In the very first post on this blog, now 6 (!) years ago, I mentioned my strange encounter with a security guard deep in the Portland subway system. It was that encounter that helped to encourage me to write this blog in the first place.
Subways have always been a fascination of mine. Living abroad as a kid, I have memories of pressing my face against the windows of the London and Tokyo metro systems and imagining all kinds of things lurking in the darkness beyond. When I moved to New York City, one of the first things I did was to look into legends of the “mole people” living in hidden cities in abandoned parts of the MTA (it turns out there are some, but often they are just people that needed help).
So really, it was only a matter of time before I got to a post like this. I’ve never been to Moscow, but have heard about the beauty of its metro system, as well as about the host of urban legends connected to it. I’ve also had a great time watching my husband play Metro Exodus while attempting to learn to crochet (really, the humanimals are a lesser horror), so it felt like this full moon was a perfect time to take a look.
What lies beneath
The Moscow Metro system (or Metropolitén) opened in 1935, and is considered to be one of the most beautiful underground systems in the world. Many stations practically double as underground art museums. The whole thing was built during the Stalinist era, with an eye toward showing off Soviet power. All of the metro’s gilded sculptures and murals are impressive enough. But dig into legends, and you’ll discover that these stations deep beneath the surface might be only just the surface.
“Metro-2” is a second, hidden train system said to be buried below the one that the people of Moscow use every day. Also constructed by Stalin in the 1930’s, it was built to accommodate Soviet citizens in case of war, offering protection 45 stories below Moscow’s streets. Legends about what this “metro system” is vary. It could be a handful of tube lines connecting different cities, a secret passageway for officials, or even an entire hidden city complete with food and swimming pools.
While Metro-2 is shrouded in secrecy, some officials haven’t denied its existence. In 1991, the US Department of Defense wrote a report about an extensive underground installation network linked by subterranean transit under Moscow and its suburbs, which sounds an awful lot like Metro-2.
There are many tales of enthusiasts disappearing when they’ve gone looking for it. The “diggers” that have come back report hearing the sounds of KGB boots around alleged Metro-2 entrances. One even said that her friend was shot when they got too close.
So it is very possible that there really is a Metro-2. As Atlas Obscura points out, Russian leaders have a history of impressive subterranean projects. The Metropolitén is one itself, but Metro-2 might be something more.
Welcome to the underworld
You know how you probably shouldn’t build a house above a burial ground? Well, you might not want to build a subway station (or multiple subway stations) below one, either. But that’s what the Metropolitén constructors did.
Ghost stories abound. There have been encounters with people from out of time–Muscovites, Civil War soldiers, people on horseback. Staff have reported bloodied WWII soldiers wandering around Sokol station in the wee hours of the morning. A girl in a bright dress who ran into the tunnels to escape a group of drunkards still peers out of the dark. A conductor who was burned into a charred husk wanders the tracks in a rage, seeking revenge on his supervisors that blamed him for the accident.
On September 9, 1999, just after midnight, five women riding in a car on the orange line suddenly lost consciousness. A male passenger filmed the face of a young woman peering at them from outside the train. One year earlier to the day, a young woman had lost consciousness at a station along that line, and fell under an approaching train.
The most haunting (😏) story involves your worst fear re: escalators. In 1982, a loosened chain on one in the Aviamotornaya station resulted in the stairs suddenly pulling apart. Some people plummeted into the 150-foot shaft beneath them; others were ground into the machinery. Still more were killed as the commuters stampeded over each other in an effort to escape. Meanwhile, the escalator kept running. The workers responsible for keeping an eye on it were absent.
All in all, there were about 30 dead. So now, naturally, gore-covered ghosts wander the station, terrified and missing their hands.
A dark zoo
Ghosts aren’t the only thing wandering around the Metropolitén. Much like there are supposedly alligators in the New York subway system, Moscow’s boasts massive, radioactive rats. These glow in the dark, and will maul railway workers that get separated from their group.
Tourist sites report that the Metropolitén “is also rumored to be filled with extraordinary flora and fauna,” to the point that university groups will travel down into it to get interesting things to study.
In a less uncanny twist, there are (and this is 100% real, yo) dozens of stray dogs that will ride the subway with you. These cuties (and fatties, if this video is to be believed) have mastered the complex system as well as any commuter, and will go back and forth from the suburbs into the city center in search of food and friendly pets. No word on how they fare against radioactive rats.
Train to nowhere
The Metropolitén looks something like a spiderweb, with strands criss-crossing and radiating out of a circle that holds it all together. It is on that circle that, in the wee hours of the morning, a silent ghost train runs. Its cars are styled like the ones from the 1940’s. Depending on the night, they are either full of grim, grey-suited passengers, or are glaringly empty. The train stops at every station, but only rarely do its doors open to let the living aboard.
Much has been made of this train. Some say that it ferries the souls of people who died building the metro under Stalin. Others say that the train’s purpose is not to transport old souls, but to collect new ones.
There is a Youtube video claiming to show the train at the Polezhaevskaya metro station.* In the video, a semi-transparent train drifts into the station, lights glowing in the dim. A “mysterious” (and very difficult to see, IMHO) man gets off, while living passengers continue about their business unawares. Then the train pulls away, disappearing as if it was never there.
One thing is certain: if you’re on the platform late at night, and an old, ghostly train does pulls up, and its doors do open, it would be best to stand away from the platform edge. Even if you’re not stupid enough to straight-up walk in, if you stand too close, its passengers might make your choice for you.
So what do you think? Would you descend into the world of the Metropolitén? Or would you prefer to take the bus? Let me know in the comments below.
*The video was later used to try to prove the existence of a Chinese ghost train, but it seems like it was originally used for the Russian one. It’s fun to pretend that it’s totally not using the classic double-exposure trick that’s the oldest in the book.
IMAGE CRED: Abderrahman Ait Ali for the fancy ceiling; Anakin (not the pod-racer) for all the underground; Sansculotte for the real (I think) Aviamotornaya escalator; and Kucharek for the ambient inside of a car.