The Harlem Division’s Cemeteries: The Hartsdale Pet Cemetery

To me, some of the most interesting stuff about railroad history is not about the trains or the railroads themselves, but how they affected the places in which they operated. The oft-cited cliche is that the railroads built this country, and although they certainly had an effect on the movement of people westward, some of the strongest effects can be witnessed around cities. Today’s Harlem, Hudson, and New Haven Lines played an immense part in the growth of New York City’s suburbs, and other railroads played a similar part in other major cities. Trains provided easy access to the city’s jobs, but allowed people to live increasingly further and further outside the city’s limits. Businesses were also established or relocated to spots along the rails in order to have access to the city – a primary example being the very first successful condensed milk factory in Wassaic, a spot selected by inventor Gail Borden because of the plentiful farmland, and the Harlem Railroad.

Strangely enough, the railroad also played a part in the establishment of various cemeteries. As the city itself grew larger, not only did some former rural cemeteries get displaced, people with money wished to be interred in an attractive rural setting. Woodlawn Cemetery was established in 1863, and took in the remains of cemeteries displaced in the city proper, and grew to become a venerable place of final rest for thousands. Such growth was undoubtedly assisted by the nearby railroad, easily allowing loved ones to visit the graves of their friends and family. Further north along the Harlem Division, the Kensico Cemetery was also established as a beautiful, rural final resting place. Truly appealing to the wealthy of the city, Kensico offered a private railcar for rent for funerals which would transport people directly from Grand Central to the cemetery’s very own train station.

Though Woodlawn and Kensico may be the two most commonly known cemeteries that owe their growth to the Harlem Railroad, there is another slightly more unique cemetery that also falls into that category – the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery. Just like its brethren, the Hartsdale cemetery has seen gun salutes, bagpipers, and is the final resting place for thousands of friends – however the majority of them just happen to not be human. Buried within its grounds you’ll find the graves of war dogs, police dogs (including at least one MTAPD K9), a search and rescue dog that lost its life on September 11th, thousands of other cats and dogs, humans that opted for their cremains to be interred together with their beloved pets, and even a lion. It is also home to the War Dog Memorial, celebrating the animals that fought alongside their human handlers in the Great War.


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Bye bye Joe Lhota, hello Sadie the cat?

In case you missed it, two big things in MTA land went down this week – (or should I say up?) fare increases are totally happening in March, and Chairman and CEO of the MTA, Joe Lhota, will be resigning. We’ve certainly had a seemingly endless revolving door in terms of MTA chiefs. Lhota has been at the helm of the MTA for just about a year, so I guess he didn’t really set any records for longest time served.

People have been debating who should get the nomination to replace Lhota, and if you ask me, it should totally go to Sadie the subway cat! A few weeks ago I updated you on Sadie, who formerly worked at the New York Transit Museum, but has since retired. I had a chance to talk to the wonderful museum employee who has adopted Sadie, and it seems that she is certainly enjoying retired life…

The subway kitty is now an apartment kitty, and with a nice view!

I bet we could convince Miss Sadie to take the post as chief of the MTA, though. Think about it, we’d just have to pay for her cat food, litter and vet care, and that can’t be more than $1,000 a year, right? That is a bargain compared to the $350,000 that Jay Walder got paid in 2010 as MTA chief. And it wouldn’t be the first time a feline was in an executive position at a transportation company – just ask Japanese cat Tama, who worked herself up from the position of Stationmaster, to Super Stationmaster, and now Chief Operating Officer at the Wakayama Electric Railway. Apparently putting animals in executive positions at railroad companies seems to be a perfectly acceptable business practice in Japan. So why not hire a cat and get ridership up?

In other news, when it comes to the cuteness factor, Sadie beats Joe Lhota hands down. Jay Walder, too.
Sorry, Joe Lhota.

In all seriousness, it will be interesting to see who will be replacing Lhota. And a little bit of a shame, as I thought he seemed pretty competent. (And yes, I admit, I always thought he was pretty cool for actually starting and maintaining a twitter account.) The likelihood of a cat getting the position is probably less than the world ending tonight, so we certainly wish Sadie the best, and to keep enjoying her retirement. But on the off chance that she does get the job, I know who Sadie can hire as her deputy!

The trains aren’t running? GOOD!

