Carpe Diem: Video of a NY Subway Train, 1905

Jump to the five minute mark and watch passengers heading off (and onto) a NY subway train, at 42nd Street, circa 1905.

Why is this old footage so curiously moving (at least to me)?

There’s something about the busy, seemingly time-urgent, directedness of their walking, and the mundane familiarity of their lives (as in the mother who pulls along her young daughter) that is somehow unnerving.

It is as if, by a trick of film, we have been drawn into their time, and are intruding upon it.

It feels like all that rushing about is happening without an awareness of something large—but what?


I want to reach into the screen and shake them and say, You will be a Youtube video someday. That’s all that will be left of you. This seemingly trivial moment of getting on (or off) a train is everything (and nothing). All your decisions and movings about have come to nought. And you can’t change any of it. You’re done.

Now Carpe diem.

You are all ghosts.

Ghosts in a hurry. 

We are all ghosts in a hurry.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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