When we’re living inside something which is part of our lives we almost never think of a time when it might not be there or of the forces that might cause it to disappear. This would certainly have been true of people living in NYC between the late 1800′s down to the 1950′s. From 1891 there were 4 elevated rail lines in NYC, on Second Ave, Third Ave, Sixth Ave and Ninth Ave. They had been celebrated when they were built because they enabled New Yorkers to go much faster and further than horse drawn carriages could take them and they were convenient and cheap.
60 years later they had all vanished except for a section in the Bronx. They were gradually made redundant by the spread of the subway which was better protected from the affects of the weather and was much cleaner and less intrusive than the ‘Els’ had been. The attached historic video provides a robust visual and auditory account of the reasons why the “Els” were phased out.
The video itself is also a relic of the past. Both the death of the Third Ave ‘El” and the 1950′s recounting of the building and erection of the Statue of Liberty in New York’s harbor was originally a film poroduced by Pathe Newsreels. At the time this film was shot the firm was owned in Britain but they were eventually bought out by Warner Bros. Prior to the advent of TV and newscasts becoming common, these newsreels were the only way that ordinary New Yorkers or anyone else saw ‘live’ events.
The events they recorded were otherwise only reported via the written word in newspapers or via the spoken voice over the radio. These newsreels provided that vital missing link, a moving image of what was happening. As soon as New Yorkers could go to the cinema they could see not just a film, but from 1910, they could see newsreels too, at first silent but with sound added from 1928.
It is probably quite hard for people who have grown up with TV newscasts to understand the rapt attention people paid to these newsreels. This was New Yorkers only chance to see a record of their leaders in action or to see a permanent record of events as they actually happened. Imagine the impact though of this film of the ‘El’ and the Statue of Liberty on people living in the Midwest or South of America or on people living in places like India or Australia. It opened a whole new level of understanding of a world which they had only imagined from reading or from line drawings.
And as we live through disruption after disruption now it is amazing to reflect on the impact of the subway and the TV on the way New Yorkers live. What is uncomfortable for us as things taken for granted are changed before our eyes will in turn be taken as a given by our children.