A "sandhog" is a slang name for the miners who work on underground projects throughout New York City. They are responsible for much of the underground infrastructure in the city, including the Brooklyn Bridge, subway tunnels, sewers, and water tunnels. Many of the workers are historically Irish or West Indian. It is possible that some of the immigrants of the ensemble might be working as underground construction workers.
One day there was a blowout so explosive that it sucked four workmen out of the tunnel and blew them through the river silt and shot them up through the river itself forty feet into the air on the crest of a geyser. Only one of the men survived. The freak accident made headlines in all the papers, and when Harry Houdini read the accounts over his morning coffee he hurriedly dressed and rushed downtown to the Bellevue Hospital where it was said the surviving worker had been taken.
Doctorow describes Houdini's personal relationship to a freak accident that happened to four sandhogs working underneath the East River. Read the original New York Times article about accident. Interestingly enough, a very similar accident occurred 11 years later. Read a personal account from the second blow out here.
Dramaturgy for the Ragtime musical and novel.
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