All Aboard the Panda Special!

While the Grand Central Centennial celebration on February 1st was primarily dedicated to our beloved Terminal, we also took a few moments to remember the life of Edward Koch, who passed away earlier that morning. There are many ways that one can remember the late Ed Koch – as a congressman, as a mayor, as a consummate New Yorker, and even as a preserver of Grand Central (and if you’re as young as me, perhaps only as that judge on the People’s Court). But the thing that probably won’t come up in most people’s memories, however, are pandas. It certainly was not one of Koch’s most noteworthy accomplishments, but he did succeed in getting two pandas for New York City, if only for a few months.

Pandas!
Mayor Ed Koch and Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang on his visit to New York in 1984, and a newspaper article mentioning Koch’s request for pandas.

As the story goes, Mayor Koch hosted Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang for lunch at Gracie Mansion in 1984. In a private moment, Koch requested two pandas from Ziyang, stating, “If I get two pandas, I’ll get re-elected.” Koch later attributed, in jest, his 1985 reelection to Zhao’s statement to the media, “It is possible that New York City will have two pandas.” The negotiations for the rare ursids was said to take, in total, seven years – and in April of 1987 two pandas finally arrived at JFK airport on a flight from Beijing.

Panda excitement!
Everyone is excited for the pandas on opening day! Children visit the zoo with masks and signs, and Mayor Koch stands with Deputy Mayor of Beijing, Feng Mingwei.

For the next six months the two pandas, one male and one female, called the Bronx Zoo home. Ling Ling, the male, (not to be confused with the panda of the same name given to the US as a gift by China in 1972) was one and a half years old and weighed 119 pounds. The second panda, a female named Yong Yong, was 6 years old, and weighed 187 pounds. Yong Yong was on her second visit to the United States, she had previously been exhibited in California in 1982. After six months at the Bronx Zoo, the pair moved to Busch Gardens in Tampa, before returning to Beijing in April of 1988.

Bronx Zoo Panda
Panda at the Bronx zoo in 1987. Photo by Tony Savoca.

Now Mayor Koch and two adorable pandas certainly make a good story, but I’m sure you’re wondering how exactly this relates to trains. Apparently the pandas whipped everyone into quite a fervor – the zoo expected 1800 visitors would see them an hour – and not everyone would arrive by car. For those that opted for public transportation, Metro-North not only offered special tickets to the zoo, they printed special timetables as well. Appropriately printed in black and white ink, the timetables featured two pandas on the front, and included a map for getting to the zoo. The illustration of the pandas was done by Victor Chan, who was a graphic designer in Corporate Communications for Metro-North in the late ’80s.

Metro North Panda Timetable

Metro North Panda Timetable

Until I had found this timetable at a train show, I had no idea that there were ever special panda trains, or that the Bronx Zoo had ever had pandas. Pandas are always a top favorite in the animal kingdom for many, yet they are exceedingly rare – especially so in the United States. At this time, there are only 12 pandas in the entire country. So Koch’s temporary acquisition for the zoo was definitely a big deal. And these trains, and the timetables printed for them, may be some of the most interesting in Metro-North’s 30 year history.

For those curious about the fate of the two aforementioned pandas, both lived fairly long lives but are now deceased. Ling Ling was given as a gift to Japan in 1992, and resided in Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo. He died of heart failure in 2008 at the age of 22. Yong Yong spent the remainder of her life in China at various different zoos. She gave birth to ten cubs, and is the grandmother of Ya Ya, one of 12 pandas living in the US, residing at the Memphis Zoo. Yong Yong died at the Beijing Zoo in 2006, at the age of 25.

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Taking the train to the Bronx Zoo, Botanical Garden, 1904

Though Metro-North is primarily a commuter railroad, they do frequently offer deals and excursions to attract those that don’t normally commute. However, Metro-North is certainly not the first to advertise various attractions to get people to ride the rails. The New York Central promoted taking the train to the game (before that phrase was trademarked by the MTA!), and even taking the train to visit your institutionalized loved ones. The Bronx Zoo and the Botanical Gardens are two other attractions that you can visit by train, and over the years have been advertised by both Metro-North and the New York Central.

