Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Friday, June 17, 2005

"Skipper Louie" of Pelham Manor's Toonerville Trolley

Please Visit the Historic Pelham Web Site

Early last century Pelham and its citizens inspired the creative genius of a man named Fontaine Talbot Fox (1884-1964) who created one of the most popular comic strips in the United States that became known as "Toonverville Folks". The strip centered around the quirky inhabitants of a town called "Toonerville" as well as a rickety and unpredictable trolley car that came to be known as "The Toonerville Trolley". The operator of the trolley was known as "The Skipper". The comic strip was based in part on the artist's experience during a trolley ride on a visit to Pelham. The strip ran in hundreds of newspapers from about 1910 to 1955 and brought national attention to The Pelhams.

The picture above shows one of the Pelham Manor trolley cars that ran from Wolf's Lane at the New Haven Line overpass along Wolf's Lane to Colonial Avenue for a short distance, then eastward along Pelhamdale Avenue to Shore Road where it turned around and repeated the trip. The two trolley operators standing in front of the car were Skippers "Dan" and "Louie". They were successors to James A. Bailey, the blue-eyed skipper of the trolley the day cartoonist Fontaine Fox took his historic ride on the trolley that inspired "The Toonerville Trolley that Met All the Trains".

"Louie" was a nickname used by Emil Matter who worked for 35 years as a motorman for the Third Avenue Railway system. He lived for many years in Mount Vernon and piloted the little Pelham Manor trolley for 25 years. "Louie" is pictured on the right in the image above. He died on June 26, 1941. His obituary appeared the next day on the front page of The Pelham Sun. It read:

"'Louie', Skipper Of The 'Toonerville Trolley' For 25 Years Died Yesterday

Emil Matter, affectionately known as 'Louie' during the many years he piloted the Pelham Manor trolley car, the original 'Toonerville Trolley,' died yesterday at his home at No. 208 Union avenue, Mount Vernon.

'Louie' served for 35 years as a motorman on the Third avenue railway system, 25 of which he spent on the Pelham Manor line. It was 'Louie' who operated the car on the amusing 'Last Ride of the Toonerville Trolley' on July 31st, when the cartoonist Fontaine Fox was guest of honor.
With the substitution of buses for trolley cars on the Pelham Manor line, 'Louie' was transferred to the Hudson Park line in New Rochelle. He retired two years ago.

Funeral arrangements have not been announced."

Source: "Louie", Skipper Of The "Toonerville Trolley" For 25 Years Died Yesterday, The Pelham Sun, Vol. 31, No. 12, Jun. 27, 1941, p. 1, col. 2.

The New York Times also published an obituary for Mr. Matter. That obituary, however, incorrectly stated that Mr. Matter was the actual motorman running the trolley on the day that Fontaine Fox took his famous ride. Though the matter is not free from doubt, it seems most likely that James Bailey of the Bronx -- not Emil Matter -- was the motorman on that day. In any event, Mr. Matter's obituary published in The New York Times on June 28, 1941, read:



Emil Matter, Pelham Motorman, Was Fox Cartoon Original


Special to the New York Times.

MOUNT VERNON, N. Y., June 27 -- Emil Matter of this city, known to thousands as Skipper Louie of Pelham Manor's 'Toonerville Trolley,' died yesterday in the Mount Vernon Hospital at the age of 74.

As a former motorman for the Third Avenue Railway System for forty years, he operated the small trolley car in Pelham Manor that caught the eye of Fontaine Fox, and inspired Mr. Fox's 'Toonerville Trolley' cartoon. That was in 1909 and from that time until the trolley was discontinued in 1937 to make way for buses, Mr. Matter was skipper of the line.

He was born in Switzerland and came to this country about forty-five years ago."

Source: Toonerville Skipper Dies, N.Y. Times, Jun. 28, 1941, p. 15.

Please Visit the Historic Pelham Web Site
Located at


Post a Comment

<< Home