Signal malfunctions . . . Track fires . . . Sick passengers . . . Commuting by subway gets worse by the minute, so we New Yorkers moan. That is our god-given right. We pine for the good old days, when trains ran on time, free of “show time” acrobats and seat hogs. But our reverie might not reflect the reality of times past.
August 12, 1906, saw such jaw-dropping chaos in Brooklyn that our present-day gripes about public transportation must wither and die. That day, despite a court ruling that the collection of two fares for a trip to Coney Island was illegal, the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company (an ancestor of today’s MTA) demanded a second nickel–for a total of ten cents–from trolley riders once they passed Kings Highway on the various lines it controlled: the Sea Beach Railway (today’s N train), the Brighton Line (the B and Q), and Culver Line (the F).
The BRT’s uniformed “police” force ejected every passenger who refused to pay. With hundreds–maybe thousands–of riders out on the street, swarming the tracks, the cars could not move and did not move. For hours. The Culver Line, on Gravesend Avenue (the original name of McDonald Avenue), saw the longest back-up. In the frustrating crush, a girl fell into Coney Island Creek and drowned. (In the photos above, the BRT’s thugs are assembled at the Kensington Station, just south of Ditmas Avenue.)
An unidentified photographer (possibly Edwin Levick) positioned himself in a second-floor window of the Hubbard House, at the southwest corner of McDonald Avenue and Gravesend Neck Road (long since demolished), and caught the day’s mayhem at that intersection. It is hard to recognize our familiar, gritty, elevated-train-track-shadowed McDonald Avenue in these scenes from 1906.
The photographs were reproduced in a series of twenty-odd postcards that are highly sought by insane collectors (your webmaster chief among them) who will pay anything for even the crummiest copies just to complete a set. (I’m missing six. Maybe more. No one knows exactly how many cards there are.) I bought number 11 earlier this week and it arrived today, on the 111th anniversary of the “trouble.”
Just think of these striking images the next time your train is stuck on the bridge due to “congestion ahead.”
(Sorry about the obnoxious watermark across the postcards. It’s to stop folks from copying images from this blog and posting them without attribution or my consent.)
Copyright © 2017 by Joseph Ditta (firstname.lastname@example.org)