Writing the Rails

Back when men were men and railroads were railroads, Charles M. Murphy challenged a locomotive and lived to tell the tale. He rode behind a Long Island Railroad locomotive in 1899 and clocked a mile in under 58 seconds, earning him the immortal nickname Mile-a-Minute Murphy.

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Geneva Daily Times, Sept 2, 1899

 

On today’s episode we look back at Murphy’s accomplishment through the eyes of Si Tannhauser. Who was Si Tannhauser, you ask? Only the “poet laureate of Long Island” circa 1934. That’s when he published his ode to Murphy in the Leader Observer. Si was a ticket agent for the Long Island Railroad by day, poet by night.

The lives of both men brim with anecdote and pathos. Tannhauser survived the San Francisco earthquake as well as hardscrabble times that left him near blind, lame and half-deaf. Murphy went on to Vaudeville and the New York City Police department where, among other things, he wrestled down a runaway horse.

This episode is part of our celebration of National Poetry month and the reader of this particular Long Island power ballad is Rick Jackofsky of the Home Grown String Band. Many thanks, Rick! And check out our past ballads for more poetry/history mashups.

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