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The Fastest Commuter In The East

July 2024
2min read

The travails of getting to work during the blizzard were so severe that the New York Evening Sun gave front-page space to the remarkable story of a businessman who managed to make the trip from then fashionable Harlem to the City Hall area in only two hours and eleven minutes—”probably the fastest time on record for the day.” Despite the speed, the trip was not altogether without incident, as the man’s account demonstrates:

I left my house on 128th street and Sixth avenue at 9½ A.M. and at once discovered that it was snowing. I opened my umbrella, and a howling wind swept around the corner from Sixth avenue and took that umbrella out of my hand and lifted it over the roof of a neighboring flat house. Next my Derby hat flew off my head and went skimming over the snow drifts at the rate of about sixty miles an hour. I let it go, returned to my house, put on an old hunting cap, tied up my ears in a woollen muffler, and started out again to go to my business.…

I had to get down town, and I went to a livery stable to get a conveyance. There was one cutter, one horse, and one driver left. I hired all three for $15 and started out. That was at 10:20 o’clock. The driver told me that the horse was liable to run away if he got excited, but he didn’t get excited. Well, we started down Third avenue on a fast trot, and then the fun began. The air was so full of little fine needles of snow and the wind tore by us at such a rate that that horse staggered about like a drunken man. But he was game. He put his head down and trotted ahead in the teeth of the blast. His mane and tail were masses of ice, and his hide was thickly veneered with it. You know I wear eyeglasses. Well, my eyeglasses were covered with ice so thick that I had to lick it off every five minutes. I couldn’t get them clear any other way.

We passed Third avenue surface cars all the way down. They were all deserted and most of them were off the track. The horses had all been taken back to the stables. The brewers’ wagons were out, though, out in force, and each one had from four to ten great Normandy horses. Even the great strength of these huge draught animals was not enough to pull the wagons through some of the snow drifts, and the drivers were lashing the poor beasts with their whips and cursing them with great vigor. The sidewalks we-re almost deserted as well as I could see through my ice-covered glasses. As we kept moving southward at the great speed of four miles an hour, the sleet striking my face made me feel as if it was raining carpet tacks. My moustache froze solid, my eyebrows did likewise, and little icicles formed on my eyelashes and got into my eyes. They hurt like hot cinders.

At Eighty-fourth street I got out, went into a dry goods store, and bought two toboggan caps for the driver and myself. We pulled them down over our ears and tied mufflers over our faces, leaving only the eyes exposed. Then things were more pleasant. The driver was 61 years old, but he didn’t grumble a bit.

“I’m an old New York tough,” he said. “I’ve lived here, man and boy, all my life, but I’ll be ____ if ever I seen the likes o’ this ride, an’ I doan’ wanter.”

And still that good horse went staggering ahead. We tilted nearly over several times and twice we ran into pillars of the elevated road, for we couldn’t see where we were going half the time.…At Ninth street the fury of the wind redoubled, and when we got to Park row the horse was forced to stagger a little more slowly.

I arrived opposite T HE S UN office at 12:31 o’clock, having made the trip in a little more than two hours, and I don’t believe anybody beat it.…One of the driver’s fingers was frozen, and the horse was completely exhausted. No, I am not going home to-night. I have telegraphed to expect me in May.

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