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Posted November 5, 2003
A Short History of a Terrible Day
Like David von Drehle's narrative of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, Brian Cudahy has written an account of a New York disaster which had strong ramifications for the rest of America. And like TRIANGLE, Cudahy's THE MALBONE STREET WRECK does not exploit the tragedy for the sake of sensationalism and profit. It is a sober narrative which actually sends warning signals to the mass transit officials of today. This remarkably short book is very thorough. Beginning with America's pulse during the final days of World War I and the influenza epidemic that scourged the nation and world, Mr. Cudahy then explores the world of 1918 New York. Specifically, he inspects the confluence of forces, such as local politics, labor relations, the profit motive of the train line owners, and others, that led to the placement of an untrained, unqualified transit worker in the motorman's booth of a rush hour train. The result being the violent death of almost 100 people in The Malbone Street Wreck. Mr. Cudahy's research seems conscientious, and where he is unsure of the facts, he tells us so. There is an honesty to his narration that gives the story an almost personal tone. (His mother did lose two cousins in the wreck.) The several maps and illustrations are extremely helpful. And while the photos of the disaster site and wrecked subway cars are shocking, they are not gruesome. And they serve as strong reminders of the imperative for the transportation officials of today to adhere to strict safety standards.
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