REMEMBERING OPPY on the NYC holiday train

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The NYC holiday train, an amalgam of several ancient subway cars that ran on BMT/IND lines yoked together and rin on the F and E lines between 2nd Avenue and Queens Plaza, has been a holiday tradition the last few years, and each event gets increasingly popular — and more crowded.

The run attracts two definite kinds of fans: the foaming fanboys (and some who are no longer boys) who know, loudly, what every make and model of subway car ever existed; and a completely separate crowd, a group of young dandies dressed in 1920s and 1930s-era suits, taking advantage of the ancient subway equipment to see and be seen in an ancient milieu, dancing to dixieland jazz bands that play on the platforms and even on the cars. The foaming fanboys, meanwhile, seem immune to the scantily clad dancing girls and exist in their own bubble of loud, boisterous train riding. To the fanboys, there is a train and it is to be ridden.

This years’ event was enhanced by pending inclement weather as light snow was forecast, and the cars were about as crowded as I’ve seen. A few years ago I was able to ride in relatively empty old cars for the majority of the trip and was able to snap away at will. I was even able to get good pictures of the nostalgists and flappers, but it’s almost impossible  now.

This day, because of the crowds I concentrated on a few classic “Subway Sun” ads by Amelia Opdyke Jones,  a cartoonist who drew a slew of subway posters that gently and humorously called attention to the shortcomings of subway riders in the manners department. The posters were given a faux newspaper masthead called The Subway Sun. There are more, as well, on the link above.

The Sun was introduced originally to warm riders to a fare increase, but the signs evolved to tout technological improvements, highlight travel destinations-”You too can reach the beach by subway!”-and most memorably, to promote straphanger etiquette. The most famous campaign, inked by Amelia Opdyke Jones, used Monopoly-like cartoon characters ­ the women often modeled after Oppy herself ­ to push good manners on a captive audience. Some considered it propaganda, but at least it was entertaining, and it gave the impression that management was paying attention. ABC News

 

We can but speculate what Oppy would make of today’s IPod blasters, nail clippers, fried chicken eaters, and legions of hip hop acrobats, Mariachi Brothers bands, plastic bucket beaters, Gospel Guys and legions of mendicants that patrol the trains these days.

 

Sorry for the blurriness — I should have used the flash on all of these. Why do digital camera photos have to be blurry in insufficient light? This problem doesn’t plague film cameras. Anyway, this is something of a drafting error on the part of Oppy, since it reads like “I am an American Citizenship Day.” Anyway this is an actual yearly event called Constitution, or Citizenship Day, observed 9/17 of every year, the day in 1787 when the US Constitution was signed.

On Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, an event which falls during Constitution Week, many people in the United States recognize the anniversary of the nation’s constitution and the efforts and responsibilities of all citizens. With regard to the nation’s constitution, in the summer of 1787 delegates convened in Philadelphia to create “a more perfect union” and to craft the country’s constitution. They worked to develop a framework that would provide balance and freedom, taking into account federal and state interests, as well as individual human rights. The delegates signed the Constitution of the United States on September 17 that year. By June 21, 1788, the constitution was effective, having been approved by nine of the 13 states.

With regard to recognizing citizens, newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst advocated a day to celebrate US Citizenship in 1939. In 1940 the Congress created “I Am an American Day” to be celebrated in the third Sunday in May. On February 29, 1952, President Harry Truman signed into law “Citizenship Day”. It was established to replace I am an American Day. On August 2, 1956, the Congress requested that the president proclaim the week beginning September 17 and ending September 23 of each year as “Constitution Week”. One more change was made to the event when a federal law enacted in December 2004 designated September 17 as “Constitution Day and Citizenship Day”. Time and Date

Robert F. Wagner was mayor of NYC from Jan. 1, 1954 to January 1, 1966. He was succeeded by John V. Lindsay.

