What would you think if you heard that there was a hidden, uncharted waterway right here in Central Connecticut? Would you believe there's a place where very few people have ever ventured, nevermind mapped? Could a place like this really exist?
Well, it does, and you can view the very first images of the subterranean environment at The Buttonwood Tree on Main Street in Middletown.
Many have a vague awareness that there is a river running underneath and through the center of Hartford. First called Little River by the Native Americans, the route was renamed the Hog River by the Dutch. An attempt was made in the mid-19th century to rename it to the more noble sounding Park River when Bushnell Park was opened, but that name never really stuck.
Those who know of its existence today still call it the Hog River, and it was truly buried alive.
The courageous Lewis and Clark of the Hog River exhibit are Joe McCarthy and Peter Albano, two artist-explorers trained in fine arts.
Albano, 23, a graduate of the University of Hartford, is an artist and digital photographer and earns his living as a waiter at Mezzo Grill in Middletown.
The team documented their first voyages in a short documentary called "Buried Alive," which was recently shown at Real Art Ways Cinema in Hartford, spurring a ton of local interest and an encore of the documentary.
"People don't even know that the largest subterranean river in the United States is underneath Hartford," McCarthy says. "There are nine miles of 35-by-45-foot tunnels that most people have never heard of, have never seen and have never mapped — they are literally uncharted waters. Our first goals are to map the routes and raise awareness that this natural resource exists."
About 40 people gathered last week The Buttonwood Tree for the opening of the collection from the first voyages of the Hog River.
Displays include original drawings mapping the subterranean tunnels, older maps of the original river, digital photographs inside the tunnels, and a photograph of Bushnell Park and the State Capitol, including the river exposed prior to its burial.
Found objects include a Titanic-evoking dinner plate still intact, rusted iron machine parts (evidence of a mill and factory past), and even a small pool of the river water itself, tempting visitors to dip their fingers into it like a vessel of holy water.
The centerpiece is the small rowboat the pair used to make the virgin voyages in, another "found" object that McCarthy discovered floating unmanned down the Connecticut River.
Albano shared that he was terrified the first time they entered the river's tunnels. "I wanted to leave; I felt claustrophobic. Sensory deprivation occurs within only a few hundred meters with total darkness. The air is stale. Every sound is amplified and echoes; you'll hear a drip of water for miles before you finally reach it. It is very surreal; without any light your worst fears come out. It took several journeys before I could relax and enjoy it as a peaceful experience."
Bob Dutcher, a familiar face in Middletown and self-described "surfer, writer and former lawyer," said he came to the exhibit because of a brief attempt he made to explore the tunnels himself.
"I, too, have been a boatman down the River Styx! But only for about a half a mile before I turned around. With no light, you begin to fill in the blanks in the canvas with all of your worst fears. It's really scary in there!"
Dutcher comments about the exhibit, "To turn this exploration into an artistic production is genius — and isn't that what art is all about anyway? Seeing what others don't see?"
Visitor Maud Cronkhite, an artist from East Granby, said, "The photographs are absolutely surreal and it's such a fascinating subject."
Digital prints range from $75 to $400. The boat is for sale at $800. Funds will be used to finance future expeditions and river advocacy efforts.
The exhibit runs through July 31. For information about the history of the Hog River, see here.
Related Topics: , , , , , , and