoir. Or people might have just invented this crazy story about cow tunnels because everybody loves a good, vaguely plausible urban myth. We have tunnels for cars, for subways, electrical cables, and the internet. Could there be subterranean infrastructure for cows, too?

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