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Attention: Cows do not count as pets on Metro-North

In case you are unaware, I just wanted to let you all know that on Metro-North cows do not count as pets. People can, and do, take both dogs and cats on the train. That is a normal occurrence. However, one of my favorite questions to ask Metro-North employees is what is the craziest item you’ve ever seen a passenger attempt to bring on the train? I’ve heard quite the array of answers, from patio sets to snowblowers to sheetrock. Animals occasionally factor in – snakes, iguanas, (live) chickens… there are rumors of a goat on the Upper Harlem, but I’ve found no one to confirm this.

Anyone who is employed by Metro-North’s customer relations department is bound to have quite the experience in being asked some pretty crazy questions. I know that in my short stint as a phone tech in a computer service center I was asked (and told) some pretty crazy things. Thankfully, I’ve been on the opposite side of customer service questions for quite a few years. I am the stupid customer. Or perhaps more apt – the trickster.

Trouble always seems to be two steps behind me, and I can’t resist playing a little joke every now and again. In this case, I couldn’t resist messing around with @MetroNorthTweet – Metro-North’s presence on the social-media site Twitter. I will not lie – I was aware that Ted, the normal person behind @MetroNorthTweet, was not around and another person would be monitoring the account. Yeah, that probably played a little part…

First, I had to set the stage. I’m so proud of myself, I thought of this on the train platform.

Now, I assure you, I had no intentions of messing with @MetroNorthTweet solely to post it here. Just the fact that other people started chiming in made me decide later on that I should post this. In fact, it was probably the highlight of my day! Thanks Metro-North, and Chamelle for being such a good sport!

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Cuteness for the day: Stationmaster Tama and the deer of Nara

It is about time that I get the remainder of my travel photos up, and of course today’s weather cancelled work, so it is the perfect time to get off my butt and do it. I do have a little bit of an excuse with my Japan photos – as I thought I had lost them. When I take photos I have an elaborate sort of organization that all of the pictures have to go through. Ah, my OCD tendencies. Anyways, the horrible photos are deleted, and only the most horrible – anything that is out of focus or something like that. Photos I don’t like go into a folder called rejected, and the rest of them I crop and color correct and do whatever else I need to do. Now I had done this with most of the Japan photos, and put them on a flash drive. But the flash drive died, and I sent it out for data recovery. When it came back, there were no Japan photos. I still had the original unedited files, but that annoyed me… I didn’t want to go through my whole procedure again. And so they sat idle on my harddrive for months. Only recently (after my one laptop crashed and I purchased a new one) I discovered that I had in fact backed up the edited versions of the files on my external harddrive. Now I have no excuse to go through them and finally put them online.

One of the subjects I did manage to get up a while ago were the photos and video of the Tama Densha train. That would be the train that was modeled after the famous Stationmaster Cat, Tama. But I never mentioned my visit across various prefectures to get to see this little feline. I had hoped to get some special treatment, even got a Japanese coworker to call and attempt to arrange it for me, but unfortunately their reply was that the railroad had no one available that spoke English to meet with me. So I, like everyone else, saw little Tama inside her temporary cage, as Kishi station at the time was under construction. The new station, which is complete with a cat-faced roof, has since opened. I am also pretty sure that Tama has received a promotion to vice-president of the railroad company.

The Wakayama Electric Railway itself is pretty small. I didn’t realize that the Kishigawa Line, the one that went from Wakayama city to the final station of Kishi, was the company’s only line. Although I am sure that there are plenty of people that might use the short, 9 mile line for commuting, it mostly has reinvented itself as a tourist line… which of course happened by accident after they assigned a little cat to become a stationmaster. The company only has six sets of two EMU railcars, three sets of which are themed: there is the Tama train, a strawberry-themed train, and a toy-themed train. The trains only have an engineer and no conductors, run on narrow gauge rails, and are powered by overhead catenary. But I can assure you that most people riding that train could care less about that – they just want to see the cat!


Being the person I am, and going to just about anywhere cute animals may be, I also visited the city of Nara. I write about plenty of history on this site, but it feels slightly amusing for me to say that Nara was Japan’s capital in the year 710 (sometimes American history just feels like a children’s-sized book). According to mythology, the god Takemikazuchi arrived to protect the capital on the back of a white deer. The deer there have been regarded as almost sacred, and you’ll find them rather tame and wandering all over in the vicinity of Nara Park. Vendors sell little crackers to feed the deer… and yes, some of the deer even have polite Japanese manners and bow to you.


