book commentary

The Malbone Street Wreck  
by Brian Cudahy

Editor's Note: Even meticulous authors find errors of fact creeping into their work (including, of course, writings of your editor). Errors range from simple typos to gross distortions. In the case of The Malbone Street Wreck, Alan D. Glick has identified some errors which, while not impacting either the thread of the story or the author's conclusions, nevertheless are of interest to the rail historian and deserving of a hearing. Views expressed in signed reviews and commentary reflect the opinions of the author.

A Few Historical Errors in Cudahy's The Malbone Street Wreck
by Alan D. Glick

Corporate Origin of the Brighton Line
As soon as I received my eagerly anticipated copy of The Malbone Street Wreck by Cudahy in the mail, I locked myself in the bedroom and told my wife not to disturb me till I had finished the book.
     When I got to page 7, however, I was disturbed by an often repeated error. In mentioning the incorporation date of the Brooklyn, Flatbush and Coney Island Railway Company, Cudahy states it as being "June 25, 1869." The Brighton line was, however, actually incorporated in 1877, one year before its opening. This mistake is one that has been repeated in numerous sources. The earliest appearance of the error that I've found so far is in Armbruster's "Coney Island" of 1924. The reason for this oft repeated mistake is that there was another company of the same name that was incorporated in 1869 (Actually this was the B,F&CI Railroad Company, the Brighton line was the B,F&CI Railway Company). The 1869 company had laid 6 miles of track by 1870 and was reorganized in 1878 as The Brooklyn, Coney Island & Rockaway Railroad Company.
     To possibly confuse matters even more, there was a third company with the same name that was incorporated in 1866. This road however never saw any construction.
     All company documents and all government agency documents cite the correct 1877 date. All books whose primary topic is Brooklyn railroad history also cite the correct 1877 date. It is only in books that deal peripherally with transit history that the incorrect date appears. This is why it is so surprising that Cudahy repeats the mistake. To his credit, however, he does present the correct date in a footnote which mentions another source that posits the 1877 date. The same footnote also correctly notes that the B,F,&CI "may have" been formed by a consolidation of The Flatbush & Coney Island Park and Concourse Railroad (1876), and The Coney Island and East River Railroad (1876).
     I've had this discussion before with others and one of my favorite points was to mention how only non railroad oriented books contained this error. Unfortunately the repetition of this error in Cudahy's new book will add still more confusion to the topic.

Opening Dates of Coney Island Excursion Roads
The chart on page 8 seems to have several incorect dates. The New York and Manhattan Beach Line opened in 1877, not 1876. The West End Line opened in 1864 as far as Bath, and to Coney Island in 1867. It was incorporated in 1862, possibly the source of Cudahy's date.

Length of Terminal and trackage agreement between LIRR and BF&CI
Page 14 states "[...] on December 14, 1883, the [LIRR] evicted the Brooklyn, Flatbush and Coney Island from its Brooklyn depot after five seasons of service... and canceled the contract that permitted Brooklyn, Flatbush and Coney Island trains to use Long Island's trackage."  The closing date is correct but the length of the arrangement was six years not five.  In the Brighton Line's first year of operation it signed a one year agreement with the LIRR.  When this expired an additional five year agreement was signed.  Also, an internal inconsistency occurs in the book when Cudahy contradicts himself on page 55 by positing 1882 as the year the agreement expired.  This looks like a probable typo.

The Brighton Line Connection to the Fulton Street L
Page 17 states that the 1896 connection to the Fulton El crossed the LIRR at grade. The ramp actually started just north of Prospect Place. This left only two grade crossings on the route to Fulton Street: at Park Place and at Prospect Place. The ramp thus crossed over the LIRR at Atlantic Ave. [See photo at bottom--Ed.]

Brighton Beach Trains on Manhattan Beach Trackage
Page 22 discusses the rerouting of Brighton trains over the Manhattan Beach Line of the LIRR during the grade crossing elimination project in the middle of the first decade of the century.
     Cudahy states: "[...] exactly how this rerouting was effected remains unclear. Possibly temporary trolley wire was strung over the Long Island Railroad while construction was under way; perhaps BRT elevated trains were hauled along the Long Island by steam engines." According to Seyfried trolley wire was indeed set up over the LIRR to accomodate BRT electric trains. [In fact, this is how rerouted trains were powered. See second photo below--Ed.]

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The Age of Culver Depot
On page 42 Cudahy talks about the PP&CI depot that lasted until 1922. The book states,  "Culver Depot [built] in 1873 [...] was demolished in 1922."  The first Culver Depot had to be replaced because of the laying out of the new Surf Avenue.  Seyfried says that, "In the spring of 1883 a new station was built on the line of the new Surf Avenue about 300 feet inland from the older station..."  It is this station, built in 1883, that was demolished in 1922.  Even the BRT Monthly, which Cudahy mentions in the relevant footnote, makes this mistake.  The magazine, while probably reliable for contemporaneous events, obviously didn't put that much work into researching its own history.

      These errors from Cudahy surprise me as he has always written such well researched works on transit history. On the other hand I don't think that small mistakes of this sort detract from the great overall work that he does. I merely wanted to bring them up to clear up any confusion that might result from the repetition of such common errors.

Boys in the 'Hood, 1904 Style.  Some local kids pose for the photographer adjacent to the Brighton Line's steel and masonry ramp connecting it to the Fulton Street L. This view is on the west side of the structure looking north. Prospect Place is at the photographer's back while some horse-powered transportation passes under the structure on St. Mark's in the background. Atlantic Avenue and the Fulton L connection are several blocks further north.    Paul Matus Collection

A BRT Conductor, natty in his uniform, poses near a pair of workers as a Coney Island-bound Brighton train returns to the Brighton Line on the temporary track connecting the LIRR Manhattan Beach Line with the Brighton Line below Sheepshead Bay station. Trolley wire shows clearly in this view, looking north toward the LIRR right-of-way. The train must have been stopped or nearly so, as the workers' forms are blurred in this time exposure.    Paul Matus Collection.

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