This extraordinary piece of film is a new one to me. It shows sections of a trolley ride–the camera mounted in the front of the car–down Broadway, from Herald Square to Union Square sometime in the very early twentieth century. Though the quality of the picture is poor, there is much to be gleaned from this precious two-minutes and fifteen seconds of footage. We see an old city becoming a modern one, with the two eras in collision (almost literally) with each other. Streetcars are ubiquitous and yet curiously disorganized. Automobiles are not yet seen but work-horses pulling carts are plentiful. There appears to be as yet no pedestrian traffic markings– are there even traffic lights? The general interaction between the new and the old is chaotic and the people on the street appear to take terrible chances with their lives while jaywalking through the oncoming, madly criss-crossing traffic. This suggests to me that while pedestrians were used to walking blithely in front of horse-carriages since they were manned by people who could control their animal, they were as yet in a sort of denial about how much or little control a conductor had over the street trolley (which apparently wasn’t a great deal). After a good deal of territory is covered, the camera is re-set on an oblique view of Broadway and, while it isn’t quite as interesting as the first angle, it shows us something odd; it appears that all men wore roughly the same outfit–dark long coats and tall hats. It looks like a parade of some all-male secret club who dress the same and practice odd turn-of-the-century rituals in backrooms of restaurants off of West 23rd street and the like. Finally we are back to the front view and come to a stop at Union Square. At the very end there are glimpses of several signs that are almost impossible to make out. Almost, but not entirely. By spending way too much time backing and frothing and enlarging and whatnot, I finally decoded one of the signs in front of a store. It says: SELLING OUT AT COST.


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