Was Max "Maxie" Martin the Man Who Was the Skipper on the Pelham Manor Trolley the Day Fontaine Fox Rode the Line and Was Inspired?
Early last century, one of those trolley lines in the Village of Pelham Manor inspired the creative genius of a man named Fontaine Talbot Fox (1884-1964). He created one of the most popular comics in the United States – “Toonerville Folks”.
The cartoon centered around the quirky inhabitants of a town called “Toonerville” and its rickety and unpredictable trolley. The operator of the trolley was “The Skipper.”
Fontaine Fox, as he stated a number of times in published interviews and letters, based the comic on his experience during a trolley ride on a visit to Pelham on August 8, 1909. “Toonerville Folks” ran in hundreds of newspapers from about 1913 to 1955 and brought national attention to Pelham.
When Fontaine Fox made his now-famous visit to Pelham on August 8, 1909, the trolley line that inspired him ran along today's Pelhamdale Avenue to a stop near the railroad bridge of the New Haven Branch Line above Pelhamdale not far from today's Grant Avenue and Manor Circle. Barely a year later, the Westchester Electric Railway extended the Pelham Manor trolley line along Pelhamdale Avenue to Shore Road near the New York Athletic Club.
Who was the trolley operator the day Fontaine Fox took his fateful ride? I have speculated before that it may have been James Bailey. Several different men, however, seem to have claimed to have been the trolley operator who inspired the character of The Skipper in "Toonerville Folks."
One man who may have the strongest claim to being the trolley operator on the day of Fontaine Fox's fateful ride who inspired the comic character known as The Skipper was a New Rochelle resident named Max ("Maxie") Martin. Maxie began service as the operator of the Pelham Manor trolley in 1900 when the trolley line opened and served until 1924 when he retired and opened a stationery store and news stand in New Rochelle.
Maxie was beloved by all of Pelham. Pelhamites told many stories of his many idiosyncrasies and his countless kindnesses. One oft-told story was of the time he left the Pelham Manor station in the rickety one-man trolley car and headed up Pelhamdale Avenue on his way to meet the next train at the Pelham Train Station in the Village of North Pelham. He saw a woman running down Pelhamdale Avenue on her way to the Pelham Manor Station. He stopped the trolley, picked her up, turned the trolley back toward Pelham Manor Station and delivered her safely there, waiting at the station until the train departed with the woman safely on board. He then turned back toward the Pelham Train Station in North Pelham to meet the next train.
Maxie died on March 19, 1931. According to one of his obituaries: "Services for 'The Skipper' were conducted this morning [March, 20, 1931] at his home at 355 North Avenue, New Rochelle, by Rabbi Rosenberg of Mount Vernon. He was a member of the Congregation Brothers Israel here, and he leaves his wife, Mary; three sons, Samuel of New York City, Sidney of Mount Vernon, and Isadore of New Rochelle; also two daughters, Lillian of New Rochelle and Mrs. Rose Sondon of New York City."
Both of the local obituaries published at the time of Maxie Martin's death noted that he was the trolley operator on the Pelham Manor trolley who inspired the comic character "The Skipper" in Fontaine Fox's "Toonerville Folks" comic.
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"'MAXIE,' ORIGINAL 'SKIPPER' OF THE 'TOONERVILLE' RINGS UP LAST FARE
Beloved Old Character, Who Inspired Fontaine Fox, Was Favorite With Residents of Pelham Manor; Many Amusing Incidents Recalled by Old Residents At Death of 'Skipper.'
Max Martin, who for 24 years presided as 'Skipper' at the helm of the Pelham Manor trolley car, the original 'Toonerville Trolley' in its meanderings between the New Haven station and the Shore Road, was buried in Sherwood Park Cemetery, Yonkers, on Friday. He was 65 years old.
In passing, 'Maxie' as he was familiarly known to his passengers, leaves behind host of memories in the minds of numerous local residents who at one time or another were the recipients of those little courtesies and favors that endeared him to many.