 

As explained on a previous nostalgia train page,

For ninety-three years the [Edwin F.] Goldman Band performed free public concerts at a variety of venues in New York city, including on the Green at Columbia, Central Park and Prospect Park. Famous instrumental and vocal performers appeared with the band along with guest conductors such as Percy Grainger and Vivian Dunn. Traditional and classical works were performed as well as new works for band. Goldman requested new works for band from European composers including Ottorino RespighiAlbert Roussel, and Jaromir Weinberger. With professional musicians and endowment funds from the Guggenheim’s, the band was able to perform in New York and also tour the U.S. and Canada and perform on radio and television. wikipedia

The band continued to perform until the summer of 2005.

Also notable here is the depiction of the subway token. After the nickel fare was raised in 1948 it was realized that fares would have to keep going up periodically, and the token was introduced in hopes of keeping it the same size, while just increasing the price. However token-hoarding and other techniques on the part of the “customers” necessitated periodically changing the size and shape of the tokens as well. Some were solid metal, some came with the “Y” in NYC die-cut out, while some had an aluminum center.

It’s almost hard to believe it, but tokens were still in use, at least on the Roosevelt Island tram, as late as the early 2000s. The universal Metrocard arrived in 1997 and subway tokens were phased out a couple of years later.

 

This is a classic bit of Oppy moralism. What was the woman in the center supposed to do, stand? There’s no immediate cure for her great bulk, except a few months of moderate exercise and salads, and the packages have to go someplace. This is the modern-day equivalent to the articles Gothamist or Gawker post every few months featuring guys who sit with their knees apart on subway cars. The natural male sitting position is knees apart.

 

I was able to photograph the demolition of the New York Coliseum in 1999 or 2000, the Dawn of Forgotten New York. Prior to the construction of the Javits Center on 11th Avenue and West 34th in the mid-1980s, the New York Coliseum, on the west edge of Columbus Circle at Central Park South and West, was the city’s premier exhibition hall (although several of NYC’s armories could have done a much more stylish job).

 

The Coliseum was a bland International Style building built from 1954-1956; it’s pointless criticizing the style, since that was just how buildings were built then. It’s possibly more notable for what it replaced, the Circle Building, and what replaced it, the massive twin towers of the Time Warner Center shopping and office complex.

I was more enamored of its namesake, Coliseum Books, on 57th street a couple blocks to its south. That bookstore succumbed in the late 2000s.

 

There aren’t any “lost landmarks” on this Oppy…the United Nations and Statue of Liberty are of course still around.  Perplexing, though, is the claim upper right that you can get a “cool spot” on the subway– NYC subway stations are ovens in the summer, and in the Fab Fifties when this was produced, air conditioning was a dream on the trains.

 

Sorry about the composition here — I was in an R6 car hurtling under the East River, which is a highlight of any Nostalgia Train ride as the motorman puts the engine through its paces.

Anyway, you’re not supposed to hold the doors to get on the train — even though the next one might be 20 minutes away. And the motorman holding the local so express passengers can cross the platform and board it? Unheard of, unless I’m on the local. It’ll wait all day for the next express then.

Lost my 2013 photos to a hard drive crash, so shorter pages like this may be the norm for awhile. Actually I do like shorter pages. Do you?

12/8/13

 

 

 

 

 

 





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Categorized in: Subways & Trains

12 Responses to REMEMBERING OPPY on the NYC holiday train

  1. Doug Douglass says:

    I remember “Little enough to ride for free. Little enough to ride your knee.”

  2. Joe Fliel says:

    Good job with this one, Kevin. It’s slightly amusing to consider that the “Nostalgia Train” wasn’t one when we used to ride these cars on a regular basis years ago. I actually miss the “burnt popcorn” aroma which permeated the R-1 cars when they had wicker seats.

    Regarding the Citizenship Day ad, I don’t see any problem with the text layout. “I Am An American” and “Citizenship Day” are meant/understood to be read separately.

