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Monday, August 2, 2010

Railroads Are Fun

I wouldn’t call myself a transit geek, but I love a good mass transportation system. London and Berlin’s public transit systems have always been my favorites, but my appreciation for the New York City Subway has grown since I started graduate school at NYU. I’ve spent a lot of time on the Metro this summer for my internship at the Human Studies Film Archives here in Suitland, Maryland and I often find myself missing the fast-paced, complicated, rat-infested rapid transit wonder that is the Subway. Most of the material I work with at the HSFA documents people and cultures outside of the United States, but Thayer Soule’s 1968 travelogue, Railroads Are Fun provides a look at rail travel across America, including the New York City Subway.

In this section of his film Soule combines contemporary scenes of the Times Square shuttle and Grand Central station with archival footage from the turn of the century converted from paper prints deposited for copyright at the Library of Congress before the creation of the Library’s motion picture archives. Together these scenes illustrate how much can change in a single subway station in less than seventy years: the types of passengers and their manner of dress, the platforms they wait on, and the trains themselves. Like the rest of the film, these were silent scenes that Soule would accompany with his own live lectures. These clips of a railcar crossing the Brooklyn Bridge into New York from 1899 and the interior of the Subway between 14th St. and Grand Central in 1905 have been digitized and made available for viewing on the Library of Congress’s website.

Though it wasn’t the most popular of the films he presented, Soule toured with Railroads Are Fun for thirty years and 213 shows. 

Samantha Oddi, Intern, Human Studies Film Archives

1 comment:

  1. I found the opening scene of the old NYC rail car mesmerizing. And those hats! Great piece.