During the late 70's and early 80's, New York City's subway system was one of the most dangerous places a person could be. Lucky for those of us who never had the chance to see it, Swiss photographer Willy Spiller was there, and the dark and atmospheric series of photos he took has now come to be known as Hell On Wheels.

A New York resident between the years of 1977 and 1984, Spiller witnessed the birth of rap music, the rise of grafitti, and Ed Koch's election as mayor. Unfortunately, he also witnessed a spike in crime, a large portion of which took place in the city's underground quarters. The rate of violent incidents in the New York subway was so high by 1980 that the NYPD had over 2300 police officers patrolling the system at all times. Spiller took his chances and documented what he saw.

Though the photos were first released in 1984, Hell On Wheels had its glory restored in 2016. Sturm & Drang publishers put Spiller's work to print in a limited edition series of hardcover, vivid colour coffee table books. "These images hardly tell a story of crime and danger," Dr. Tobia Bezzola writes in the book's chilling forward. "Willy Spiller doesn’t discover darkness in the underground but rather an idiosyncratic, vivid realm of its own."

More info: Hell On Wheels (h/t: Vintage Everyday | DYT)

#1

Underground Life Of 80s Nyc

Willy Spiller Report

Pieter Staes 2 years ago

Doesn't look like hell to me ☺️

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#2

Underground Life Of 80s Nyc

Willy Spiller Report

Larry Bud Melman 2 years ago

Warriors...come out to play...

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#3

Underground Life Of 80s Nyc

Willy Spiller Report

Hela B 2 years ago

First thought, hey Freddie Mercury!

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#4

Underground Life Of 80s Nyc

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Bella Rose 2 years ago

I adore the fashion sense back then

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#5

Underground Life Of 80s Nyc

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Apollo 2 years ago

Such an unclean place.

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#6

Underground Life Of 80s Nyc

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Fire Bird 2 years ago

It's Mary from Little house on the prairie.

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#7

Underground Life Of 80s Nyc

Willy Spiller Report

MunkeyBars 2 years ago

Or Kubrick

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#8

Underground Life Of 80s Nyc

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Flavia Daiana 2 years ago

I think she on the right was a male.

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#9

Underground Life Of 80s Nyc

Willy Spiller Report

Arnoud Lievers 2 years ago

wow, there was a lot of strippers taking the underground back then.

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#10

Underground Life Of 80s Nyc

Willy Spiller Report

Mercy Dos Santos 2 years ago

Just switch paper for smart phone...Bazaar for sure! Information will never die 😘

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#11

Underground Life Of 80s Nyc

Willy Spiller Report

Alberto Curutchet 2 years ago

This is awesome in many levels.

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#12

Underground Life Of 80s Nyc

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Apollo 2 years ago

This is the only photo that doesn't have this eery atmosphere.

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#13

Underground Life Of 80s Nyc

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Anne Madag 2 years ago

the bus wall, looks street wall that has so many paintings :'3

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#14

Underground Life Of 80s Nyc

Willy Spiller Report

Aunt Messy 2 years ago

Fantastic photo. I'd hang this.

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#15

Underground Life Of 80s Nyc

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Yvonne Torburn-Clark 2 years ago

maybe he was from India....

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#16

Underground Life Of 80s Nyc

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Cynthia Ward 2 years ago

and either Jeff Goldblum or Serpico.

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#17

Underground Life Of 80s Nyc

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Vojtěch Mareš 2 years ago

Surprise Mother F*cker

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#18

Underground Life Of 80s Nyc

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Kjorn 2 years ago

did i heard Stephen king?

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#19

Underground Life Of 80s Nyc

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Christopher Piccone 2 years ago

What you talking bout Willis?

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#20

Underground Life Of 80s Nyc

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Hope Floats 2 years ago

Somethings,sadly, never change. Whatever country you're in...

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#21

Underground Life Of 80s Nyc

Willy Spiller Report

Hope Floats 2 years ago

The Lady in Red. ..

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#22

Underground Life Of 80s Nyc

Willy Spiller Report

Yvonne Torburn-Clark 2 years ago

was the spray can just invented?

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#23

Underground Life Of 80s Nyc

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Marlowe Fitzpatrik 2 years ago

Cagney and Lacey!

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#24

Underground Life Of 80s Nyc

Willy Spiller Report

Cynthia Ward 2 years ago

whew, leaving Broadway. moved there in 87, had no idea.

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#25

Underground Life Of 80s Nyc

Willy Spiller Report

Cynthia Ward 2 years ago

and that was the fancey, clean side of the subway near Saks Fifth Ave.

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#26

Underground Life Of 80s Nyc

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Julie Shaw 2 years ago

Zombie alert.

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#27

Underground Life Of 80s Nyc

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Cynthia Ward 2 years ago

see clean side goes from east to west side Bonwit Tellar, Berdorf Goodman, from Beekman Place...Mad Men.

#28

Underground Life Of 80s Nyc

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Cynthia Ward 2 years ago

W wo 72nd St. station and you can't even see the train number 4-5-6, near Mortimer's and where all the famous walked among upside streets sidewalks from Lex to Madison were filled with greats.

#29

Underground Life Of 80s Nyc

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Cynthia Ward 2 years ago

Welcome back Kotter.

#30

Underground Life Of 80s Nyc

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Cynthia Ward 2 years ago

This is moving underneath Park Avenue & Hunter College? hmmm.more like the Dakota Bldg, West side at the Y,

#31

Underground Life Of 80s Nyc

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Fire Bird 2 years ago

All of these pictures makes me have the Welcome Back, Kotter song running in my head.

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#32

Underground Life Of 80s Nyc

Willy Spiller Report

Martin Forbes 2 years ago

It must've been a relief to finally get out of the subway alive and safely into their apartments after these train journeys.