While it is generally accepted that some homeless people in large cities do indeed make use of accessible, abandoned underground structures for shelter, urban legends persist that make stronger assertions. These include claims that 'mole people' have formed small, ordered societies similar to tribes, numbering up to hundreds of people living underground year-round. It has also been suggested that these have developed their own cultural traits and even have electricity by illegal hook-up. The subject has attracted some attention from sociologists but is a highly controversial subject due to a lack of concrete evidence.
Jennifer Toth's 1993 book The Mole People: Life In The Tunnels Beneath New York City, written while she was an intern at the Los Angeles Times, is an account of her travels in the tunnels and interviews with tunnel dwellers. The book helped canonize the image of the Mole People as an ordered society living literally under people's feet, reminiscent of the Morlocks of science fiction writer H.G. Wells.
The book has met with criticism, primarily for the inaccuracy of geographical information, compounded by numerous factual errors and an apparent reliance on largely unverifiable 'urban myth'. The strongest criticism came from Joseph Brennan, a New York subway enthusiast who declared that none of the subway-specific facts described in Toth's book could be independently confirmed.
A widely-read reference to urban folklore, Cecil Adams's The Straight Dope, devoted two columns to the dispute. The first, published on January 9, 2004 after contact with Toth, noted the large amount of unverifiability in Toth's stories while declaring that the book's accounts seemed to be truthful. The second, published on March 9, 2004 after contact with Brennan, showed more skepticism to the basic facts about the existence of 'mole people' as a unique entity, based on the total unreliability of the subway data (unlike that of the tunnel dwellers, this did not necessarily need to be fictionalized or obscured for privacy reasons).
The 1994 short documentary film by Steven Dupler, Outside Society, went underground in New York to cover the homeless community living in the Amtrak tunnel, as well as the NYC subway system. It was awarded the Nombre D'Or Prize for Best Documentary in 1995 by the International Broadcasting Conference's Widescreen Film Festival in Montreux, and also received the United Nations' UNESCO Prize for Best Direction, Human Rights Programming, at the 1995 International Electronic Cinema Festival in Amsterdam. It was one of the earliest verite documentaries shot in HDTV.
An episode of Upright Citizens Brigade featured mole people, referred to as "Mole Men." "Excuse me? Is that moleman perfume you're wearing?" "What?" "I'm sorry, you smell just like a moleman."
An episode of The Jerry Springer Show featured this society.
The video game Deus Ex features a level where the player, while hunting terrorists, must enter a subway station controlled by Mole People.
The film Extreme Measures featured Mole People.
The film Subway (1985) featured Mole People.
The Documentary "In search of the mole people" was about underground homeless in New York subways.
One episode of the television show Law & Order: Special Victims Unit featured a community of homeless people living in New York City's abandoned subway tunnels. Among the group was a character named Samael ("Control," season five, episode nine).
The 1984 horror film C.H.U.D. features a society living under the streets of New York which is being preyed upon by an unknown killer.
The protagonist of Ralph Ellison's novel, Invisible Man, lived underground and tapped into the electric power grid.
The song "People Underneath" by Elf Power was inspired by the idea of Mole People.
The animated television series Futurama has a race of mutants living in the sewers of New New York.
Episode 16 of the first season of Bones, titled The Woman in the Tunnel, centers on a body found in the tunnel system under Washington, D.C.. In the tunnels a mole society lives, the leader of which is a prime suspect in the murder investigation.
An episode of Felicity featured Mole people walking through the subway past the stalled train.
The 2004 Law & Order Criminal Intent episode "In The Dark" involves the murder of several homeless people living in the tunnels of New York City.
In the second of the Friends episodes shot in Las Vegas, Ross tells Phoebe that an old woman winning money at a slots machine is probably "one of those people", meaning a 'lurker', to which Phoebe replies, "M-mole people?"
In Suzanne Collins' The Underland Chronicles, the books talk about a whole city underground with people living in it.
The Troglodytes in the French black comedy Delicatessen are a group of vegetarian rebels who live in the sewers.
In the book, Slake's Limbo, the main character lives for 121 days in hidden tunnels in the New York subway system.