by Kevin Walsh

In the 1940s and into the 1960s, a series of hand drawn, light hearted signs depicting proper subway etiquette appeared in the ad strips in the subway cars, usually under the “Subway Sun” banner, all of them drawn by  an artist named Amelia Opdyke “Oppy” Jones. I’ll have more of these signs on a future page.

This sign, cautioning against spitting (which has evolved into common practice) might seem perplexing to those who aren’t familiar with NYC iconography. Who’s that fellow with the tricornered hat regarding the spitter with such disdain and spitting  out some choice vocabulary? What is he doing in the subway?

He’s the embodiment of NYC, Father Knickerbocker, filling a role similar to that of Uncle Sam. Washington Irving, in the satiric A History of New York, has the fictional character Diedrich Knickerbocker tell the story. Over the years, a figure in colonial dress named Father Knickerbocker came to represent NYC in cartoons and artwork. The name survives most prominently today in the NBA’s New York Knickerbockers.

And, it’s a fun word to say.


Bobby Ryan December 8, 2011 - 3:48 pm

I Had the pleasure of meeting Oppy in 1980 as she was commissioned out of retirement to craft a period like subway sun for NYC transit’s Nostaglia Special. take a look at the Chance Cards and Community Chest in Monopoly and your recognize her handiwork!

april January 11, 2012 - 4:31 pm

I think we need Oppy at the 44th Precinct in the Bronx. Look at that parking lot!!!


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