All Aboard! Welcome to the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania

Affiliations Director Harold Closter gives remarks to welcome the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvanian to the Smithsonian family.

Affiliations Director Harold Closter gives remarks to welcome the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania to the Smithsonian family.

On November 4, Smithsonian Affiliations welcomed the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania into the Affiliate network.  The Museum, located in Strasburg, is the first member of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) properties to join the Smithsonian family.  At the affiliation announcement ceremony, representatives from the state and federal legislatures gave remarks, as well as the director of PHMC and president of the Lancaster County Community Foundation.

Smithsonian Affiliations thanks Senator Patrick M. Browne of the Pennsylvania State Senate, 16th District, for the thoughtful comments he provided at the event (below) to mark this celebration and remind us of the power of history and partnerships in shaping the American experience.

“I can only guess how many of you recently shared something with me. I am proud to say that I was totally engrossed in the baseball drama of the Cubs and Indians for the last two weeks. Of course, the drama was created by the fact that the Chicago Cubs, until two days ago, were the longest standing major professional sports franchise in America without a championship. Not since 1908 were the Cubs at the top of Major League baseball.

To highlight this fact, during the contest, Fox Sports was running special interest pieces to put 1908 in perspective, such as in 1908, Al Capone was 9 years old, Thomas Edison was 62, Mark Twain was 72 and a loaf of bread cost 2 cents.

Senator Browne delivering his remarks at the affiliation announcement.

Senator Browne delivering his remarks at the affiliation announcement.

But as railroad enthusiasts tend to do, we can put all of our experiences in a railroad perspective. So, what I was thinking while these special interest pieces were running, was that 1908 was two years before Penn Station first opened in New York City. By 1908, the great Pennsylvania Railroad had yet to conquer Gotham.

I was thinking that during their last championship year, if the Cubs were traveling from Chicago to face the New York Giants at the Polo Grounds in Harlem, they probably and unfortunately rode the New York Central. Everyone knows, however, how easy it was to build a bridge across the Hudson River in Albany.  Some rivalries never die. If they were traveling from the south or from Chicago, their journey on the trains of the Pennsylvania Railroad concluded in Jersey City.  A ferry waited there to take them for the final mile across the Hudson to Manhattan for there was, of course, no railroad tunnels under the Hudson in 1908.  The “Sand Hogs” were still working, sometimes dying, to complete those tunnels.

The fact is that one of the greatest achievements in human history — Penn Station — a building for the ages, was born, lived and died more than 40 years before the Chicago Cubs again won the World Series.  That is a long time, or is it?

The interesting question is why this World Series was so compelling to so many? Why so many baseball and non-baseball fans, 40 million strong, were captivated by it?  The simple answer is that it provided a bridge to the past, a connection to those whose achievements, no matter how long ago, helped in their own way to build what and who we are in 2016. In short, it served as a collective celebration of ourselves.

Well, within the walls of this “best of its kind in the nation” facility, the many who come here experience the same thing. For our past achievements in no other area but railroading define us better. Railroads have defined who we are, the communities that we live in and the quality of life that we enjoy. 

Achievements in railroading took human innovation to new heights, collapsed time and space by connecting people and communities across distances never before possible, removed for the first time the shackles that Mother Nature had on human progress, provided a permanent venue for the integration of the America’s collage of culture and capacity and advanced the standard and wellbeing of millions like no other industry before or since.  In short, the railroads were the epicenter of American human and technological achievement and, upon reflection, an inspiration of what the American spirit can always achieve.

With more railroad companies, more rail miles per square mile, more tonnage and more passengers, Pennsylvania railroading, of course, as the slogan goes, is the standard for the country and the world.  In no other place than in Pennsylvania is the journey of railroading in the American conscience more compelling. With the Keystone State at the pinnacle of railroad lore and legacy, no Pennsylvanian can truly understand the state that they live in and its place in the world without having a knowledge and appreciation of the story told within these walls.

The Olomana locomotive, on loan from the National Museum of American History.

The Olomana locomotive, on loan from the National Museum of American History.

A Smithsonian Affiliation of course, as it does for a multitude of outstanding historical assets nationwide, provides endless possibilities to improve the value and offerings of this facility to the maximum benefit of all our citizens. But at its core, it is much more than that. Most important and most fundamental is what the partnership communicates, what it elevates in the hearts and minds of Pennsylvanians and all Americans about the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania and its compelling core mission: a venue for personal reflection, through the stories of people and property of railroading, of our collective journey. A path forged on steel rails to what we have become and, as Americans, what we are always capable of being. As will be the legacy of the 2016 World Series in American folklore, this facility is a timeless celebration of ourselves.

“Trains are wonderful, wrote railroad enthusiast and author Agatha Christie.  “To travel by train is to see nature and human beings, in fact, to see life.”

On behalf of the Pennsylvania Senate, to the Smithsonian and the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission, thank you and congratulations for allowing our citizens to see and appreciate the value that railroading plays in their lives and the life of our state and our nation.”

 

 

 

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