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Re: Roll up the sidewalks

Posted by Smokey Stover on July 26, 2008 at 15:23

In Reply to: Roll up the sidewalks posted by Vair on July 22, 2008 at 06:45:

: 'Roll up the sidewalks'
: In the US, this phrase occurs when a writer describes a town's business district shutting down for the night. Often, there's a certain quaintness meant: it may be used more to describe a town or area where everything shuts down early. I recently heard "fold up the sidewalks" and now I wonder: what IS the phrase, and what is its basis and history? Thanks!

I don't know if there is a "correct" version, but I'm pretty certain that "roll up the sidewalks" is the older one. It used to be a staple in the comedian's or writer's repertory for referring to quiet towns. Small, "sleepy" towns have been characterized probably for a century or more as places where they roll up the sidewalks at night. It has become a very common cliché.

Sometimes the expression goes: "They roll up the sidewalks at 9 o'clock." And this dictum in not reserved for small towns.

"In L.A., they roll up the sidewalks at 9 o'clock." See:

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9402EFD8173EF93AA25755C0A961958260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=2

And, of course, Philadelphia. "In Philly, they roll up the sidewalks at 9 and everyone goes home." See:
http://idigdoug.blogspot.com/2005/07/ye-gods.html

I don't know if W.C. Fields ever applied exactly that expression to Philadelphia, but he definitely considered it a too-quiet town. "Last week, I went to Philadelphia, but it was closed." He didn't let up: "I once spent a year in Philadelphia, I think it was on a Sunday." He concocted an epitaph for himself, "Here lies W. C. Fields. On the whole, I would rather be living in Philadelphia."
SS