First, he was Indiana Jones — now railroad history buff Bob Diamond wants to become Geraldo Rivera.
Early next year, Diamond, best known for discovering a long-abandoned trolley tunnel under Atlantic Avenue almost 30 years ago, will bash through a wall, enter a second portion of the passageway and discover an old steam locomotive.
Oh, and he’ll also find the pages of John Wilkes Booth’s diary that reveal who hired him to shoot Abraham Lincoln.
“They could be in there,” said Diamond, whose status as a true Brooklyn legend was burnished in 1981 when he crawled into a manhole in front of what is now the Court Street Trader Joe’s and found a tunnel running between Columbia and Boerum Place — a relic of an old New York City to Boston line on the Long Island Rail Road.
“The first time I crawled into that tunnel, I felt like Indiana Jones,” said Diamond. “I am nervous with anticipation of what will happen this time.”
Ah, this time. Diamond believes there are riches — well, historical ones, at least — inside the sealed-off portion of the tunnel because it was once common practice for railroads to simply leave old equipment in obsolete tunnels.
And the intrigue about Booth’s diary may sound a bit far-fetched, but historical novelist G.J.A. O’Toole wrote in his 1979 detective thriller “The Cosgrove Report,” that the missing pages of the assassin’s journal were hidden in a steel box under Atlantic Avenue.
Next to a lost steam locomotive.
O’Toole is long dead, so it fell to Diamond to put two and two together — and then get National Geographic interested in financing, producing and staffing an archeological dig that appears set for January.
Diamond is almost certain that the steam locomotive will turn up inside the tunnel, which was last used in 1861. Experts say there’s a chance he’s right.
“There are always rumors about buried locomotives,” said Barry Smith, vice president of the National Rail Road Association, “but I have heard a few that were true and the locomotives recovered.”
Borough historian Ron Schweiger was very excited about the prospects of finding the train, but compared the event to Geraldo Rivera’s much-anticipated opening of gangster Al Capone’s safe in 1981.
“After all the hype around the vault, Geraldo opened the safe and it was empty except for dust,” said Schweiger. “So who knows what’s in there? But I wish them luck.”
Whether or not it contains the artifacts, Diamond’s tunnel has already played an important role in American history — or maybe just American historical fiction.
In 1916, the Bureau of Investigation broke into the tunnel in search of bomb-making German soldiers (naturally, there were none). And in 1925, it inspired Red Hook resident sci-fi author H.P. Lovecraft to pen the “Horror At Red Hook” about vampires in the tunnel (which turned out to be, alas, a work of fiction).
After that, the tunnel was almost forgotten — until the then-18-year-old Diamond rediscovered it.
Since then, Diamond has given irregularly scheduled tours of the open section of the conduit, but the rest has remained hidden behind that three-foot-thick stone wall.
National Geographic segment director and producer Trey Nelson declined to comment on what he expects to find on the big dig until all funding and permits are secured, but he did confirm the plan to break ground early next year.
As for Booth’s missing diary pages, Schweiger worries it might indeed be a case of historical fiction.
“I have absolutely no idea what it would be doing in there,” he said.
Bob Diamond’s next public tour of the tunnel will be on Sunday, Sept. 27. Call (718) 941-3160 for reservations and information or visit www.brooklynrail.net.
©2009 Community News Group
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