  3. punto says:

    Kevin, thanks for this subway flashback. I have been a regular on the A line since the early 70s (anyone remember the CC local?), when I moved to Inwood, before that I habituated the 1 when was a student living on Claremont Ave. I particularly appreciated the placard featuring a plug for the Goldman Band as I was a member of that ensemble for its final 30 years (Richard Franko, Edwin F’s son, was still around to lead the group in my first few years). I joined after their days of playing in Central and Prospect Parks regularly had ended (though we did do a few special events in them). Though band concerts in the park are a less tangible forgotten aspect of NY than your usual buildings, thoroughfares, signs and other fixtures, they are no less a part of the fading fabric, for me, at least.

  4. Sarah Rosenblatt says:

    Hi! Been reading for a while, but never commented. I love the subway post, though. Also just wanted to say that I do enjoy the shorter posts- I find them easier to digest than the longer posts, which I usually put aside until I have time to get through them. I am sorry about your computer troubles, though!

  5. Tim Phillips says:

    Nice short page.

  6. Tiger Rides says:

    I believe that the token was not introduced until the fare was raised to 15 cents in the early ’50′s.

  7. Edward says:

    Very interesting comment about those fanboys (who are anything but “boys”). They really, really, really know TOO much about each train, and are very vociferous about telling the entire car what they know. Most of them seem to be a little off, and I often wonder if the lure of subways (and old buses) helps them control some OCD or other issues since they seem to have a photographic knowledge of EVERYTHING that has to do with transit. I wonder if mental health professionals have ever done a study on this (the attraction of old trains/buses to certain groups).

  8. ron s says:

    Good piece and analysis again. However, I would add two comments. First, there are really four groups– 1)fanboys (subway geeks) 2) dressed up young people (hipsters) in 20′s 30′s and 40′s outfits tapdancing and taking selfies 3) 50 to 70 year olds who actually used to ride those cars and are reminiscing 4) Young parents with small kids and strollers who view the trains as ancient museum pieces (like the dinosaur bones at the Nat. Hist. museum).
    Second, it’s funny how many of the young dress-up people are dressed as 1920′s flapper-types. Unfortunately, none of the train cars are remotely from that era, with the oldest being from the late 30′s.

  9. Jeff B. says:

    Hi Kevin – Personally, I like columns of a medium length – the short ones leave me wanting more and the long ones can sometimes get tedious. As to the age of the cars, car 100 is from 1931-32 and was there when the IND opened in September 1932.

    I miss the old IND cars for a variety of reasons – the sounds of the cars is one of them, the way they made the entire IND smell – a sort of sweet smell mixed with ozone – if you rode the subways before the mid-late the 70′s, you know the smell – it hit you 1/2 way down the steps into the stations, especially on lines that used the R1-R9 cars for most of the service..

    As for the fanboys/foamers – I’ve experienced them on fan trips and at other subway related events. Yes, they can seem off the norm, but they’re no different than extreme fans of other railroads, theme parks, sports teams, car brands, etc. Are the team fans who paint their shirtless selves and all their exposed skin in their team’s colors sitting in a stadium in 20 degree weather any different? I think not. Everything that can develop a fan base has its extremists – look around, you’ll see what I mean – they’re everywhere…

  10. John says:

    I used to ride those old trains back in the 50′s and 60′s. My uncle went one step better. He used to drive those oldies.

  11. Jim says:

    Kevin, my dad was a NYC subway conductor from the late 40′s to the late 70′s, mostly on what was then known as the IND division. I remember those “Subway Sun” posters well, thanks for the memories! BTW have you ever researched the “Miss Subways” posters?

  12. James says:

    The blurriness in the photos is a result of the shutter speed being too low (and hands being too unsteady), and you’ll get the same result with a film camera. My guess is your film camera’s automatic mode sacrificed light for sharpness (many did, because film was not infinite so it was more important to get a shot tha was free of blur and a little dark). To replicate your film camera’s results put your camera into shutter priority mode and set the speed manually to something that yields good results for the type of lighting you’re working with.

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