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  • Writer's pictureConnie Lacy

In a time of Jaywalkers and Trolleys

In early 1900s Atlanta, street traffic included trolleys, automobiles, horse-drawn wagons and lots and lots of pedestrians who crossed the street wherever and whenever they pleased. While we may have faster traffic now, (unless there’s gridlock,) the streets of Atlanta and other cities were a heckuva a lot more chaotic back then.

The amazing video above was shot in San Francisco a year before the great earthquake of 1906. It gives you a feel for how wild it could be.

Interestingly, crazy trolley traffic gave the team we now know as The Los Angeles Dodgers its name. They were in Brooklyn at the time - called The Brooklyn Grays. In tribute to their daring fans who had to navigate the busy streets of that era, the team was renamed the Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers. Trolley was eventually dropped, but Dodgers lived on.

Some of the street scenes in my forthcoming time travel novel set in 1918 are just as wild and woolly. Admittedly traffic was slower then. Trolleys in the early 1900s only traveled about 9 mph.

Another tidbit that seems alien to us – in the early 1900s, as trolleys and cars carried more passengers, there were still horse-drawn wagons on the roads. Which means you had to dodge the poop as you dashed across the street. And there was a lot of dashing going on.

The word jaywalker was coined during that era. It derives from a term that has not survived - jay driving - first used in Junction City, Kansas to refer to drivers who drove on the wrong side of the road. Then The Kansas City Star used the term jaywalker to refer to pedestrians who did the same thing on the sidewalk. The compound word apparently originated from the word "jay," a curse word of the early 1900s meaning an inexperienced person. Eventually, jaywalker morphed into its modern definition of crossing the street where there's no crosswalk.

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