Views of Kensico Cemetery

Dear readers, I am certain you are all acquainted with my terrible eBay habit. Lots of the old timetables, photos, and postcards find their way onto this site at some point in time. I must admit though, I love old things. Specifically, old paper things. Maybe it is because I am a graphic designer, and I love looking at old printed art, especially on pre-1900’s timetables and books. Though it is also possible that I’m just a nutjob destined to be one day featured on the show Hoarders. Either way, today I do want to share with you all my most recent acquisition, which is a little bit different than most things I come across on eBay.

If you’ve ever taken the Harlem Line north of White Plains, and past Valhalla, you are most likely familiar with the large cemetery that dominates the view in between stations. Kensico Cemetery shares a nearly mile-long border with the railroad, and astute observers can glimpse the main cemetery office, which once served as a railroad station, on the west side of the tracks. The choice of location of the cemetery isn’t hard to figure out – it offered both a beautifully rural final resting place, and was easily accessible from the city by the railroad. In fact, on the cemetery’s Board of Directors was Chauncey Mitchell Depew, whose name might be familiar, as I posted about him in April. He got his start as the legal counsel for the New York and Harlem Railroad under Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, and eventually worked his way up to the presidency of the New York Central – conveniently the railroad running right alongside the cemetery. Not only did the cemetery have its own private railroad station, it also had a private railcar named Kensico which could be rented for funerals. In 1910, the rental price for a locomotive with the railcar Kensico attached was $60.00, which today seems like a paltry sum.

All of these things I’ve discovered about the Kensico Cemetery were gleaned from a little hand-bound booklet printed in 1910, titled “Views in the Kensico Cemetery.” I bought the thing just for the single photo of Kensico station, and after flipping through it, I’m glad I did. I love it for the silliest reason, too – at the time of printing, the United States used three-digit phone numbers. There are plenty of things that I don’t really think about, and anything but seven-digit phone numbers are one of them (despite the fact that I know Brazil uses eight digits for cellular numbers, and don’t even get me started about their downright bizarre method of placing long distance calls). The book is chock-full of photos of the cemetery with plenty of open land, a much different view than today’s cemetery with over 130,000 “residents.” Below you’ll find a few of my favorite parts of the booklet, including the photo of Kensico Station.

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Reasons why I’m crazy for CooCoo…

I’ve mentioned it a few times on here, but I absolutely hate Metro-North’s phone information line. Back in the day you would call up and hit the first few letters of the station you were going to on your keypad. It was rather simple. Unfortunately, the system was “upgraded” to a voice recognition system that worked like crap. You would say your station name, and provided there was no background noise, only then would the system understand you. Anotherwords, if you were anywhere in the entire fricken city of New York, the schedule system didn’t work. But it would sure as hell patronize you… Can you repeat that? For folks without fancy phones with internet capabilities, this was pretty much the only option for getting train times on the go, besides having a timetable in your pocket.

Last week Metro-North announced a new way to access your train schedules: CooCoo. I had heard of it, as it had already been put to use for the Long Island Railroad, but had never used it. However, from the various articles written about it, I never quite realized how absolutely awesome CooCoo is. All you have to do is send a text message to 266266 (the number for CooCoo) with your stations like this: Goldens Bridge to Grand Central. Then CooCoo texts you back with the next five trains. Simple. Easy. Want to know the trains for tomorrow? You can do that too: Goldens Bridge to Grand Central 7am. Each train that CooCoo comes back with has a letter assigned to it… respond to the text message with just that letter, and it will text you more information about that train, like the duration and fare price, regular and onboard. CooCoo will also tell you if any of the trains are delayed or cancelled, which can also be a big help.

Now that I’ve started using CooCoo, I’ve come up with a few reasons why I absolutely love it:

CooCoo is easy to remember
I’ll be honest, I don’t even know what the phone number for the Metro-North info line is anymore. They got rid of their 800 number, and even THAT was confusing. Oh, and before they got rid of the 800, if you screwed up and dialed MTA-INFO instead of METRO-INFO, you found that you had called a sex line.

