Remembering the Helping Hands of a Subway Hero

Sometimes people do step up and help.

The story of the subway rider who the police said was pushed to the tracks and who had his photograph taken moments before the train fatally struck him — raising questions across the nation about why the photographer and other straphangers didn’t pull him up — called to mind a frightening incident of a half-century ago.

Sometime circa 1964, I was an editor at the City College of New York newspaper, The Campus, and along with other undergraduates with journalistic ambitions was working late hours putting out the twice-weekly paper while trying to keep up with my schoolwork. This one morning, as I headed to school, I must have been particularly groggy from a late night at the printers. I bought The New York Times at the corner, descended the steps of the 167th Street station on the D line in the Bronx and started reading it on the platform.

I must have absent-mindedly taken a few paces, because the next thing I knew I was falling — landing right on the muddy tracks. I heard a woman’s piercing scream. But as I straightened myself, someone reached down, firmly grabbed my hand and tugged me back onto the platform. I no longer remember what the man looked like, but I remember thanking him, an embarrassed grin on my face.

I did not fully appreciate the significance of what had happened. But a minute or two later the southbound D train barreled into the station and whizzed by me, and the full peril of what I might have experienced came to me in a wave of terror. I have never been able to read a newspaper on a train platform the same carefree way, and just writing these words brings back the fright of that morning.

Joseph Berger has been a reporter at The New York Times since 1984.

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