Tis the season for holiday traffic, particularly in big cities like New York which issue “gridlock alerts” and beg drivers to take mass transit. As the crowds pack in to see the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, the Rockettes at Radio City, and the holiday train show at the Botanical Gardens, try a visit to the New York Transit Museum in downtown Brooklyn and see what’s been helping out the holiday for over a century. As any straphanger will tell you, from in town or out, the transit system itself is a show worth seeing. At the museum, perfectly located underground, they’ve put together a rich experience–including a beauty pageant!
Visitors can drive a bus, ride a subway from any decade, and see photographs from perhaps the most democratic beauty contest in the country–“Miss Subway.” From 1941 to 1976, the Mass Transit Authority (MTA) hosted the annual beauty pageant; winners had their picture in every subway car and every bus throughout all five boroughs. Talk about instant fame. Former contestants were recently tracked down, interviewed and photographed. The subsequent lives of former Miss Subways are documented in a book and exhibition of photographs (now and then) and engaging excerpts from interviews at the Transit Museum. Reflective of the city and the people who use mass transit, there was no one type of woman who became Miss Subway. Some were pursuing modeling/acting careers, some were college students, some were married and raising families. But thing they all had in common was good old fashioned New York ambition.