Photographs & History

Photographs and History

The Liberty Limited

When putting together the Army Navy game article I kept trying to figure out how to to tie in the Liberty Limited story while maintaining a balance between the historical content and the magnificent effort that the Levin family and many others put forth to honor some of our finest. The truth is that story deserves its own piece, so after a conversation with Bennett, rather than reinvent the wheel I am delighted to be able to reproduce Ronnie Polaneczky's article published in the Philadelphia Daily News on December 22, 2005. This piece followed the first Liberty Limited special and has been shared world wide. Enjoy! 

AND NOW, in time for the holidays, I bring you the best Christmas story you never heard.

It started last Christmas, when Bennett and Vivian Levin were overwhelmed by sadness while listening to radio reports of injured American troops. "We have to let them know we care," Vivian told Bennett. So they organized a trip to bring soldiers from Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Bethesda Naval Hospital to the annual Army-Navy football game in Philly, on Dec. 3. The cool part is, they created their own train line to do it. Yes, there are people in this country who actually own real trains. Bennett Levin - native Philly guy, self-made millionaire and irascible former L&I commish - is one of them. He has three luxury rail cars. Think mahogany paneling, plush seating and white-linen dining areas. He also has two locomotives, which he stores at his Juniata Park train yard. One car, the elegant Pennsylvania, carried John F. Kennedy to the Army-Navy game in 1961 and '62. Later, it carried his brother Bobby's body to D.C. for burial. "That's a lot of history for one car," says Bennett.

Passing through Chase Maryland, on Amtrak's Northeast Corridor, the Liberty Limited, powered by Bennett Levin's 2 E8 locomotives pulling 19 private cars carrying military personnel wounded in the service of our country, is enroute from Washington, D.C. to the Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia, PA. Waving a flag that had flown over our nation's capitol, retired Army Reserve Colonel Lex Bishop lets the military personnel aboard the special train know that their service & sacrifice is appreciated. Photography by Don Kalkman Jr. 

Passing through Chase Maryland, on Amtrak's Northeast Corridor, the Liberty Limited, powered by Bennett Levin's 2 E8 locomotives pulling 19 private cars carrying military personnel wounded in the service of our country, is enroute from Washington, D.C. to the Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia, PA. Waving a flag that had flown over our nation's capitol, retired Army Reserve Colonel Lex Bishop lets the military personnel aboard the special train know that their service & sacrifice is appreciated. Photography by Don Kalkman Jr. 

He and Vivian wanted to revive a tradition that endured from 1936 to 1975, during which trains carried Army-Navy spectators from around the country directly to the stadium where the annual game is played. The Levins could think of no better passengers to reinstate the ceremonial ride than the wounded men and women recovering at Walter Reed in D.C. and Bethesda, in Maryland. "We wanted to give them a first-class experience," says Bennett. "Gourmet meals on board, private transportation from the train to the stadium, perfect seats - real hero treatment. "Through the Army War College Foundation, of which he is a trustee, Bennett met with Walter Reed's commanding general, who loved the idea. But Bennett had some ground rules first, all designed to keep the focus on the troops alone: No press on the trip, lest the soldiers' day of pampering devolve into a media circus. No politicians either, because, says Bennett, "I didn't want some idiot making this trip into a campaign photo op. " And no Pentagon suits on board, otherwise the soldiers would be too busy saluting superiors to relax. The general agreed to the conditions, and Bennett realized he had a problem on his hands. "I had to actually make this thing happen," he laughs.

Over the next months, he recruited owners of 15 other sumptuous rail cars from around the country - these people tend to know each other - into lending their vehicles for the day. The name of their temporary train? The Liberty Limited . Amtrak volunteered to transport the cars to D.C. - where they'd be coupled together for the round-trip ride to Philly - then back to their owners later. Conrail offered to service the Liberty while it was in Philly. And SEPTA drivers would bus the disabled soldiers 200 yards from the train to Lincoln Financial Field, for the game. A benefactor from the War College ponied up 100 seats to the game - on the 50-yard line - and lunch in a hospitality suite. And corporate donors filled, for free and without asking for publicity, goodie bags for attendees: From Woolrich, stadium blankets. From Wal-Mart, digital cameras. From Nikon, field glasses. From GEAR, down jackets. There was booty not just for the soldiers, but for their guests, too, since each was allowed to bring a friend or family member. The Marines, though, declined the offer. "They voted not to take guests with them, so they could take more Marines," says Levin, choking up at the memory.

Bennett's an emotional guy, so he was worried about how he'd react to meeting the 88 troops and guests at D.C.'s Union Station, where the trip originated. Some GIs were missing limbs. Others were wheelchair-bound or accompanied by medical personnel for the day. "They made it easy to be with them," he says. "They were all smiles on the ride to Philly. Not an ounce of self-pity from any of them. They're so full of life and determination. "At the stadium, the troops reveled in the game, recalls Bennett. Not even Army's lopsided loss to Navy could deflate the group's rollicking mood. Afterward, it was back to the train and yet another gourmet meal - heroes get hungry, says Levin - before returning to Walter Reed and Bethesda. "The day was spectacular," says Levin. "It was all about these kids. It was awesome to be part of it. " The most poignant moment for the Levins was when 11 Marines hugged them goodbye, then sang them the Marine Hymn on the platform at Union Station. "One of the guys was blind, but he said, 'I can't see you, but man, you must be f---ing beautiful!' " says Bennett. "I got a lump so big in my throat, I couldn't even answer him. "

It's been three weeks, but the Levins and their guests are still feeling the day's love. "My Christmas came early," says Levin, who is Jewish and who loves the Christmas season. "I can't describe the feeling in the air. " Maybe it was hope. As one guest wrote in a thank-you note to Bennett and Vivian, "The fond memories generated last Saturday will sustain us all - whatever the future may bring. "

God bless the Levins.

