May 01, 2010

The Pride of Moscow

    May 15, 1935: Metro opens The Coachman’s Song, an enduring hit by the great jazz singer Leonid Utyosov, begins with a little interlude where someone calls out, “Hey, coachman!” and Utyosov replies, “I’m not a coachman. I’m a horse operator.” Having thus made it clear that he is a full-fledged member of the “modern life” of the 1930s, he then launches into a melancholy lament for bygone days. “I put iron horseshoes on you, I put new lacquer on the carriage. But the Metro came along with its oaken handrails. It immediately cast a spell on all the passengers.” And it turns out that the coachman himself is not immune to the latest trends. “Just look how crazy things are turning out. Life is really topsy-turvy when to travel from Sokolniki to harness up, I have to take the Metro to the park.”

This song captures how people saw the first Metro line. The underground train, which took on its first passengers at 7:00 a.m. on May 15, 1935, was seen as an amazing triumph of technology, a display of the power of human reason, and, of course an outstanding achievement of the Soviet government.

The night before it opened, crowds of people assembled to wait outside the entrances to the first 13 stations. Peter Latyshev, a foreman from the Red Proletarian Factory, was ceremoniously issued ticket No. 1, Series A. One can assume that it was no coincidence the first passenger was such an ideological archetype – everything that was associated with the Metropolitan was cloaked in a haze of propaganda. The heroic builders of the Metro were on the march! The Soviet public rode down escalators, were given tickets that were good for 35 minutes, and joyously rode “from Sokolniki to the park” and then were even able to transfer to what would later become the Arbat-Pokrovskaya line, to ride all the way to Smolenskaya Station.

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