'The Skipper' who was the original of Fontaine Fox's cartoons depicting the peregrinations of the Toonerville Trolley, died last Thursday at the Post Graduate Hospital in New York city from a foot infection and now 'Louie' who has served on the Manor line for nearly the same length of time, is alone with only his memories.
Chief Philip Gargan of the Pelham police and Patrolman James Butler of the same department, both recall many incidents regarding the Skipper. They tell of how Maxie was always willing to help his passengers and how one time in particular, after he had started for Pelham, he saw a woman running for a train at the Pelham Manor station. Despite the fact that he had just left the station, 'Maxie' backed up the Toonerville, picked up the woman and took her to the station. As she boarded the train the Skipper retraced his route towards North Pelham.
The Skipper also aided the police in those days, Chief Gargan tells of how when he was a new patrolman on the force 'Maxie' would occasionally tell him of 'suspicious' characters who had ridden on the Toonerville.
In 1924, 'Maxie' left his Toonerville to be Skipper of a stationery store and news stand in New Rochelle, in the period that has followed since that time, his customers have come to have the same feeling towards him that his passengers on the trolley had.
Funeral services were conducted Friday at his home at No. 355 North avenue, New Rochelle, by Rabbi Rosenberg of Mount Vernon. He was a member of the Congregation of Brothers of Israel in Mount Vernon.
His widow, Mary; three sons, Samuel of New York City, Sidney of Mount Vernon, and Isadore of New Rochelle; and two daughters, Lillian of New Rochelle, and Mrs. Rose Sondon of New York City, survive him."
Source: "MAXIE," ORIGINAL 'SKIPPER' OF THE 'TOONERVILLE' RINGS UP LAST FARE -- Beloved Old Character, Who Inspired Fontaine Fox, Was Favorite With Residents of Pelham Manor; Many Amusing Incidents Recalled by Old Residents At Death of "Skipper," The Pelham Sun, Mar. 27, 1931, p. 9, cols. 1-2.
"'SKIPPER' OF TROLLEY DIES
Max Martin, Veteran on Pelham Manor Line, Had Great Career
'The Skipper,' who for 24 years plied his 'Toonerville Trolley' between the villages of North Pelham and Pelham Manor, is dead.
The man who for nearly a quarter of a century accommodated the villagers in many homely ways, and who is credited by some with having been the original 'Skipper' in Fontaine Fox's comic strips, lives no more. There has been some dispute about the original of the cartoon, one story being that he was a Jersey man who died about three months ago.
In real life 'The Skipper' was Max Martin. To his friends in the Pelhams, and they were all his friends, he was known as Maxie.
And today, 'Louie,' -- they know him only by that name in the Pelhams -- 'Louie,' who has been on the line for almost as long as Maxie, carries on alone, as he has done since 1924, when 'The Skipper' retired to open his stationery story and news stand on North Avenue in New Rochelle, his home town.
'Maxie' and 'Louie' are a tradition in the Pelhams. After the services for Maxie, who died at the age of 65 yesterday afternoon in the Post Graduate Hospital in New York, and after his remains were buried this morning in Sherwood Park Cemetery. 'The Skipper's' old friends in the Pelhams recalled this afternoon some of the little incidents of years ago that made 'Maxie' the lovable character that is known so far and wide.
Among those who knew him perhaps more intimately than any others were Chief of Police Philip Gargan and Desk Officer James Butler of Pelham Manor, and Chief of Police Michael J. Fitzpatrick of North Pelham, each of whom has seen about a quarter of a century of service in their respective departments.
When 'The Skipper' first went to work as conductor on the 'Toonerville Trolley' about thirty years ago, the residents in the Pelham villages were few in number, and the homes few and far between.
One day, about 16 years ago, 'Toonerville' was bound for North Pelham with Patrolman Frank Mulligan on board, 'Maxie' saw a woman running for a train at the Pelham Manor Station which he had just left.
'Maxie' had the trolley back up to pick up the woman and take her to the station. Not until she was safely on board the train did the 'Toonerville' head back for North Pelham.