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Of Boredom & Recycled Seat Checks: The Metro-North Zoo.

There are lots of different things that people do to pass the time while riding on the train. Some people eat bananas and yogurt for breakfast. Other people have their daily ritual of reading the newspaper. People who want everyone else on the train to know how cool they are pull out their iPads and perform mindless tasks. There are the sleepers, the talkers, the readers, and the folks that don’t understand that the concept that earphones are for you, and you alone to listen along.

Me, I like to read. One of my goals in life was always to read 50 books in a year. In school there was never enough time for me to read that much, but while riding the train every day, it is a quite achievable goal. Sometimes when I get bored of reading I’ll listen to music, and if I’m tired, sleep. Occasionally I bring my netbook, and most rarely do I draw. I did sew once, and that certainly got me some odd looks from folks… well, mostly because I was sewing 8-fingered gloves for my 8-fingered mother.

Even more rarely then the aforementioned activities, I make seat check animals. It started quite a while ago… kids were on vacation from school, and a few of them wound up on the train with their parents, heading for the city. A conductor I know started making seat check animals for the kids when he had a free moment. I watched and was then like, hey, give me some of those seat checks. He says I cheat though, since I use scissors and glue, which is probably true. But it is one more thing to pass the time… Anyways, here is a little collection of silly things I made, all from recycled Metro-North seat checks and tickets (there are even some old tickets in there – a retiring conductor found them while cleaning out his locker and gave them to me). I call it my Metro-North Zoo.



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Arts for Transit: Departures and Arrivals

Well I suppose I am a little late in posting these pictures… but that is the problem with me, I take so many damn photographs I am late with posting up all of them. Plus my shoulder still hurts quite a bit, so by the time I get home from work after using the computer all day, the last thing I want to be doing is messing around on my own computer. I guarantee you that a big part of it is probably poor posture and sitting hours at a time in front of the computer making silly websites. I’m trying to catch up though, I swear. I still have train-related Japan and Canada photos I’d love to post, timetables to scan (I purchased a new scanner for this!), plus photos from the Transit Museum’s newest exhibit, highlighting the Arts for Transit works around the MTA network.

In addition to the exhibit, there were also a couple tours through the museum to see some of the Arts for Transit works. A few weeks ago I went on one of those tours, we went to see Departures and Arrivals, by artist Ben Snead, in Jay Street-Borough Hall station. The tour ended with a trip to Ben’s studio, where we got to see some of his previous work, and the things he is currently working on.

Departures and Arrivals is a glass mosaic, based on original paintings by Snead (these paintings are actually at the Transit Museum for the exhibit). Snead’s work often pictures insects, reptiles and fish, and with this mosaic that theme carries through. On the tour Snead discussed why he chose the various animals displayed on the wall, and perfect for a train station where people come and go every day, the underlying theme is the migration of these animals. All of those displayed in mosaic form – sparrow, lion fish, koi, parakeet – are all animals not native to the city, they were introduced by people, or migrated on their own. The beetle, which is screened onto the larger white tiles, is a species native to this area – though it is disappearing due to humans encroaching on its habitat.

Mosaics always amaze me, as I figure they aren’t the easiest thing to create, and rather labor intensive. Although Snead created the initial design, it was from his paintings that the mosaic was fabricated by Franz Mayer of Munich. Snead mentioned that there was a bit of color shifting from his original designs, but it came out very well. If you look closely the piece is not entirely created from many small tiles, there are some larger pieces of glass used for feathers, and for beaks. This was partially done to save money, I remember hearing during the tour, but I don’t see it as hurting the piece, I rather like the effect.

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Meet Berta, An MTA PD K-9

Every once and a while in White Plains station I see officers from MTA PD’s K-9 unit… and each time I see them, I always have the desire to chat. But I never do. That is, until today.

Meet Berta, who is quite the cutie. I had a short chat with Berta’s handler while waiting for my train this evening (me being the moron I am, forgot to ask him his name!). Ever since reading an article in the New York Times about the MTA’s dogs, I had a question. What is up with the price gap? The NYT stated that male dogs were more expensive than females. I had to ask Berta’s handler. Are the females… less effective?

