Charlie on the MTA

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Is there a story behind the song about Charlie, the man that was stuck on the MTA in Boston?

Charlie on the MTA

Remember “Charlie on the MTA”? It was a 1959 song that spent a long time at the top of the charts and it was Boston's transit system that did poor Charlie in. The song was written by Jacqueline Steiner and Bess Lomax Hawes in 1948 as part of Boston politician Walter O'Brien's campaign for mayor of the city. Back in those days, ticket price hikes were accomplished by means of a complicated exit fare so the turnstiles would not have to be changed every time the price went up. O'Brien wanted to simplify the system and get rid of the exit fares. The song had Charlie boarding the train at Kendall Square station and changing for Jamaica Plain. Then, for want of a nickel for the dreaded exit fare, Charlie was stuck on board. Every day, his wife would pop up at Scollay Square station (now the Government Center stop) to toss Charlie a sandwich “as the train went rumbling through”. Listeners never quite understood why she didn't just hand him a nickel instead of a sandwich but then there would be no song. Sung by the Kingston Trio, the MTA song became a familiar piece of American folk music and still enjoys some popularity today. Especially in Boston. When the Mass Transit Authority instituted an automatic card system, they called it the “Charlie Card”. And where's Charlie today? Still on board, some say...”He may ride forever 'neath the streets of Boston – he's the man who never returned.” Poor ole Charlie.



10/6/2007 11:38:40 AM
Diana Butler said:

What a fun explication of a song that we have all heard and hummed, but didn't have the background for.

10/24/2007 4:41:23 PM
Sean said:

Actually I heard it rumoured that by now poor old Charlie would be of retirement age and qualify for senior's fare and thus be eligible to finally leave the train. I don't know where I got that from, maybe a Boston municipal or M(B)TA site itself. Cool song. Nowadays if you can't afford an exit fare you're more liable to be arrested instead of marooned on a transit vehicle.


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