Amanuensis Monday: The Subway Song

You might remember my great-uncle George Rudroff (1870-1940). George was a man of distinction — a  professional beer brewer; a Ripley’s Believe It or Not!  topic; an aspiring playwright.

He was also a composer of songs about subways. Having read this and even recited it (to myself, softly, when nobody else is home), I can definitely say that it is … heartfelt. I leave further artistic judgments up to you, dear readers.

Long Island Daily Press, Jamaica, N.Y., April 1940:

 “Ex-Beer Champion Pens ‘Van Wyck Subway Song’ ”   

A father in Yorkville said on Sunday morn,

“Come Mother and children, get ready for the shore,

“I’ll show you something new that never you did see

“The Eighth Avenue Subway to Rockaway.”

***

The father smiles, the mother laughs, the children too,

And little Freddy swings his flag, red, white and blue.

But father starts to sighing, the big express was flying

And stopped on Van Wyck Avenue.

***

Three times in, four times out, we don’t care,

The whole trip to Rockaway is only five cents fare.

And little Freddy with his flag, was first to leave the train,

He cried: “That trip to Rockaway was nothing but a dream.”

***

And the mother, Fred, and Annie said, “Papa will you say,

“Papa will you say which is the shortest way.”

And the mother, Fred, and Annie said: “Papa will you say,

“There is no Eighth avenue subway down to Rockaway.”

***

And father said: “I know, myself, there is no such train,

“We’ll have to wait till Jimmy Walker is mayor once again,

“He and President Joe Coyle, they tried, and very hard,

“But when Mayor LaGuardia came, the subway was forgot.”

***

And little Freddy raised his flag, with colors red white and blue

He looks his father in the eye, “God help your wish come true,

“The best intention of two good men, should never be so spoiled,

“Three cheers for Jimmy Walker and hurrah for Joe Coyle.”

Notes

The article: The upcoming debut of George’s song rated two columns at the top of the local news page. Here is the accompanying story:

The Van Wyck Subway Song, with words and music by George Rudroff, former beer tester for a brewery, will have its premiere at a meeting of the Dunton Civic League Thursday night in Masonic Hall. The song was dedicated by the 70-year-old composer to the league and its president, Joseph A. Coyle, fiery veteran of half a hundred South Side civic battles.

Rudroff, who lives in Richmond Hill, became famous in his salad days for his beer-drinking capacity, and recently was the subject of a Believe-It-Or-Not cartoon.

Every day for eight years, Rudroff drank 90 glasses of beer a day. That was before prohibition. It was just about this time, too, that Rudroff composed a war song, “The Pride of Uncle Sam.”

His latest effort is inspired by the civic league’s campaign to win an extension of the 8th Avenue subway from Queens boulevard southward under Van Wyck boulevard to the Rockaways.

Rudroff also courts the Muse on behalf of ex-Mayor Jimmy Walker, who, he believes, could get the new subway built with a minimum of delay if he were back in City Hall.

The subway issue: Uncle George and the Dunton Civic Association were referring to a proposed expansion of the IND Queens Boulevard Line under Van Wyck Boulevard. I’m working my way through accounts of the subway system’s development in this area and era, and it is complicated.  

George appears to have been waxing eloquent about an expansion that was under discussion (and a big political football) in one form or another between 1929 and 1940. There is a lot of information here, at the nycsubway.org site. But please feel free to chime in with any additional insights!

George, who died in November 1940, did not live to see many changes to come on the IND line, including an expansion to Rockaway in the 1950s. The song, however, endures.

The clipping: Digital image,  Old New York Newspapers (http://www.fultonhistory.com : accessed 17 June 2013).  The scan did not include the page number or edition date. Judging from references in other articles on the page, it seems likely this article ran in early April 1940. A calendar of events in the Brooklyn Eagle for 11 April 1940 (page 24, col. 3) mentions a meeting of the Dunton Civic League as taking place that night, and 11 April was on a Thursday.

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