Digging the subway reveals a buried treasure

The men who dug the city’s sewers and subway tunnels in the late 19th and early 20th centuries came across some fascinating finds.

Among these are fossilized mastodon bones, the hull of a Dutch ship from 1613, and an ostrich egg–size gemstone dubbed the subway garnet.

Okay, so it’s not the Hope Diamond. But it’s about the same size (9 lbs), has 20 facets, and is quite a sparkly, striking crystal.

“In August 1885, a reddish-brown alamandite garnet weighing 9 pounds, 10 ounces was uncovered beneath West 35th Street, near Broadway,” explains a 1998 New York Times article.

“It is about seven inches in diameter—by all accounts the largest garnet found in Manhattan, and, said Joseph J. Peters, a geologist for the American Museum of Natural History, one of the largest ever found in the country.”

Its name may be a misnomer: research suggests it was dug up during a sewer excavation, used as a doorstop for the Department of Public Works, then given to a geologist who recognized its value (currently about $2000). The subway garnet belongs to the American Museum of Natural History.

[Subway photo: NYPL Digital Collection]

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