Monday, November 2, 2009

Alfred Hitchcock Would Have Loved It

New York Transit Authority logo on a sign
I recently heard that when Hitchcock was a kid, he had never been to New York City, but he studied the subway system anyway, and completely memorized it. Then when he finally did go to the city, he knew it like a native New Yorker.

On a recent trip to the Brooklyn, I visited the New York Transit Museum, and thought of Hitchcock.

Aqua blue metal railing surrounding stairs down into the museum
The museum is located in downtown Brooklyn in the closed Court Street subway station, so the entrance is no more auspicious than any other station.

Black and white cutout photo of a black man looking into the camera, next to a sign showing images and prices
The first exhibit is called "Steel, Stone & Backbone: Building New York's Subways 1900-1925." My attention was caught by this full-size figure of one of the workers, gazing at me as I approached to read a sign listing average wages and comparing them with the costs of common purchases. The daily wages ranged from a high of $4.50 for teamsters to $3.50 for carpenters to $1.50 for laborers.

Robert Moses smiling on a sign labeled One Man Did All This?
Another exhibit explained about the construction of New York's many bridges, particularly the Triborough Bridge connecting the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan, and it's hard to talk about bridges in New York without mentioning Robert Moses. The museum seemed to have a fairly simple-minded, adulatory attitude about Moses (for a more balanced view, see Robert Caro's Pulitzer-Prize-winning book The Power Broker.)

Red and blue wooden train car next to a subway platform
The core of the museum's collection is one level down further -- two closed tracks flanking a normal subway platform display dozens of wonderfully restored subway cars from the different eras of the subway's history.

Interior of an antique subway car
This car is from the 1920s, with wicker seats, and appropriate-vintage signs overhead.

Cool blue plastic interior of a 1960s vintage train car
This Mad Men-era 1963 car was built to carry people on their way to the 1964-World's Fair.

Close up of a metal token with pentagon-shaped cutout in the centerThere's a nice display about the tokens as well. This was the last token used before conversion to the Metro Card. It was the only token that couldn't be counterfeited of all the ones ever used, because the alloy was extremely unusual and the token receptacles were sensitive to the metals in it, flagging forged tokens immediately.

Long Island Railroad graphic The Route of the Dashing Commuter
I loved a lot of the graphics on the trains and on displays along the platform. This one is from a Long Island Rail Road train.

Red, black and white sign warning Parents...for safety's sake teach children, showing a child lying dead in the driveway while dad runs from the car, which just hit him
Dozens of historical advertising signs line the train cars. This alarmist public service announcement is from the early 1960s.

It's well worth a visit (and the gift shop had a really nice selection of subway-related souvenirs at reasonable prices). It made this Twin Cities resident even more jealous of those who live in a place that has effective public transportation!


Ms Sparrow said...

Wow, gal! You DO get around. Thanks for the tour.

Michael Leddy said...

That's a great museum (in a great borough). If you've never seen it, you'd probably like the short film 3rd Ave. El, a short film of a ride on the old elevated line.

Michael Leddy said...

D'oh. Please ignore "the short film" in that sentence.