He laughed at the question. “Definitely not,” he said. The two dogs he works with, Berta, and a German Shepherd, are both female. He was also skeptical that there exists any price difference between the male and female dogs. Although Berta’s job is to sniff out explosives, her handler jokes that she really excels at sniffing out chocolate chip cookies. Shame on you, Berta, dogs aren’t supposed to eat chocolate!

And there you have it. Dog themed posts two days in a row. I do think I need to clean myself up now… I seem to have dog fur all over my shirt…

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Please Do Not Touch Me (Part 2) & The Zoo

Some of my older readers may recall my mention of a man that stroked my knee while riding the Long Island Rail Road. I do not like touchy people. I do not want to be touched by these people. This morning I was really engrossed with a novel I am reading, hanging out on the benches at White Plains station, waiting for my shuttle bus to arrive. Apparently I was so engrossed that I didn’t see the shuttle arrive. A man, who also apparently rides the shuttle and looks to be a fairly new rider, walked over and placed his fingers on top of my hand, alerting me to the arrived shuttle. I sort of thought this was awkward. Never have we ever had a conversation before, and as of yet we still have not. He just touched my hand and then walked away. He could have say, spoke aloud, or if he was really intent on touching me to notify me, he could have tapped me on the shoulder, right? Perhaps I shouldn’t be quite so bothered by this incident, but it just felt rather awkward.

In other news, the train has been more like a zoo this week… in fact a man was so alarmed by this fact I saw him putting on bug spray prior to getting on the train! (okay, I exaggerate, but he was putting on bug spray!) Yesterday we had an adorable kitten by the name of Trouble. Today we had an obnoxious little dog, who knows what his name was. Not counting service dogs, I don’t really think animals have all that much place on the trains. Small animals either on the passenger’s lap or in a carrier I think are acceptable. But walking your dog on a leash in the train aisle is kind of dumb to me. I certainly hope she picked the dog up when exiting the train. Well, I am sure she did, otherwise I would have been hearing “oh come help, Fido fell in the gap, we need to save him!”

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FMyLife and Pantsless Santa Claus

Today a coworker showed me the site FMyLife. I must say it is incredibly awesome. I ran into an entry about a person riding the train… I must say, with all my adventures, thankfully none were quite this horrible…

Today, it’s my birthday but I had to go to work. I catch the train and I am forced to sit next to this weird smelly dude who jumps off one stop before mine. A little old lady jumps on so I shuffle over so she can sit down with ease. Upon exiting the train i notice my pants are wet with smelly dude’s piss. FML

Then again, I am fairly certain that I saw the man I think of as Santa Claus without any pants yesterday, which can be fairly traumatizing. I occasionally see him around the train station, he looked like he could be homeless, but my roommate doesn’t seem to think so. Either way, his white hair and beard always reminded me of Santa Claus, hence the name. I got off the train and was all alone on my side of the platform (there are three sets of stairs to the platform at Goldens Bridge, I take the one on the south side since it is closer to my house, but for the most part it is the least used of the three) except for him sitting on the bench. His feet and legs were completely bare, and I am fairly certain he was not wearing pants. Either way, I tried to walk by as fast as possible while chanting inside my head “not looking, not looking, not looking”. Of course he had to do the opposite and stare intently the entire time.

In other news, Guy insisted that I upload a picture to the blog, it is a picture of a “Canine Conductor”. I asked if he was the first canine conductor, and received a laugh in response. He may be the first literal canine conductor however.

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Suffocating Your Baby…

While waiting on the platform, I noticed a woman acting a little strangely while pushing a baby carriage. Not like, strange enough to call the police or something, but just odd. She was pushing the carriage, but it was covered over with a large blanket. If a kid was inside, it would have been suffocating. Every couple of minutes, she would kneel down over the carriage, lift the flap, stick her head inside, and talk. Actually, thinking back, it was pretty damn weird. You see those “See Something, Say Something” posters everywhere, and that was kinda suspicious…

Once we got on the train though, I did happen to notice that the woman wasn’t talking to a bomb or anything like that… she was attempting to conceal a cat strapped into the baby carriage.

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