Trains on the Brain

by Alison Caplan, Director of Education
Trains are on my brain this fall, from the sound of the historic steam engine chugging through the valley to the powerful black and white images by O. Winston link hanging in the museum’s Bidwell gallery.
My toddler’s obsession with the train table at our local library has led me to embrace amazing picture books like Steam Train Dream Train and Locomotive. Steam Train Dream Train by Sherri Duskey Rinker, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld is a great bedtime story featuring animals loading kid favorites, like ice cream, race cars and bouncy balls, onto a train that choo choos its way along a nighttime landscape. Caldecott award winner Locomotive by Brian Floca takes readers back 150 years to the introduction of the transcontinental railway. Trains Go by Steve Light offers a great alternative for art babes, showing the chunks and clunks of different train types in a refreshing and appropriate horizontal orientation.
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The Magnetic Fields classic indie pop record The Charm of the Highway strip is one of my favorite road trip records and Baby I Was Born on a Train is getting some much needed reviving after recently being covered by the Arcade Fire.
Local native Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train is set in Memphis and revolves around a young Elvis obsessed Japanese couple who ride the train into town to pay homage to their favorite country stars. The film features the classic Elvis song and even a visit from the King himself, in ghost form. [youtube]
There’s also Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, about two men who meet on a train, plot and swap murders. The crisscrossing train tracks are a major reoccurring symbol throughout the film. [youtube]
Who doesn’t love a good PBS documentary? The American Experience: Riding the Rails explores the role of trains during the Great Depression and the development of hobo culture, which is outlined so knowingly by comedian John Hodgman in his book The Areas of My Expertise, which features many seriously delivered fake facts about hobos. In fact a fan of Hodgman’s took the PBS documentary and mashed it up with the audio version of Hodgman’s book. It’s pretty convincing. Hodgman will be at the Main Library as part of their Main Event Speaker Series on October 22. [youtube]
O. Winston Link may have documented the last hurrah of train transportation, but Amtrack is aiming to infuse it with creativity by creating a writers in residency program. Who knows what kind of artwork locomotives will inspire in the future.
Looking for a local train fix? Hop on the steam train  Join us at the Akron Art Museum this Thursday, September 11 at 6:00 pm for a reading by Jane Ann Turzillo author of Murder and Mayhem on Ohio’s Rails and the film The Photographer, His Wife, Her Lover, which will screen at 6:30 pm.