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The Blog Brothers

Two Black-Irish-American brothers from the mythical city of Albany, New York ponder their 20th century adventures from either side of the Pacific Ocean; Bob in Kyoto, Japan and Mick in Santa Barbara, California.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Twilight of the Trolley

I remember sitting at our little table on the second story porch overlooking Second Avenue sometime around dusk on a summer evening, having milk and cookies and watching the sparks fly from the overhead cable as the trollies went by. To me it seemed as magical as a Fourth of July fireworks display; even more beautiful, perhaps, because not only was it coming from a train rumbling and screeching past the house, but the train was actually stopping at the front door. We would jump up and peer over the porch rail to see passengers stepping out of the glowing coach and onto the curb. Magic of the highest order.

My only other memory of the Albany trolley is my fear of stepping on the rails when crossing the street, because I heard that you could be electrocuted if you did and, of course, die a horrible death, instantly, and be terribly disfigured, and nobody would attend your funeral, and you would pass from this earth unloved and unwanted, and... wonder where that idea came from?

Albany saw its first trolley in 1881, and the last one rolled down Second Avenue on Saturday, August 10, 1946. I was four years old. The automobile had become so popular that they were no longer profitable, and the United Traction company decided to replace them all with busses. You could still see the steel tracks on cobblestone streets all over town for many years, though, as in the photo above. One by one they were covered over with asphalt, and re-appeared only once, during the filming of William Kennedy's book, Ironweed, when they recreated the old trolley system on a section of Broadway. It helped to keep those back porch memories alive.

By the way, the trolley in the photo is passing through the heart of downtown Albany, the intersection of State and Pearl Streets, probably sometime in the 1930s, perhaps headed for Second Avenue. In the background on the right you can see John G. Myers department store, which was to play a major part in our lives, the story of which will be told in some future post, I'm sure.


Blogger Robert Brady said...

And Walgreen's on the corner ground floor on the left, and State Bank of Albany (where I later got my college loan) just above the trolley roof, and Woolworth's over there on the right where Mom got her cinnamon squares, and the Mr. Peanut store just out of sight, and...

5:57 PM  
Blogger Mick Brady said...

Those were golden years, when downtown Albany held all the magic and excitement of Times Square for a little boy. Alas, the city we once knew is no longer the same.

11:56 AM  
Anonymous joared said...

Oh the trolley! Remember leaving our small town of about 15,000 to occasionally go to the big city and capital of Ohio, Columbus. What a delight as a young girl when I had my first view of a trolley, for our city had only buses. The trolley seemed like progress to me.

I, too, remember being cautioned by my chum I was visiting there, not to step on the rails for fear of electrocution.
She was, after all, a whole year older than I, plus living in "the big city" was sophisticated enough to know about these things.

My how disappointed and surprised I was when next we went to Columbus and no more trolleys. I was told, "Oh yeah, we finally got rid of those." Seems the bus was considered an improvement.

Some of what you describe could just as easily have been Columbus, or, perhaps other cities of comparable size in the east and midwest. For Columbus, just change the major street names to say, Broad and High; the name of a significant department store to Lazarus, etc. As much as we are different, we are the same.

Thanks again for all your remembrances, they become mine, too.

1:40 PM  

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