The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Monday, March 29, 2004  

From Today & Days Gone By
The Main Line, Philadelphia, and Beyond

While conducting some research on an unrelated topic I recently encountered the following acronym: OMNWAHBP.

Recognize it?

The little ditty that goes along with it is: “Old maids never wed and have babies, period.”

Get it now?

Probably not. I didn’t. I found it in Millenium Philadelphia: The Last 100 Years.

The acronym stands for the stations on Philadelphia’s Main Line, now known within the SEPTA system as “the R5”: Overbrook, Merion, Narberth, Wynnewood, Ardmore, Haverford, Bryn Mawr, Paoli.

I don’t know enough about the history of the Main Line to know why certain prominent stations currently served by the R5 between Bryn Mawr and Paoli, including a few of Philadelphia’s most posh suburbs aren’t noted, namely Rosemont, Villanova, Radnor, Wayne, Strafford, Devon, Berwyn, and Daylesford.

Anyway, here’s a recitation from a town north of here that even I can remember that may be familiar to some readers, one made all the more interesting because, while the Metro North line includes some of New York’s most exclusive suburbs, it is known as the “Harlem Line”:

125th Street, Melrose, Tremont, Fordham, Botanical Gardens, Williams Bridge, Woodlawn, Wakefield, Mount Vernon West, Fleetwood, Bronxville, Tuckahoe, Crestwood, Scarsdale, Hartsdale, White Plains, North White Plains, Valhalla, Mount Pleasant, Hawthorne, Pleasantville, Chappaqua, Mount Kisco, Bedford Hills, Katonah, Goldens Bridge, Purdy’s, Croton Falls, Brewster, and Brewster North.

Sometimes these things get in your brain and just stay there.

If your city has any regional railway acronyms, or if you just know your local line by heart and soul, send your thoughts to The Rittenhouse Review.

Why? Because I’m sort of a dork on subjects like this.

Post-publication addenda:

Reader D.H. writes:

I took the Long Island Rail Road into Manhattan for ten years (college and my first two jobs) before moving out of the New York area. I rode the Babylon line and know the stations after Jamaica well enough that I might have them used as my epitaph: Rockville Center, Baldwin, Freeport, Merrick, Bellmore, Wantagh, Seaford, Massapequa, Massapequa Park, Amityville, Copaigue, Lindenhurst, and Babylon.

The truly funny bit happened on a train in Florida. I was taking Amtrak from Palm Beach to Tampa (no I don’t know the stops), and shared a table in the dining car with a Florida resident. It turns out the woman was not a Florida native; she grew up on Long Island, and even though she had moved to Florida in 1980, could name, without my prompting, all of the stops on the Babylon line, including the ones I left out above. (About half the off-peak Babylon trains stopped at Lynbrook, and a few stopped in St. Albans. Very, very rarely on the weekends, a Babylon train will stop in Valley Stream.)

And that’s probably way more than you wanted to know about the Babylon line of the Long Island Rail Road.

Reader D.S. writes:

When I was a Haverford student living at Bryn Mawr in the late ’80s we learned it as “Original Mawrters Never Wed And Have Babies Rarely,” which does get you out as far as Rosemont [Ed.: But not as far as Paoli.], and where “Mawrter” is the campus term for a Bryn Mawr student or alumna.

Reader K.H. writes:

Seeing your post about the Paoli Local made me smile.

I went to Bryn Mawr and among us the mnemonic was just a little different: OMNWAHBR, for “Old maids never wed and have babies rarely.” [Ed.: Oh, the times they are a changing. (No e-mail on that, please. The credit goes to Bob Dylan.)]

I don't know why we included the “R” for Rosemont since no one ever went beyond Bryn Mawr. [Ed. Heaven forbid! Let alone to Paoli.]

There was also a peculiar SEPTA-related superstition involving the tunnel that went under the railroad tracks at the Bryn Mawr station. Supposedly if you neglected to hold a button on your clothing as you walked through the tunnel, you would fail your next foreign language exam.

