Home Subway History Video of the Day: The subways in 1905

Video of the Day: The subways in 1905

by Benjamin Kabak

This afternoon, I went on the media tour of the new South Ferry 1 train terminal. The station looks great, and later tonight, I’ll post the pictures and my recap. As I look to the future of the system in that post, let’s step back in time to 1905 for a ride up some very familiar terrain.

The video above comes to us via Metafilter. It is, according to that site, a video from G.W. “Billy” Bitzer, D.W. Griffth’s famed cinematographer. He mounted a camera on front of one train and shot six minutes of footage from 14th St./Union Square to the Grand Central station.

The subways were just seven months old at the time, and it’s amazing to see how everything looks the same. It’s easy to recognize the familiar curve on the local tracks as what is now the 6 departs 14th St. heading north. At around the 0:48 mark, note the now-closed 18th St. stop. The only difference is train car and the appearance of Grand Central. All in all, it’s a remarkable piece of subway history.

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Julia December 11, 2008 - 5:25 pm

This afternoon, I went on the media tour of the new South Ferry 1 train terminal. The stadium looks great,

Psst, wrong blog, Ben. 🙂

Benjamin Kabak December 11, 2008 - 5:30 pm

That is a fantastic mistake. Too much studying, Yankee blog, etc. Geez.

Rhywun December 11, 2008 - 6:42 pm

It’s hard to believe that at one time people actually wore that much clothing… and that it was possible to get from Union Square to Grand Central in six minutes :/

Force Tube Avenue December 11, 2008 - 6:52 pm

Thanks for the video.

Remember, the Grand Central station you see in this video is actually located at the present Grand Central Shuttle Station. The original 1904 subway went cross-town on 42nd Street, to continue on the present 7th Avenue line. Only later were the Lexington Avenue and Broadway-7th Avenue lines separated, and the Shuttle was created.

It also appeared that the train skipped 18th and 28th Streets. I wonder if that “skip-stop” was a regular feature of service, or just for the sake of that film.

Thanks again. I look forward to your South Ferry photos.

Tomás December 11, 2008 - 7:34 pm

Great video.

It’s almost the same, except for the train and the 42nd St. Station, as noted above. I would like to point out that also the noise is almost the same as is today!!!

Thanks for sharing with us!!!

jon December 11, 2008 - 9:39 pm

Was anybody able to understand the announcements at 42nd st?

Cool film

Ron December 11, 2008 - 10:52 pm

It’s the G Line Sprint! Ha.

All I could make out from the announcement was “express” and what sounded like something “:44 pm”

Great movie!

Mike December 12, 2008 - 2:34 am

How was the train with the camera able to follow the other train so closely? No automated signals with brake trips?

GothamGirl December 12, 2008 - 3:16 pm

This is very cool, especially being that it’s from 1905.

http://www.newyorkcitytimeline.com – some cool NYC history

Kid Twist December 12, 2008 - 3:23 pm

Amazing. Look how clean everything still is — the concrete tunnel walls are almost white!

Randle G. Mason December 18, 2008 - 10:31 pm

Please remember the this film is silent film, the “fake” soundtrack was added in 2006, according to the credits, “Mestura de Son (2006) Martian Pawley”.

Film sound only became widespread in the 1930s and portable sound equipment only became available in 1940s. If you recall that the first sound movie “The Jazz Singer” came out in 1927 and the soundtrack was from a synchronized wax 78 rpm disc.

Also, this whole sequence was staged, if look carefully as the train travels north, you can see there another train on the adjacent track with a flat car containing the movie lights.

Randy Mason

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[…] Want to see a subway ride from 1905? It’s kind of like a subway ride from today, but stay until the 5:10 minute mark [Second Avenue Sagas] […]


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