This was one of the things that endeared 'Maxie' to the folks whom he served.
Services for 'The Skipper' were conducted this morning at his home at 355 North Avenue, New Rochelle, by Rabbi Rosenberg of Mount Vernon. He was a member of the Congregation Brothers Israel here, and he leaves his wife, Mary; three sons, Samuel of New York City, Sidney of Mount Vernon, and Isadore of New Rochelle; also two daughters, Lillian of New Rochelle and Mrs. Rose Sondon of New York City."
Source: "SKIPPER" OF TROLLEY DIES -- Max Martin, Veteran on Pelham Manor Line, Had Great Career, The Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY], Mar. 20, 1931, p. 2, col. 4.
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Below is a bibliography including links to a few of my many previous postings dealing with the topics of the "Toonerville Trolley," horse-drawn railroad cars, electric trolleys and other trolley-related information pertinent to Pelham, New York.
Bell, Blake A., Pelham and the Toonerville Trolley, 82(4) The Westchester Historian, pp. 96-111 (Fall 2006).
Bell, Blake A., Pelham and the Toonerville Trolley, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 11, Mar. 12, 2004, p. 10, col. 1.
Thu., Sep. 10, 2015: Pelham Manor Citizens Voted to Reject Bus Service and Keep Their Toonerville Trolley in 1936.
Fri., Jul. 24, 2015: The Day the Brakes Failed on the Pelham Manor Trolley, Inspiration for the Toonerville Trolley.
Wed., Mar. 19, 2014: Another Confirmation the Famous "Toonerville Trolley" was Inspired by the Pelham Manor Trolley in 1909.
Wed., Mar. 25, 2009: Another Brief Account by Fontaine Fox Describing Trolley in Pelham Manor as Inspiration for Toonerville Trolley Comic Strip.
Tue., Apr. 19, 2005: Pelham Manor Residents Fight Construction of the Toonerville Trolley Line
Fri., Jun. 17, 2005: "Skipper Louie" of Pelham Manor's Toonerville Trolley
Tue., Sep. 20, 2005: Pelham's "Toonerville Trolley" Goes to War
Tue., Oct. 11, 2005: The Toonerville Trolley Pays Its Bills -- Late!
Thu., Mar. 09, 2006: Photographs of the H Line and A Line Trolleys on and Near Pelhamdale Avenue.
Thu., Jul. 06, 2006: Who Was the Skipper on the Pelham Manor Trolley the Day Fontaine Fox Rode the Line and Was Inspired?
Wed., Aug. 9, 2006: The Saddest Day in the History of Pelham Manor's "Toonerville Trolley"
Tue., Sep. 19, 2006: Toonerville Trolley Cartoons Available For Free Viewing Online.
Mon., Mar. 05, 2007: An Ode to the Toonerville Trolley and its Skipper Published in 1921.
Mon., May 28, 2007: Brief Biography of Henry De Witt Carey, 19th Century Pelham Justice of the Peace.
Thu., Jul. 30, 2009: Pelham-Related Trolley Franchises Granted in 1897.
Mon., Aug. 17, 2009: Efforts by Pelham Landowners in 1900 to Halt Construction of a Trolley Line on Shore Road.
Thu., Aug. 27, 2009: October 19, 1898 Report that the Tracks of the Toonerville Trolley Line Had Been Laid in Pelham.
Wed., Dec. 23, 2009: Attack on the Toonerville Trolley Line by Strikers in 1916
Wed., Dec. 30, 2009: Opening of the Extension of the Pelham Manor Trolley Line in 1910 -- The Toonerville Trolley Line.
Tue., Jan. 05, 2010: More on the Extension of the Pelham Manor Trolley Line in 1910 -- The Toonerville Trolley Line.
Wed., Mar. 05, 2014: Trolleys Come to Pelham in the 1890s.
Tue., Jan. 06, 2015: Extension of the Toonerville Trolley Line in Pelham Manor in 1910.