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by Jacob Marmor (pseudonym)

Friday, June 6, 1941

in What's New In Town

W. J. Sidis


        Most old-time Bostonians will remember the good old bulletin-board system formerly used at Park Street subway station. It was the 1897 idea of a perfect system for directing passengers to their right car. Several bulletin boards were posted along the southbound platform of the Park Street station, containing a posted list of all the car lines using the inside track which had a terminal loop there―some 60 destinations and routes were listed on the boards. Opposite each line listed on the board was a space in which, when a car of that line was heading for the station, an electric light flashed in the shape of a number, which indicated at which part of the station the car would stop―a signal for all that car’s passengers, to head in a sort of flying tackle for the post indicated, and to nudge each other out of the way in a race for the car doors.

         In rush hours the confusion was something that never could be understood by one who had never seen it. While New York developed the well-known “subway rushes” in which passengers were herded like sheep by platform guards into trains, Boston had been having for a long time its own brand of subway rushes, much more active and competitive, in which it was every man for himself, with an invisible coach calling signals through the bulletin board. When, for instance, a bunch of passengers at the front end of the platform made a dash to the rear when a number 6 appeared for their line on the boards, while another flying tackle from the rear received the signal number 1, they collided in the center of the platform, where those still watching the bulletin board got squashed between them or knocked down by both sides. The varieties of tackles, end runs, blocking interference, and other maneuvers, were endless, in this good-old game of Subway Board, in which all Boston was participating daily. Those who could sprint fastest, those who could dodge interference best, were at an advantage―and the penalty for losing was missing the car and to try over. But the best of all was the ability to guess the lucky number in advance, a thing few of even the most seasoned commuters achieved. As one versifier of the time put it:

“I’ve watched the Park Street subway board,
     where lighted numbers glow,
  But I’ve never learned the system
     of the chap that makes them go.”

         Boston has made its subway rush hours much more comfortable since then, but those who knew the old-style scrimmages of the Subway Board game may well regret the change.


        South Station has a lower-level platform, with tracks, under the waiting room, that has never been used. Part of the track loop is now used for mail, but the rest still remains unopened.


        There are 130 public libraries in Greater New York, and 70 in the Chicago metropolitan area.

         And 143 in Greater Boston.


        When the Tremont Street Subway was under construction, there was a commission of Paris engineers who came over here to study about subway construction. When the first subway in New York was projected, New York engineers went to Paris to learn subway building. Were the plans improved by crossing the ocean and back?


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