The Raleigh Underground: An Abandoned Mall Right Beneath Our Feet
If you were born before the 1960’s, you probably already knew that there’s an entire underground mall, abandoned and decomposing beneath downtown Raleigh.
However, if, like me, you were born in the 1980’s and beyond, you’re probably saying: Say what, now???
A friend of mine first discovered the strange blueprints online, and we pored over it for hours like a lost treasure map. What was this place? I grew up in Raleigh, just like my mom and grandmother, and I’ve spent countless sunny Saturdays wandering around the shops of Cameron Village. According to these mysterious blueprints, I’d been walking on top of a tomb: The Raleigh Underground. The Village Subway. It was a labyrinth of shops, head shops, bars, and clubs–sealed away, decades ago, so that no one in my generation had ever heard of this once thriving music scene that made the city of Raleigh a headquarters for a growing punk music culture in the 1980’s.
So, looking at the blueprint, we tried to figure out where the entrance would have been. A little research revealed the main entrance, a staircase designed to look like a NYC Subway entrance, had been paved over. But there had to be other entrances, right? Examining the small map, we decided at least one entrance was probably attached to where the Fresh Market currently stands.
Were we right? Are we wrong? Honestly, I don’t know, since it’d be tricky to ask managers if we could rummage around in their basement.
For a first person-perspective, I decided to ask my mom if she remembered the Raleigh Underground. After all, she’d actually worked at the Party Shop in Cameron Village. But she was as surprised as I was to discover she’d been working above the catacombs of an old mall and music scene from decades ago.
However, the discussion did raise up an old memory, which became a clue.
“Actually,” she explained, “I remember one night at work, when I had to move some boxes into our storage room. Way in the back, I saw an elevator. It wasn’t like a modern elevator. It was one of those old-timey ones that you have to crank to lower or raise. I wondered why on earth there was an old-timey elevator in the back of our storage and where it would go.”
A clue: While the main stairwell is sealed, one remaining entrance is located in the back of the Party Shop. And one is behind the Fresh Market. I’ve always wondered if it’d be possible to go down there and explore. I love exploring old Raleigh legends: The Orphanage. That constantly moving Giant off Louisville Road. The Ratcliff Angel in Oakwood Cemetary. The urban explorer in me longed to know more about the Raleigh Underground.
I had better luck with my Dad, who remembered attending concerts in the 1970’s. Jimmy Buffet, Pat Benatar, The Ramones, and R.E.M., along with dozens of other punk bands played there back in the day. But fire codes, safety liability, and a somewhat lively drug scene ultimately made the Raleigh Underground a piece of history. After a bit of searching, I found this informative piece about the rise and fall of the underground (shout out to Goodnight Raleigh for their original article! ).
But there are other, more sinister theories about the reason the Village Subway had to be abandoned. This video shows clusters of “sewer monsters” clumping together in the pipes around Cameron Village.
They appear to be globs of annelid worms, growing among the underground sewage system right near the deserted mall shops and clubs of the Subway.
Yet more mystery surrounds the paint-peeling walls of this underground remnant. This article on Goodnight Raleigh explains that the crackling music scene was originally constructed as a bomb shelter during the Cold War.
Given that the Capitol Building has a series of escape tunnels beneath the ground, it seems likely that there may even be entrances to this enormous bomb shelter inside the Capitol itself.
With all that in mind, who knows what else may be laying right beneath our feet?
It’s an urban explorer’s paradise.
I’d love to hear from some of you who remember the Raleigh Underground or the Village Subway, or who have pictures from back in the day. I’d also really love to hear from anyone who knows how to get down there to get a few pictures and explore a bit.
And to all you urban explorers and legend-lovers, what myths and mysteries of the Triangle keep you up at night? This is definitely one of mine.