Within minutes of the premiere of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Kimmy, played by Ellie Kemper, is rescued from an underground bunker she shares with three other women. The four ladies, who have been told by a manipulating man that the Apocalypse has occurred and they are the survivors, are brought back into civilization after being separated from it for so long. This is where Kimmy and her "sisters" get the name "Indiana Mole Women." Hilarity ensues as Kimmy has to re-invent herself in Manhattan after being ignorant to the world for 15 years, as you can imagine a lot has changed since the ominous Y2K. But the concept isn't just for laughs: "Mole People" are very much a real thing.
A "Mole Person" is someone who lives beneath the surface of a big city's streets. For Kimmy and her "sisters" — and for comedic reasons — their bunker was in the middle of a field in Indiana, which is probably not the most accurate depiction of Mole People. But, the urban legend of Mole People is actually true. There is a great deal of evidence to suggest that there is a community of people living underground, mostly in the subway tunnels, who are able to live off of what they can find above and below ground. And in case you're looking at the ground wondering if there are Mole People under your feet right now, know that cities like New York and Las Vegas are two cities that are most commonly associated with the term.
More often than not, Mole People are city residents who have fallen on hard times and have taken refuge underground. While some storytellers love to turn their existence into something sinister, in most cases Mole People are just people.
In fact, here are some real life cases of Mole People to prove just that:
"John Travolta" Of New York City
The New York Post, which did a piece on Mole People in 2009, interviewed a man who identified himself as John Travolta — yes, really. Travolta, at the time of the interview, had been living in the tunnels for 20 years. He knew the train schedules so well that he claimed that he used it as his sense of time during the day and night. According to the post, his bedroll was only inches from a commuter train. Travolta and his fellow Mole People fed off of restaurant leftovers that they'd gather from street level.
Jorge Of New York City
According to one of Travolta's friends, Jorge (who was also interviewed by The Post, the underground is filled with "animals and crazy people." Jorge had been living underground for 14 years, after illegally emigrating from Cuba. Jorge says that the reason he likes living underground is because, sadly, “Outside, people throw things at me or try to hurt me. Here, I’m left alone."
And suddenly joking about Mole People seems like a really, really awful thing to do.
Cindy & Rick In Las Vegas
Cindy and Rick, who were interviewed by Vice in 2012, had been living underground for a year. What Vice's take highlights is something that you may not realize about those who live underground: They're not "homeless." Their tunnel areas are their homes. Both Cindy and Rick said they struggled with addiction, but they have made their tunnel as comfortable as possible with chairs, a small stove, lights, blankets, and even some decorations on the walls.
So while Ellie Kemper is busy making silliness out of the concept of Mole People, remember that for some people, this existence is no joke.
Images: Eric Liebowitz/Netflix