Pullman Railroad Days offers a journey back in time to where it all happened – Chicago Tribune
Imagine traveling in the equivalent of a private business jet in 1914. The Francis L. Suter, a railcar used by business travelers at the time, was more of a rolling lounge equipped with a wood-burning fireplace.
Or how about riding the New York Central 3, built in 1928? Once considered the largest capacity executive car in the country, it housed two master bedrooms, two queen bedrooms, two showers, a dining room with full meal service, an observation lounge and an open deck at the rear.
There will be plenty of opportunities to reimagine the past and learn how rail travel has shaped American society at Pullman Railroad Days, taking place Saturday and Sunday in the Pullman neighborhood of Chicago.
Two other Pullman Company cars will be parked for the weekend on the tracks near the Metra station at 111th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue. These include the Royal Street, an Art Nouveau-style observation lounge car built in 1950, and the 1956 George M. Pullman, the last sleeper car model made by the company.
To access the railcars, visit the nearby Pullman Railcar Factory and Hotel Florence, take a guided walking tour of the Pullman District, and to see an exhibit of 1940s photos of Chicago railroad workers, visitors can purchase tickets to www.pullmanil.org/specialevents/ for $20 or $25 at Pullman Exhibit Hall 11141 S. Cottage Grove Ave. Children under 10 enter for free.
Proceeds go to the Historic Pullman Foundation, which since 1973 has supported the historic preservation of the Pullman District, an area originally built as a wagon factory town. Those who join the foundation get 10% off admission.
On Labor Day 2021, the area east of Cottage Grove was designated as being within the boundaries of the Pullman National Monument. Now considered a national park, the old factory and brick townhouse community was once ground zero for a nationwide railroad strike that brought the wheels of American commerce to a halt.
Many believe that what happened there in 1894 marked the beginnings of the American labor movement. Many also believe that the subsequent labor struggles for Black Pullman porters sparked the beginnings of the civil rights movement.
In addition to serving as a starting point for Pullman Railroad Days attractions, the Pullman Exhibit Hall will feature photos of Chicago-area rail yard workers taken in the 1940s by Jack Delano.
Born in 1914, in present-day kyiv, Ukraine, Delano worked for the Farm Security Administration’s photography program, alongside famous American photographers Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans and Gordon Parks. He died in 1997.
One of Delano’s images shows railroad workers who also happen to be relatives of Chicago actor Gary Sinese, according to Julian Jack, executive director of the Historic Pullman Foundation. The circa 1943 photo shows an all-male work crew standing in front of a locomotive in the Indiana Harbor Belt Rail Yard located at 140th and Stewart Streets in Riverdale.
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But the exhibit curated by the Chicago History Museum and the Center for Railroad Photography & Art does more than offer images from the past, Jackson said. “It is also a storytelling exhibit that includes research into the lives of the people depicted in the photos,” he said.
This body of research comes in the form of a diary kept by a Chicago Union Station worker, a video exploring the lives of railroad workers, and lectures given by the railroad enthusiast and author Bon French until 4 p.m.
Pullman factory tours run from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Visitors can access the first floor of the Hotel Florence from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Railroad executives from across the country have stayed at this luxury hotel while doing business with railcar factory owner George M. Pullman. The Pullman family has frequently occupied the Pullman Suite, which is still under renovation. Pullman named the hotel after his eldest daughter, Florence.
The event also features outdoor music by Chicago’s Prohibition Orchestra, food vendors and, on Saturdays only, vintage cars on display by an Indiana chapter of the Model A Ford Car Club of America.
For a dose of historical context, visitors can also visit the Pullman National Monument and Visitors Center at the northeast corner of 111th and Cottage Grove. Admission is free to the administration building crowned by the clock tower, once used for the design of Pullman Palace carriages. The relics and interactive displays convey the luxury experienced by Pullman Palace Car drivers, as well as the long hours of intense work provided by factory workers and Pullman porters.
Susan DeGrane is a freelance writer for the Daily Southtown.