Monday, March 17, 2008

Boston's subway historian has died

Boston lost a treasure chest of institutional memory this weekend with the death of George M. Sanborn who knew more about the Boston transit system than anyone else alive.

I first met George almost 15 years ago at the Seashore Trolley Museum in Maine which is a fascinating place to visit. He was very friendly to my young son and then surprised him by letting him drive a streetcar which thrilled my son no end.

In passing I had mentioned that I was in a subway accident in the 70's that was truly bizarre as it involved THREE trains between Park St and Charles but when I went to the library I couldn't find any information on it. He invited me to stop by his office in Park Square at the Transportation Library and he might have something about it.

A few weeks later I did stop by and he gave me a huge folder of newspaper clippings and the MBTA report of what had happened. We chatted for awhile and he showed me old timetables that showed that old New Haven Railroad trains were faster in 1912 going to New York than today. He also showed me a old timetables that showed how Boston buses and streetcars used to run all night and at 3 in the morning you could take a single streetcar from Arlington all the way to Newton Corner. He also told me how Mayor Menino led the charge when he was a Hyde Park community activist to prevent the Orange Line from being expanded all the way to Rte 128 in Westwood along the abandoned I-95 corridor because Hyde Park didn't need rapid transit. George had his own theory why and he said that same thinking stopped the Red Line from going to Arlington and Lexington.

I am not a transit buff but I have been riding the T since the Kingston Trio made it famous back in 1959 and have to admit being curious on why the T always seems to do everything wrong when common sense dictates otherwise. George had a simple answer....politics.

A couple of years ago I stopped by to see him and learned that he had become ill. The woman at the library said how much they missed him as a person and also because he was the only one there that could find information quickly.

A blogger remembers working with George and learning so much about Boston.

R.I.P George. It is not often that a person can make his passion his profession as well.


Suldog said...

I always find it surprising how little historical information - especially photography - is available on-line about the T, as opposed to other younger systems like NYC. Your friend sounds like he was a marvelous source for such information. God bless him.

Suldog said...

By the way, I was a member for a short time (a year) at Seashore. Great experience! I also got to drive a trolley, one of my little lifelong dreams :-)

Rhea said...

He was super-helpful to me when I was writing a paper for a class at B.U. comparing Boston's subway system (the oldest in the country) to the then-newest system, in Washington, D.C.

Anonymous said...

Contact the following people regarding george's funneral services....

To Mr. Jeffery Sisson and Mrs. Marie Stephenson:

Like many people, I am very sad to hear of the passing of George Sanborn. Like many of us, I will forever be grateful for the time I spent with George. I am concerned with the lack of time that the Legal Guardians of George Sanborn (Mr. Jeff Sisson and Mrs. Marie Stephenson) have given to the final services of Mr. Sanborn.
George was known NATIONALLY for his efforts as a Transit Historian, Streetcar Conservator, and his seemingly endless supply of knowledge relating to transit systems. Mr. Sanborn has interacted with at hundreds of transit and railroad professionals in the boston area, in addition to his interactions with historical society members. While his current 1 morning service and viewing may work well for the retired folks amongst us, it does not allow for the many individuals working on a Saturday (as one would find at any mid-sized transit agency and larger) who knew Mr. Sanborn well to pay their last respects. Considering George's contributions to the Boston Transit System and the transit historical movement, It is an insult and an ultimate last Dis-Respect to Mr. Sanborn to trivialize the formalized celebration and service reflecting his life to one morning, especially considering that many of the people who would like to pay their respects to George are working in bus garages, subway tunnels, commuter trains and car houses on any given Saturday morning.
I urge both Mrs. Stephenson and Mr. Sisson to extend the hours of George's viewing to include at least 1 evening and preferably 1 afternoon on the day preceeding his church service.
George Sanborn loved to socialize and bring people together. What a wonder opportunity this is to really bring together those who loved George and share a common interest in transportation. What a shame and flagrant disrespect to a man who has given so much it will be if this opportunity is allowed to pass. I strongly urge Mr. Sanborn's guardians will take this into consideration and quickly rectify this situation.