Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Miracles Leaning On Lamp Posts

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 30, 2011

Near the end of the movie, Harvey starring Jimmy Stewart, there’s a heartfelt exchange between Elwood P. Dowd and Dr. Chumley that has a wonderful A-ha! moment right smack dab in the middle of it all.

ELWOOD: You see, science has overcome time and space. Well, Harvey has overcome, not only time and space – but any objections.

CHUMLEY: Flyspecks — flyspecks! I’ve been spending my life among flyspecks — while miracles have been leaning on lamp posts at Eighteenth and Fairfax! Tell me, Mr. Dowd, will he do this for you?

ELWOOD: Oh, he’d be willing at any time — yes. But so far I ha-haven’t been able to think of any place I’d rather be. I – I always have a wonderful time — wherever I am — whomever I’m with. I’m having a fine time right here with you, Doctor.

Courant.com published an article by John Altavilla in their blog section on March 26, 2011 that spoke of Geno Auriemma and his disappointment over the small turnout at Gampel Pavillion for the Huskies’ second-round win over Purdue University.  It stated in part:

And if said it in his usual way, Philadelphia kid standing on the corner, leaning on the lamp post, joking around with his buddies.  Except he was in a press conference, where they are no posts, except blog posts.

On August 7, 1960 the New York Times ran a story entitled, “Rosell Eliminates Law That Horses Be Tied” that spoke not only of changes to that law but to others as well.

A modern codification of all legislation passed here since 1890 has eliminated laws banning policemen from leaning on lamp-posts and requiring riders to secure horses to hitching posts. The new codification of borough laws has wiped out outdated and conflicting and confusing language.

It would appear that leaning on lamp-posts was thought of as a lazy man’s pastime in the late 1880s that necessitated the passing of a law banning policemen from leaning on lamp-posts.  But what could possibly spur City councillors to pass such a law?

In the late 19th century, tall bikes were an integral part of the gas lamp lighting system.  Employees would ride their tall bikes — some as tall as 7 feet in height — from lamp to lamp, lean against the lamp post, light the lamp, lightly push of from the lamp post and continue to the next lamp post.  This was necessary as gas lamp posts were usually 11 feet tall with 2 of those 11 feet in the ground which meant a 7 foot tall bike would put the rider at the correct height for lighting the lamp.  Once all the lamps on a rider’s route were lit, an assistant would help the rider dismount from the tall bike.

Since the lamp posts were gas-powered, it’s understandable that any city with such a lamp lighting system would want to send the message to its inhabitants — for safety’s sake — not to lean on lamp posts and to stand on their own two feet.  And one certainly didn’t want to get in the way of a gas lamp lighting system rider for fear of causing problems for the rider, the leaner or both!

If someone leaned on such a lamp post, it left the impression that they didn’t have anything better to do with their time than lean on lamp posts.

And so, if miracles are leaning on lamp posts at Eighteenth and Fairfax, or at any other intersection anywhere in the world, it means miracles haven’t anything better to do than to wait for the world to see miracles where they happen to be … leaning on lamp posts.

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