One of my most recent eBay acquisitions is a brochure printed by the New York Central in 1904, advertising the Bronx Park – or what we’d know today as the Bronx Zoo, and the New York Botanical Garden. Visiting both was, and still is, easy via the Harlem Line. Although I loved the cover of the brochure, it was also interesting to read about these parks and what they were like over a hundred years ago. Anyways, this was too good to not share… enjoy!




Random little factoids I found interesting:

  • Round trip tickets from Grand Central to Fordham was 25 cents for adults, and 15 cents for children.
  • Entrance to the Botanical Garden and Bronx Zoo was free, except for Mondays and Thursdays, where the zoo charged 25 cents admission.
  • You could rent a wheelchair – and someone to push you around in it – for 50 cents.
  • Cameras were not permitted at the zoo.
  • The lion house at the zoo was at that time the most expensive building, at a cost of $150,000.
  • If this brochure had been printed two years later, in 1906, it is possible that you might have seen a photo of Ota Benga – the Congolese pygmy that was on display in the monkey house for a short period of time. (this one boggles my mind)

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Tuesday Tour of the Harlem Line: Fordham

Another Tuesday, another Harlem Line station… I was a bit behind today, and I am glad I was able to keep up with the schedule, hehe. I’ve been hard at work with some new things for the site, which unfortunately requires me to draw a bit, and although my shoulder is feeling better, it was hurting after drawing too long. When I went for therapy I told this to my doctor… and he looked at me like I grew two heads. “A tablet what?” Later on he advised me to “not draw too much on your scrabble board.” I suppose he’d shit a brick if he saw a person walk in with an iPad. In other news I’ve upped the security on commenting here. I’ve gotten a bit fed up with thousands of spam comments a week, even though they go into a spam folder and don’t actually get posted. The additional spam blocker I’ve added (that prevents spam from ever getting submitted) warned me that there may be false positives. So if you ever make a comment that doesn’t get through, please let me know. Despite the fact that I really didn’t want to, I’ve also closed comments on articles more than 2 months old, which cut down on a lot of the spam.

Anyways, back to Fordham. Besides Harlem-125th Street, Fordham is one of the other Harlem Line stations that is shared. Both Harlem Line and New Haven Line trains stop here, and it is one of Metro-North’s busier stations. Much of the ridership at Fordham is made up of reverse commuters: folks that leave the city and head to jobs in Westchester and Connecticut. Over 6,000 reverse commuters head north on week days. The station itself is located below street level, with a portion of the platform being covered by the road above. Although it does have a ticket window and a small waiting room, I didn’t get too many photos since it was under construction when I visited. Construction on the platform will also be happening soon, as it was announced in July that Metro-North had purchased additional land to extend the platform, and a new canopy and shelter will be built.

Within close proximity to the station is Fordham University, as well as many shops. The station also serves as Metro North’s access point to the Bronx Zoo, as you can take a bus from the station to the zoo. Other than that, Fordham is not the most remarkable station… but here are some photos, enjoy!

 
  
 
   
 
   
 

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NY’s Decorated Train: A Bronx Zoo themed S Train

After coming back from Japan I posted a bunch of pictures of some of Japan’s decorated trains. Although they seem far more common there, we do get some decorated trains here in New York City every once and a while. One of my recent favorites is the adorably cute Bronx Zoo themed train. I caught up with the train several weeks ago in Grand Central, it was running as the shuttle between there and Times Square.








If you happen to take a ride on one of these trains, be sure to look up at the ceiling. It just might make you smile. I nearly missed it myself, guess I wasn’t too observant that night. But look up, a giraffe will be staring back at you. After seeing this train I totally want to go to the zoo!

In other news, I am totally getting my act together with the rest of my pictures from Japan, and the more recent ones from Toronto. I got in trouble taking pictures in Toronto’s Union Station, but also had the opportunity to visit the Toronto Railway Heritage Centre, which was great fun (well, not the part with the cops, or as my brother called them, Canadian Bacon). I liked the trains, my brother liked the beer. The old railway roundhouse now serves as a beer brewery, and of course they have samples for visitors. It helps if I tell you that my brother is only twenty – not quite drinking age in the US, but old enough to drink in Canada.

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