I lived in Philly (near Rittenhouse Square) for a few years after college and miss it now very much. I enjoy your blog and your perspective on the city. Keep up the good work!

Reader J.G. writes:

I can relate, completely, to your post regarding railway memories. For several years I was (un)fortunate enough to commute daily between Boston and the bustling metropolis of Worcester, Mass.

As my apartment was only about 500 yards from the Worcester train station, I became intimately familiar with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s rail service. Not only will I remember, forever, the stations between Boston and Worcester, but also the odd manner in which they were announced at Boston’s South Station. The usual announcer used a strange mix of New England speed-talking and Southern drawl, to wit:

“The-five-thirty-five WUUUH-sturrr local boarding on track tewww. This train will make the following stops: Back Bay, Newton, WestNewton, AWWW-burrrn-daaale, Wellesley Farms, Wellesley Hills, Wellesley Square, Natick, West Natick, FRAAA-minnng-haaam, Ashland, Southborough, Westborough, Grafton, and WUUUH-sturrr. BORRR-dinnng now on track tewww!”

I’ve often thought it was strange how clearly that man’s voice stuck in my mind, although I must have heard those exact words recited upwards of five hundred times. I’m glad I’m not the only one.

It was almost a disappointment when the MBTA began operating express service to Worcester, which resulted in the more prosaic: “WUUUH-sturr express on track four, stopping at WEST Natick, FRA-ming-ham, GRAF-ton, and WUUUH-sturr.”

Arriving home twenty minutes earlier was, however, well worth it. As I now live in Boston, I commute via subway, which -- given the state of the MBTA’s equipment -- usually doesn’t have announcements at all.

Reader G.F. writes:

Wasn’t it in “Pepe le Moko” that Jean Gabin recites to the stunning Gaby the Metro stations of Paris, to which he can never return (the Kasbah being a bit short on public transportation)?

These foolish things can remind us of places we’ve lived that we’ve had to leave, and for those of us who get a kick from knowing where we are, they place us in our new homes and help keep us from being (and looking) lost.

For me, for trains, it’s the IC stops from the Loop to Hyde Park: Randolph/South Water Street (one great conductor used to call out “Big City!” when we pulled into this one -- did anyone ever use Water Street exit?), Van Buren (the Art Institute stop), Roosevelt Road/Central Station (odd, because the station itself was a blackened medieval pile half a mile from the platform by rickety bridges, probably not even there now), 18th Street (a bird perch), McCormick Place/27th Street (I don’t know about now, but IC platforms were really long and spanned blocks and this was a single stop. Go west and you get Bridgeport and Chinatown.), 47th/Kenwood (first of my ’hood stops -- the lakeshore begins to sweep east here), 53rd Street (really the south end of the 47th street stop and also HP business central), 55-56-57th (the heart of Hyde Park), 59th/U. of Chicago (well, it’s the Midway stop, but unless you want to walk back home from 63rd and through Woodlawn, wake up!).

There are other evocative lines: the Cambridge/Quincy Red Line (Harvard, Central, Kendall, etc.), for example, or the Santa Monica Blue Bus lines from Venice.

Here in Portland, Ore., my light-rail line has a Goose Hollow stop, which I think has a nice ring!

There’s a definite pleasure in anticipation of stops on a true line, quite different from looking for Exit 236 on I-x in a car.

[Ed.: The more we “gain,” the more we lose, I think. But I say that as one who was born about 30 years too late for his time.]

Reader J.C. writes (April 2): When I lived in New Jersey there was an announcer at the Newark Station who had a certain distinctive manner of speech and would announce the impending arrival of the Raritan Valley Line Train on Track Three (why was it always Track Three?) like so:

The next twain to awive on Twack Twee will be the Wawitan Valley Wine Twain, making stops in Woselle Pawk, Cwanford, Gawwood, Westfield, Fanwood, Nethewwood, Pwainfield, Dunellen, Bound Bwook, Somewville, and Wawitan. . . . Wawitan Valley Line Twain!!! Twack Twee!!!

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