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Brooklyn Transit Museum: This is a museum in an unused subway station. The subway level has a switching tower with a live view of the nearby subway lines. In fact, the whole subway level is full of old restored subway cars. Which is awesome. You can time travel throughout the twentieth century by going from car to car.

The cars were mostly decorated with period advertising placards, which were pretty interesting, but which destroyed the time-travel metaphor in a Vonnegutian way. Instead of having ads from a specific time, each car had a collection of ads from the entirety of its run, all unstuck in time and smushed together in one car. There were WWII-era ads next to Prohibition-era ads, including one that claimed "One day all women will vote... for [brand of soap]". I don't think that ever happened. Incidentally, the soap ad was one of those ads that features terrible and irrelevant racist cartoons.

Another soap ad had a Depression-era mother saying, "My children must purify hands before eating." Well, I hope your children enjoy starving, since nothing they do will ever be good enough for you.

I walked around for a while thinking these cynical thoughts. Not helped by an ad for subway ad space I'd seen upstairs in a historical exhibit, which claimed that subway riders "have learned to believe implicitly in the advertising displayed in the New York City Surface Cars because it merits and invites confidence."

This attitude was mocked by a contemporaneous newspaper cartoon where, having nowhere else to put ads, the conductor was looping signs over the necks of the passengers. It was from the golden age of political cartoons, when there were lots of strange details but not the loopy word balloons full of cursive dialogue that's poorly blocked and illegible, and not worth reading since it just explains in great detail "Oh! The Situation depicted in this cartoon, though considered by the reader a japish Metaphor, is something that truly does affect my corporeal Form!"

The truth is that most of the subway ads did, and do, not merit or inspire confidence. The golden age of the subway ads were the 1950s, a time when advertisers had forgotten that words had connotations as well as denotations, when you had ridiculous claims like "84 out of 100 women prefer men who wear hats" (an ad for hats, or for men?) and needed gorgeous MAD magazine-style paintings to make up for them.

Trivia: the original name of the Brooklyn Dodgers was the Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers, answering my decades-old question of what the Dodgers were dodging. Also, an old sign once posted near an elevator says "Meddlers Take Notice" in a preemptive anti-Scooby-Doo move.


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