Posts Tagged ‘New York City Subway’

The end of sucking subway tokens from turnstiles

December 21, 2013

Subwayturnstile1970sharlemImagine putting your mouth on a turnstile. Revolting, right?

Thankfully the existence of the Metrocard spelled doom for the practice of token sucking, or “stuff and suck.”

Yet for decades, it was not uncommon for the criminally inclined or desperate to inhale a token out of the turnstile.

“The criminal carefully jams the token slot with a matchbook or a gum wrapper and waits for a would-be rider to plunk a token down,” wrote Randy Kennedy in 2003 in his wonderful but now-defunct New York Times column, Tunnel Vision.

“The token plunker bangs against the locked turnstile and walks away in frustration. Then from the shadows, the token sucker appears like a vampire, quickly sealing his lips over the token slot, inhaling powerfully and producing his prize: a $1.50 token, hard earned and obviously badly needed.”

Some token suckers amassed more than $50 in tokens a day, wrote Kennedy. “Token booth clerks were known to sprinkle chili powder into the token slots most often jammed.”

Subwayturnstiles1970swired

“Some officers resorted to spraying a small amount of Mace around the regular slots and keeping an eye out for the usual suspects. The ones with bright red lips were then arrested.”

The advent of the Metrocard meant the end of the token era (RIP 1953-2003). And with the demise of tokens went the stomach-turning sight of someone putting their lips on a turnstile.

[Bottom photo: Wired New York]

A bronze tablet celebrates a subway milestone

October 22, 2012

When the first stretch of the New York City subway opened in 1904—from the old City Hall Station to 145th Street under Lexington Avenue—the fanfare was incredible.

A ceremony was held downtown, Mayor George McClellan played motorman on the first trip, excited New Yorkers gathered outside newly built stations, and 25,000 riders per hour packed the trains.

But when the subway reached another milestone four years later—the IRT line was extended to Brooklyn—there was no celebration.

Instead, a bronze tablet was put up inside the Borough Hall Station commemorating the underground uniting of Manhattan and Brooklyn.

It’s still there, grimy and easy to miss, on a mezzanine-level wall before the staircases leading to the 4 and 5 platforms.

Ghostly subway signage at Chambers Street

August 23, 2012

Time stands still at the Chambers Street J and Z station.

This deteriorated stop on the BMT, under the Manhattan Municipal Building, is like a subterranean ghost town. Its platforms are mostly empty, and paint peels while water drips from the ceiling.

But there’s one upside to the terrible neglect: No one has bothered to paint over the old-school IRT Lexington Avenue signs on several beams.

Most of the signs—1960s or 1970s maybe?—are much more faded than this one. They once pointed the way to the busier, tidier Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall 6 train station connected via a passageway.

Old-school Manhattan subway signage

April 5, 2012

Beneath the Manhattan Municipal Building’s soaring vaulted ceiling is this original sign for the stairs to the BMT (aka, the J and Z) Chambers Street station.

A wonderful vintage lantern-like sign still lights the way at the entrance to the Fulton Street IRT station downtown.

Not all old-timey subway signs are charming. This 1970s-style sign announces the entrance to the Hunter College-68th Street IRT station.

Could this is where the Subway sandwich got the inspiration for their logo? The arrow looks awfully similar.

The iconic subway signs of New York City

November 3, 2011

The subway we know today started out as three separate companies, all building stations at different times.

No wonder the signage at the entrance of each station—behind the MTA’s standard subway typeface, that is—varies so much.

As you duck into the station at 28th Street and Park Avenue South, you’re greeted by this lovely blue and white Roman numeral mosaic.

A Financial District IRT stairway looks like an original. The IRT was purchased by the city in 1940.

This 57th Street entrance is inside an office building that dates from the 1920s or 1930s. The lettering looks Art Deco.

I like this dignified Dyckman Street entrance in Upper Manhattan. It’s chiseled, subtle, not flashy.

Is this the oldest sign in a city subway station?

April 27, 2011

This torn, faded anti-littering poster is still adhered to a beam between the F and G tracks at the Seventh Avenue station in Park Slope.

“Litter Is a Hazard Here” it reads, an arrow pointing to the tracks. Apparently, riders decades ago were just as likely to toss trash on the tracks as riders are today.

The sign is part of a series of “Subway Sun” messages first launched by the IRT in the teens, according to this Princeton University Library blog, which also provides a little backstory and images of other Subway Sun posters.

So how old is the Park Slope sign? I’m guessing it dates to the 1940s, and it just might be older than these vintage signs found in another Brooklyn F station that warn riders not to spit or lean over toward the tracks.

Before subways had air conditioning

July 19, 2010

This week, when you’re sweating it out on a hot and sticky subway platform, be glad that at least the subway cars are fortified with AC. 

Because of course, it wasn’t always that way.

The 1933 photo at left depicts city officials showing off what was then a major breakthrough, a ventilation system installed to cool down trains.

The ventilation system? Basically just ceiling fans.

Air-conditioning didn’t come to subway cars until the late 1950s, and even then only a few trains had it. 

Gradually more AC-equipped trains were introduced in the 1960s and 1970s.

Yet even by 1983, a subway rider had only a one in three chance of landing an air-conditioned train, according to a New York Times article from that year.

Stained glass beauty in Bronx subway stations

August 19, 2009

Every borough has at least a few subway stations that feature stained glass. But the Bronx seems to have more than any other, especially in the little stations at local stops for the 2 and 5 trains.

From “Latin American Stories” by George Crespo at the Jackson Avenue station:

Latinamericanstories

One of several panels from the Prospect Street’s “Bronx, Four Seasons,” by Marina Tsesarskaya:

Fourseasonswindow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part of Daniel Hauben’s The El, at the Freeman Street stop:

TheElwindow

Thrills and spills on the Manhattan El

September 19, 2008

Back in the days when trains criss-crossed the city on elevated tracks, riders must have gotten quite a rush at certain steep curves—some as high as 100 feet off the ground.

Angel’s Curve, also known as Suicide Curve, was part of the Ninth Avenue El at 110th Street, where the tracks swerved from Ninth to Eighth Avenue. Here’s an 1886 photo:

 

Another serpentine curve, shown in this late-1800s photo, was located downtown at Coenties Slip just before the East River. The tracks were part of the Third Avenue El:

Dead Man’s Curve, at Broadway and 14th Street, never leaves the ground, but it looks like a fairly exhilarating turn for streetcar riders. The 1897 woodcut below shows how dangerous it was for pedestrians.

The streetcars are gone, but it’s still a tricky intersection to cross.

“Laying the tracks” at Union Square

July 6, 2008

“Laying the tracks at Broadway and 14th Street,” by Hughson Hawley, 1891. A trolley car, soon to be put out of service by the new underground rapid transit system these men are building, zips by in the distance.

Museum of the City of New York


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