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.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Another Letter by Fontaine Fox Describing How the Pelham Manor Trolley Inspired Him to Create the Toonerville Trolley

Though a number of communities purport to lay claim to having inspired Fontaine Fox to create the Toonerville Trolley that Met All the Trains, there is indisputable evidence that the trolley that ran through Pelham Manor was the principal inspiration. I recently have located references to yet another letter written by Fontaine Fox in which he described what inspired him to create the Toonerville Trolley. That letter is transcribed below, as it appeared in The Pelham Sun within an article entitled "What Was Pelham's Contribution To The Naming of Fontaine Fox's Toonerville Trolley Cartoons?".

The letter is particularly interesting because it notes that the comical trolley was nearly named the "Chiggerbug Trolley" before Fox changed the name to "Toonerville Trolley".

"Toonerville Electric Railroad Company

Operating the New Electric Horseless Street Car that meets all the trains (in Pelham); Hon. Silas Tooner, Owner; Dr. Sawyer Fully, Surgeon; Capt. Ezra Tully, Chief Advisor & Critic; Father McGuire Chaplain Dan (Skipper) Withers, Conductor & Operating Electrical Engineer.

Vero Beach, Florida

Dear Mr. Lewis:

I must thank you for the nice compliment you paid my work in your letter of November 28th. When you have your drawings out of the newspapers for six years, as mine have been, a complimentary reference to them is doubly appreciated.

You wish to know how the 'Toonerville Trolley' got its name - 'Toonerville'. The way I happened to hit on this name might possibly be of interest.

Shortly after coming to New York I went out to visit my friend Charley Voight in Pelham and took a funny little Trolley Car at the R. R. Station to go to his house. The motorman was quite a character and seemed to know all his passengers personally. I asked him if he knew where a Mr. Charles Voight lived and he said he'd show me the house. He stopped the car and got off and beckoned to me. I followed him to a rise in the ground in a vacant lot. He pointed out 'that bright yellow house-that's it'.

The passengers waiting in the car didn't seem to think the proceedings anything out of the ordinary and nothing was said when he walked back to the car and started again.

I worked that night, after I got back to New York, to turn in six drawings. The sixth I made was a Trolley Car drawing. The original funny trolley car was in my home town Louisville, (Ky). I had made many drawings of the Brook St. trolley car before I left there. But I was in New York City now - my drawings were syndicated - widely sold - and could not be local in their appeal. But I said to myself here's another funny trolley car -- there may be enough of them around the country, so that I could use a trolley car cartoon. I called the first one 'The Chiggerbug Trolley'.

I rolled up the drawings and started down to the engravers at the lower end of Manhattan. I got back to my apartment at 57th Street about one a.m.

But I was very much displeased with the name I had given the trolley car. 'Chiggerbug' - too ordinary. Too corny. I was undressed but I put on my clothes and started down once more again to the engravers.

All the way down in the subway I kept thinking of names, name, names for that doggone trolley. I don't know how it finally came -- 'Toonerville.'

The Pelham car had met the train so when I got hold of the drawing at the engravers I scraped out 'Chiggerbug' and wrote in the new title 'The Toonerville Trolley that Meets All The Trains'. This new title would be part of the zinc etching and part of the mats that were sent out to the newspapers.

When I got back to 57th Street the sun was about to come up. Grantland Rice once told me that the Trolley Car title was a particularly good one 'It has alliteration' he said 'and it scans.' If I remember correctly he said it was iambic pentameter.

I was telling Irving Cobb one time about my midnight title changing trip and he said there was no way of estimating how many thousands of dollars that trip to change the name had made for me down through the years.

Well, Mr. Lewis, you asked for it -- and that's it! Please let me thank you once again for complimenting my work and believe me.

Very truly yours,

Fontaine Fox"

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