CooCoo, on the other hand, is pretty easy to remember. 266266. CooCoo on the number pad. Easy.

CooCoo is harder to confuse
Whoever tested Metro North’s phone system was probably in a white room with padded walls and there was no sound whatsoever. If you were anywhere outside a sterile setting, the system couldn’t understand the station you just said… which I previously mentioned is incredibly difficult in a city as loud as New York. It got frustrating really fast.

I purposely tried to confuse CooCoo. And you know what CooCoo said to me? “Emily, I am not that stupid.” Whether you typed Purdy’s or Purdys, Grand Central or GCT, CooCoo knew what the heck you were talking about. Want to really try to confuse it? Enter something like White Plains to New Haven. Instead of crapping out, CooCoo has the answer for you- with info on where to change trains, and what time your connection comes. CooCoo isn’t messing around.


Yes, as a matter of fact my phone does have the Prince of all Cosmos on it.

CooCoo is quiet and quick
In a restaurant and want to know when the next train is? Text CooCoo. Quiet, and quick. If I was sitting at a table next to someone shouting into their phone “GRAND CEN-TRAL TO GOL-DENS BRIDGE” I would probably want to slap them. Oh, and for stupid dyslexics like me, you can always look at that text message again if you forget or happen to transpose a few numbers in your mind (“Damn, was that train at 7:15 or 7:51?”).

CooCoo is so much more than train schedules
Want to know your horoscope? Sports scores? Weather? Flights? Movies? Even the schedule of the tides? CooCoo knows it all. Find out all the nifty things you can do with CooCoo.

While some news outlets have introduced CooCoo as a replacement to train departure boards, I don’t think that is the service’s niche. For instance, it doesn’t tell you what track your train is going to be on in Grand Central. Departure boards aren’t going obsolete anytime soon. CooCoo is instead a great service for anyone on the go, and to check if your train is on time – and I’m glad it has come to Metro-North.

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I Hate Metro-North’s Phone Information Line

So I’ve certainly mentioned the phone number belonging to Metro-North where you can get schedules several times before. First, when I dialed the number that I thought was the number, which wasn’t, it turned out to be a phone sex line. And then, I mentioned that the 800 number was going to be eliminated as part of a cost cutting measure. So now there is a regular number that you can call, which isn’t too bad in terms of cost, as opposed to the 800 number. Apparently at some point the system was changed from a press button system into a voice activated system. I’m not sure when this happened, perhaps when the 800 was eliminated. I honestly don’t call the phone scheduler all that often.

Oh, and I still wont call the scheduler all that often. Mostly because it is a pain in the damn ass. In the old system you would type on your phone’s number pad the first three letters of the train station you were leaving from. Now it asks you to say the name of the station out loud. This is when the problem starts – the system is absolutely terrible in recognizing your voice if there is any sort of background noise. I’m sure that is true in most systems of this nature.

But think about it, really a company ought to think about where the system is going to be used. Microsoft employs a similar system where you can call in to activate your version of Windows. You need to read aloud your computer’s product key. If you’ve just purchased a computer, and are in the process of activating it, there is a high likelihood you are in some sort of office or home setting where it is quiet. Having a system like that makes sense. But if you are a scheduling line for a commuter railroad in one of the biggest cities in the world, there is a high likelihood that people calling in may be in a noisy area. If I am in the city and I want to know when I need to get to Grand Central to catch my train, calling that phone system means I am shit out of luck, because with all the background noise in the city, there is no way in hell that system is understanding a single thing I say. I seriously got sick of the computer voice telling me that it didn’t understand what I said. The city is so damn noisy, how could this thing possibly work? Even at stations that are far quieter, Valhalla for example, I couldn’t get the damn thing to work either. The older system was clunkier, and didn’t have as many options, but it was far easier to use, in any environment.

Anyone else use the phone information line and have difficulties? I imagine it can’t be that heavily used if the MTA decided to get rid of the 800 number, but hey, I could be wrong.

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