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Malbone Street Wreck illustrated in ‘Tales of the Night Watchman’ ahead of its 100th anniversary

‘The Night Watchman’ covers the tragedy through the eyes of a modern barista doubling as a superhero.

The Malbone Street Wreck happened 100 years ago

The Malbone Street Wreck happened 100 years ago this Nov. 1 and its tragedy is being told in another series of "The Tale of the Night Watchman." Photo Credit: Dave Kelly and Lara Antal, So What Press

The dark night of Nov. 1, 1918, turned deadly when a subway car speeding underneath Flatbush Avenue flew off the tracks. Ninety-three people were found dead. One hundred years later, it stands as the deadliest subway wreck in New York City history.

The Malbone Street Wreck’s 100th anniversary will be marked this year across the city, including at the New York Transit Museum, but it is also the focus of a comic series by Dave Kelly and Lara Antal at So What Press.

Their “Tales of the Night Watchman,” a localized comic about Charlie, a millennial barista who’s also a superhero, covers the tragedy in detail in its newest series, which is currently being serialized in the Park Slope Reader.

The story, illustrated by Simon Fraser, opens with a strange discovery of a ghost train heading down the line under Empire Boulevard, formerly Malbone Street. The Night Watchman, who was present the night of the crash, must face the ghost train.

It’s a grim series, but one that’s timely and necessary, Kelly told amNewYork.

“When I pitched the idea to the Park Slope Reader, I knew it would be topical and that the transit museum would be doing something to mark the 100th anniversary,” he said. “It was the right time to do it. It’s topical in a weird way, thankfully there hasn’t been anything that bad since, but the infrastructure is what the MTA is currently trying to tackle, so there’s a weird relevance.”

While much less disastrous, derailments still happen in modern-day New York — including of a Q train at the Brighton Beach station and of an A train at the 125th Street station, which injured about 39 people, both in 2017 — but few New Yorkers know of the most infamous derailment, Kelly said.

“You have to get your hands dirty to find anything on it,” he said, explaining he had to dig through the transit museum’s archives and search online for basic information on the Malbone Street Wreck. “It happened at night and people heard it from miles away and ran to the scene. It was hard to get to the accident, including the press.”

But with its 100th anniversary on Nov. 1, the tragedy is getting renewed attention. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said in August that he’s pushing for a permanent marker at the site of the wreck to educate people about its impact on Brooklyn.

“It is great to call attention to it,” Kelly said. “People have an interesting relationship to the past. Somethings are totally forgotten. This happened during World War I, so it got eclipsed a little bit.”

The “Watchman” series can be found in the Park Slope Reader, but also as its own comic for those who are interested in reading it. The original art will also be on view at The New Mainstream, a Comix Group art show by Dean Haspiel at Art on A Gallery, Oct. 3-5.


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