Written by Celia Caust-Ellenbogen and Michael Gubicza
The Harold E. Cox transportation collection at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP) is a rich resource for anyone wishing to study public transportation in Philadelphia. It consists largely of records from the Philadelphia Transportation Company (PTC), which operated the city’s transit from about 1940-1964, and the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company (PRT), which operated the city’s transit from about 1902-1940. There are also many records from the many small predecessor and subsidiary rail lines that existed before public transit was consolidated.
We just finished processing the collection, and we’re working on a finding aid that will soon be online. Nonetheless, using the collection isn’t as simple as walking through the door and asking to see it. When Dr. Harold E. Cox, Professor of History Emeritus and University Archivist at Wilkes University, donated the collection to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, he made an unusual stipulation:
Anyone wishing to use the Harold E. Cox Transportation Collection shall be told of the heroic efforts of Jeffrey Ray [Curator of Collections at Atwater Kent Museum] to save the collection from destruction and how he has been a ‘living saint’ for the last 13 years and put up with not only me, but all of the crazy idiots who have wanted to use the collection. The recitation of this glorious saga shall last no less than 20 minutes, and be set to verse.
As a courtesy to HSP staff, we put together a few verses just to get things started. Enjoy.
Listen, my researchers, and we shall say,
The midnight ride of Jeffrey Ray.
(If it was midnight, to tell the truth,
We don’t know) but forsooth
He saved everything in this rich collection,
And for over a decade he gave it protection.
Ray got the collection from Dr. Harold E. Cox,
Who kept it in many a big cardboard box.
Cox found it in the bowels of SEPTA’s subway.
Someone had trashed it! But without delay,
He saw it was treasure: maps and reports,
Financial, administrative, and records from courts.
Two-hundred feet of such quality goods!
Cox had no space, and knew that he should
Bring it to Atwater Kent Museum.
He called Jeffrey Ray to come out and see ‘em.
Ray saw the treasure and cried in delight,
“Researchers will love this! I’ll take all in my sight!”
That was nineteen-ninety: the next thirteen years,
Jeffrey Ray faced bravely, and without fear,
All researchers who came to see
The archives of Philly Rapid Transit and the PTC.
But time does pass, and when the Atwater Kent
Became the Philadelphia History Museum, they sent
Their archival holdings our way:
To the Historical Society of P. A.
Now the collection is processed, finding aid online,
So we hope that you’ll come visit some time,
To learn of subways, the trolley and bus,
In Philadelphia—or at least how it was.