Fleet Week

Fleet Week Car Card

New York, New York, a wonderful town
The Bronx is up and the Battery’s down
The people ride in a hole in the ground
New York, New York, it’s a wonderful town!
Song Writers: Fred Ebb / John Kander

When we were in New York City, we visited the NYC Transportation Museum. In its lower gallery are dozens of subway cars, from all eras. Many of these cars are open and still period decorated. Chief among these decorations are subway car cards. These placards are nestled in the soffits that run the car’s length and the advertising gambit. The black and white one pictured above caught my attention. It is selling the 8th Avenue subway as the way to get around and see the US Navy on parade, during its annual Fleet Week visit to the Big Apple.

This car card doesn’t mention its particular year, but it could very well be 1934. Many of the ships advertised were sunk in WW II. Most of the battleships that were then named after states were also at Pearl Harbor. Coincident with this year’s fleet week, the WPA artist Paul Cadmus painted his notorious depiction of sailors on liberty, The Fleet’s In. The debauchery portrayed so incensed the admiralty that it was pulled unseen from its scheduled WPA show and remained hidden from view for almost fifty years, until 1982. 

Then 77, Cadmus (1904-1999) expressed gratitude for getting to see his painting again. He also remarked that after so many years hidden from light, how new it still looked. He recalled, ”What I actually saw sailors and their girlfriends doing in Riverside Drive Park far exceeded anything that I could have put on canvas.”

The Fleet’s In, Paul Cadmus, 1934

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