Downtown Brooklyn, New York City

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“The subway was $0.15 and un-air-conditioned,” dad said. Dad was 13 when he took the subway from Bay Ridge to the 1964/1965 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadow Park.  “It was so hot on the subway that the first thing I would do when I arrived at the World’s Fair was run to the Coca-Cola exhibit because I could enjoy a nice cold Coca-Cola in the air condition.”  Dad has not taken the subway since the 1980’s. So when I mention to him that the subway is now $2.50 and has air-conditioned cars, he looks at me in disbelief.

The evolution of the NYC Subway system can best be seen at the New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn, which states on its website that it is “the largest museum in the United States devoted to urban public transportation history, and one of the premier institutions of its kind in the world.” Naturally Dana’s Hat could not think of a better place to start the adventure then at a museum that features a look at over a 100 year history of travel.

“Do you know how old that seat is?” I asked Sadie as she clawed at one of the bamboo weaved seats in a trolley car from 1907. Sadie, named after the main character in Subway Sadie, lives at the Transit Museum. According to a sign posted, she “helps control the rodent population.” Sadie is a rather chubby, gray cat. “She enjoys watching all of our visitors, especially from her perch in the Money Train, but doesn’t like to be touched.”  I was informed this sign was posted after a child jumped at Sadie causing Sadie to (rightfully) scratch this child. When I first spotted Sadie, she was lounging on the floor of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit trolley, which featured bamboo weaved seats, canvas (originally leather) straps, and advertisements that reflect the times of the 1900’s.

This car is the first car on the right that you can enter when you walk down the stairs after you walk through an exhibit that concentrates on the factors of building the tunnels for the subway. The exhibit gives an in-depth look at the dangerous conditions workers faced as shown through pictures and tangible objects, such as a wheel barrel filled with large stones that visitors are instructed to lift in order to put themselves in the shoes of  the workers. Other objects featured are equipment for surveyors and dynamite equipment.

Downstairs takes you back in time featuring full size cars from both the Brooklyn Rapid Transit and Inter Rapid Transit. BRT car number 1404 was in service for 30 years starting off as an elevated car, than later becoming an underground car. I was able to listen in on a tour guide that was speaking with children on a summer camp trip. On this particular car, the conductor manually rang a bell to inform passengers when he would be moving and stopping. Being my father’s daughter, I look for any signs of ventilation. There weren’t any; no fans and no sign of a window that was able to be opened. I later found out that on top of the car there were slides that could be opened for ventilation. But after the car was put underground, these slides needed to be closed.  I sat in the trolley for as long as I could before the heat and lack of ventilation became suffocating. I can’t imagine how those traveling to the 1939’s World’s Fair dealt with the environment; but then again, they didn’t know any different.

I entered a “Bluebird” which was part of the “World’s Fair Express” trains. These trains, part of the IRT Flushing line which is currently known as the 7 line, were painted in a powder blue and an off white color scheme. This is presumably a car that my dad would have been in on the way to the 1964-1965 World’s Fair in Flushing. In service from 1963 to 1976, ads posted in the car reflected the current events of the 1960’s (I didn’t see any ads from the 1970’s); movies (Barbarella and Thunderball), popular consumer products, festivals, alcohol, cigarettes, and cars. The seats are a far cry from the bamboo that was featured in the trolley from 1907; they are hard gray plastic. The floor is tiled. The lights are bright and there are four fans in the ceiling that I can only imagine would blow around hot air during the summer months. There is an ad for the World’s Fair, specifically advertising the “Festival of Gas” pavilion. The transit guide is from 1968 doesn’t look as busy as the transit guides do now. There is also a fair share of political ads; either encouraging passengers to vote or to support a union. There are two Miss Subway announcements, which remind me of the Gene Kelly movie “On the Town” where Kelly’s character falls in love with Miss Turnstile. Ads from “The Subway Sun” promote the subway and its destinations. One of them being the World’s Fair, “The fair is open again for another great season for all the family…the quickest, cheapest way to travel to the fair is by subway express—only 20 mins from Times Square—15-cent fare.”

Visiting this museum really put traveling in subway cars in perspective; you are truly traveling back in time when you think about how far the subway has evolved and how many people have used this form of transportation. What makes the experience even better is having someone to travel in time with you even when they aren’t physically with you.

“So,” my dad said upon my return home, “How hot was it?” “It wasn’t that bad.” (lying) I said. He looked at me and said, “Bullshit.”

More pictures at http://www.flickr.com/photos/day92783/

More history on the NYC Subway at http://www.nycsubways.org

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