Welcome To 1970s New York City: Riding The ‘Muggers’ Express’ Train

A man rides in a graffiti-covered subway car in New York City in May of 1973. # Erik Calonius/NARA

A man rides in a graffiti-covered subway car in New York City in May of 1973. 
Erik Calonius/NARA

 

Ever ride the New York City subway system in the 1970s? If you did, the fact you’re reading this suggests you survived the experience.

In 1978 alone, there were nine murders on the subway. By 1979, the Subway featured 250 incidents of recorded crime every week.

New York had a poor reputation based on hard statistics. This is from the St. Petersburg Times, Apr 13, 1977:

 

muggers express

 

Animal NY has more on what New York was like back then:

The 1970s also were a period of gloom and doom for the city. Frank Serpico exposed a completely corrupt police force in 1971. A financial crisis in 1975 crippled the city. As a result, the police force was drastically reduced. Crime rates skyrocketed. The Lexington Avenue Express was known as the “Muggers Express.”Teenaged prostitutes roamed the city en masse. From 1976-1977, serial killer David Berkowitz terrorized an entire city. To make matters worse, there was a 25-hour blackout right in the middle of the manhunt for the Son of Sam. Plus, all that rayon clothing must’ve meant some overwhelming body odor.

 

Construction on Lower Manhattan's West Side, just north of the World Trade Center, May 1973

Construction on Lower Manhattan’s West Side, just north of the World Trade Center, May 1973

 

Something had to be done. Mayor Ed Koch ordered a uniformed cop to ride every train that ran between 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. But would that be enough on the Number 4 IRT Lexington Avenue line, aka “The Muggers’ Express”? The line went through some of the roughest areas of The Bronx and Brooklyn.

 

Passengers wait for a Lexington Avenue Line subway train on one of the platforms of the New York City Transit Authority, April, 1974. (Jim Pickerell/NARA)

Passengers wait for a Lexington Avenue Line subway train on one of the platforms of the New York City Transit Authority, April, 1974. (Jim Pickerell/NARA)

 

 

Muggers Expressway New York

In The Wheels That Drove New York: A History of the New York City Transit System, Roger P. Roess and Gene Sansone recall how the surging crime inspired Curtis Silwa, a night manager at a Bronx McDonald’s, to form the Magnificent 13, later renamed The Guardian Angels.

‘Through our non-violent resistance we intend on spreading the message of unity and good will for our fellow man,’ the first press release for the Magnificent 13 declared.

 

MANDATORY CREDIT: Leland Bobbe/Rex Features. Only for use in story about Leland Bobbe's work. Editorial Use Only. No stock, books, advertising or merchandising without photographer's permission. No print sales. Mandatory Credit: Photo by Leland Bobbe/REX/Shutterstock (2301935ao) People on the platform of Times Square subway station mid 1970s New York street life of the 1970s by Leland Bobbe, New York, America - 1970s FULL COPY: http://www.rexfeatures.com/nanolink/l53v When Leland Bobbé captured these gritty shots of New York in the 1970s he was just an amateur photographer. Often shooting from the hip so as not to be noticed, his black and white images document a city at its lowest ebb. Manhattan was a dark place and the city was notorious the world over for high rates of crime and other social disorders. Hookers plied their trade in Times Square, bums slept where they fell and the hopelessness of poverty was all around. Central Park was a no-go zone and the subway system was regarded as unsafe due to crime. Leland shot prolifically between 1973-1977, either looking through the viewfinder or cleverly snapping off shots by holding his camera at waist-level and hoping he caught the action.

Leland Bobbe/Rex. People on the platform of Times Square subway station mid 1970s
New York

 

In 1979, the M13 picketed a Times Square theatre showing The Warriors. Silwa said the movie made violence glamorous. The kids, he reasoned, would copy the actors and go crazy.

 

guardians

 

They didn’t. And New York cleaned up its act. Then the hipsters moved in and things really went downhill…