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.”


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 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 ( : 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.

Seen Over The Weekend: Armchair Travels

This time of year, I dream of exotic travels. Then I look at my actual travel budget and remind myself that staying at home can also be broadening. Plus, the kids’ passports need to be updated. But here are some dreamy travel links anyway.

• Summer vacation season, unfortunately, is also pickpocketing season in tourist destinations. American-in-Paris David Lebovitz gives an interesting rundown of scams and behaviors to guard against if you’re visiting his adopted home. I think it’s pretty good advice for tourists anywhere, personally.

• 2013 is Ireland’s official Family History Year, as good a reason as any to schedule that long-awaited Emerald Isle roots-research trip. The Irish American News ran an item about two genealogy research package tours sponsored by the Irish Ancestral Research Association (TIARA).

• Or cruise to Maine, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick on a Genealogy Conference and Cruise hosted by Wholly Genes, Inc.

• The Chicago Tribune ran this quick rundown of typical roots research/vacation destinations in Germany.

• I am lucky enough to know exactly where my grandparents lived before emigrating from Germany. Maybe someday I will rent a lovely Ferienwohnung in Fränkische Schweiz. (I love vacation-rentals-by-owner sites! Perfect armchair dreaming.)

History Reconsidered, Via Newsreel

Another modern methodology story:

It was 100 years ago this month that a suffragist named Emily Wilding Davison surged onto the track at Epsom at the Derby, throwing herself under the hooves of the King’s racehorse and sustaining fatal injuries in a suicidal bid to draw attention to the fight for women’s voting rights.

Or did she?

Many historians have argued that Davison was not suicidal — there was a return train ticket in her pocket, and she had made plans to go on holiday with her sister shortly after the Derby. In that case, what was she doing? Some have argued that Davison merely intended to dash across the track waving a suffragist banner, and she misjudged the timing. Others believed she intended to attach a flag to King George V’s horse, Anmer.

But that newfangled development, the newsreel, was very much in place at the 1913 Derby. As Guardian reporter Vanessa Thorpe writes, there were three newsreel cameras rolling. Today’s sophisticated imaging technology, plus fresh, cleaned-up images from the original nitrate stock, literally brought the event into clearer focus, strongly suggesting that Davison, while on a very risky mission, wasn’t intending to kill herself.

One of the wonderful things about new techniques like digital film analysis is the reminder that history can be a rather fluid thing. The new things we learn have the ability to firm up the outlines of established pictures, or shift them into new shapes.

Emily Davison (at left) and jockey Herbert Jones on the ground at the Derby in Epsom, 1913. Hulton Archive photo reproduced on

Emily Davison (at left) and jockey Herbert Jones on the ground at the Derby in Epsom, 1913. Hulton Archive photo reproduced on

Ancestral Secrets + DNA, Royal Edition

Princess-Of-Wales-princess-diana-32114836-220-254So DNA testing has unveiled a hidden ancestral mystery in the family chart of Diana, one-time Princess of Wales. It’s a very modern story, both in the technology it uses and the philosophical attitude with which the revelations are handled in the article.

Eliza Kewark, the distant maternal ancestor in question, was quite likely of half-Indian heritage, according to testing firm BritainsDNA. But in family accounts she was described as being of Armenian descent to obscure what was, in the early 19th century,  considered an unacceptable background for an Englishwoman seeking to make a respectable marriage.

It was nice to see how this story comes across as both interesting and somehow … well, typical. The combination of DNA technology and increased honesty in reporting out research is making these stories just another part of the genealogical landscape, as they’ve always been, or should have been.

Resource Spotlight: Catholic Churches Map

As I just said, I’ve spent a few hours reconsidering and reorganizing my links section here, which meant looking — I mean, REALLY looking — at my bookmarks. I don’t want the links sidebar to become Godzilla, but that meant leaving out some neat bookmarks. Hence:

Resource Spotlight!

Today’s Spotlight is a beautiful little Google map of Brooklyn Catholic Churches.


This was created by Google user patatie in 2009, and lists a couple of dozen Brooklyn R.C. parishes, along with the dates they were established. I am not entirely sure that it is comprehensive, but it is a nice, quick glance at parishes in Brooklyn, and will certainly give you a good idea of just how localized Catholic identity can get in this neck of the woods.

I have a number of these little tools and snippets hanging around my bookmarks, and I’ll continue to highlight some of the more interesting ones.

Housekeeping Notes

What I really should be doing is some actual washing of woodwork, but it is much easier to clean up the blog.

I’ve been wanting to revamp my links section for a while, ever since I changed into my new shiny theme. The link area was getting unwieldy and uncategorized, and therefore not particularly useful.

So I got into organizational mode (yes, stop the presses) and cleaned it up, with a greater emphasis on resources I’ve found handy over the last few years. If you’ve read me at all, you know I come of a 50-50 Irish/German mix. This is now duly categorized, along with my main U.S. areas of New Jersey and New York.

The Family History section, I admit, is a bit of a mixed bag. That’s because I think that when we write up our research, at least some of us will want to include touches that personalize our ancestors — what they ate, how they amused themselves, how they got to work every day. So sure, I’ll put in links about old movie theaters or vintage cookbooks, et cetera, along with some of the national sites for established genealogical organizations. I suppose this category could split again into “Genealogy Organizations” and “Cultural Stuff” and “Writing Stuff”, but one has to call a halt somewhere.

A couple of links were broken — ugh, sorry about that. I hate broken links. I think that’s all cleaned up now, but if you find something that doesn’t work, let me know.


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