And bless the troops, every one. *

Special thanks to Ronnie Polaneczky for allowing me to share this article and a very special thank you to the Levin family and the many people involved with the Liberty Limited trips for this truly wonderful effort, your spirit and generosity are an inspiration to all!

To the Game: A Pennsylvania Railroad Tradition

Grif Teller's "Mass Transportation" circa 1955 depicts the Army Navy game trains cued up in preparation for the flood of spectators returning from the annual Army Navy Classic. The image illustrates the massive commitment the PRR made to provide game day service ranging from the allocation of equipment to the conversion of a major freight terminal into a temporary passenger station all for a one a day event! 

Grif Teller's "Mass Transportation" circa 1955 depicts the Army Navy game trains cued up in preparation for the flood of spectators returning from the annual Army Navy Classic. The image illustrates the massive commitment the PRR made to provide game day service ranging from the allocation of equipment to the conversion of a major freight terminal into a temporary passenger station all for a one a day event! 

Saturday, December 12th, 2015 marks the 116th year of the annual college football classic between the rival teams of the United States Military Academy of West Point, New York and the United States Naval Academy of Annapolis, Maryland. The tradition started in 1890 and has run continuously since 1899 with the exception of just four years. The event has been held in several cities over the years but Philadelphia was often the regular host as it was roughly equidistant from both academies.  In Philadelphia the venue was held in several locations, games during the early 20th Century were held at University of Penn’s Franklin Field, in 1936 the game moved to Municipal Stadium, a product of the 1926 Sesquicentennial International Exposition. Municipal Stadium (later renamed JFK stadium) was located at the southern end of Broad Street and would remain the primary location until moving to the new Veterans Stadium in 1980 then to the Lincoln Financial Field in 2003.

Despite having limited public transportation access (the Broad Street Line to Pattison Ave would not be built until 1973) the move to Municipal Stadium was ideal for the event for two primary reasons; the stadium had plenty of capacity to handle the crowds and it was in close proximity to the PRR’s sprawling Greenwich Yard. Capitalizing on the location, the PRR transformed the rail yard from a major import - export coal and iron ore facility into a passenger station to receive thousands of midshipmen, cadets, spectators and dignitaries on game day. Requiring a year of planning and weeks of work "on the ground" before the event the railroad transformed the terminal and freight only Delaware Extension and West Philadelphia Elevated Branch into a high volume passenger conduit to connect trains from all directions to the venue for just a single day.

Location plan circa 1954 illustrating the conversion of the Delaware Freight Extension and sprawling Greenwich Yard into a temporary passenger main line and terminal. The plan highlights the close proximity of the PRR's facilities to Municipal Stadium. Note that the Baltimore & Ohio also provided some service to the Army Navy Games vie East Side Yard and a connection at Penrose Avenue. Collection of Keystone Crossings 

The Pennsylvania’s Army Navy game service quickly became one of the most concentrated passenger operations in the United States. Initial service in 1936 offered 38 special trains to the event and by 1941 the operation hosted 42.  After a three-year hiatus due to the wartime travel restrictions rail service to the game resumed in 1946 with 37 trains continuing an annual tradition that operated at various levels under the Penn Central and Amtrak well into the 2000’s.

Though the Army Navy game trains eventually ceased, noted PRR preservationist and Philadelphia businessman Bennett Levin sought to bring back the tradition for a very special occasion. Saddened by the reports of injured troops returning from the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, Levin and his wife Vivian looked to renew the tradition providing a special day to honor these soldiers. The Levin family spearheaded an effort with the help of countless agencies, officials, private railcar owners and an army of volunteers to assemble a train of luxury private rail cars to operate a special train from Washington DC. Recovering troops from the Walter Reed and National Naval Medical Centers would be transported to Union Station boarding a train that would travel the original route of PRR specials to the Army Navy Classic in Philadelphia. After the train’s arrival at the former PRR Greenwich Yard, Septa busses would take guests the remaining distance to Lincoln Financial Field to enjoy the game from premium seats at the 50-yard line.

The Liberty Limited ran in 2005, 2006 and 2010. After the initial success of the 2005 trip the special was given a high priority by hospital commanders and medical treatment was arranged around the trip date to ensure troops could attend. The 2006 trip was the most sought after and eagerly anticipated “outside event” for troops recovering from war related injuries at both Walter Reed and the National Naval Hospital according to George Weightman, MD the Commanding Officer at Walter Reed. When announced, the 2006 trip sold out immediately with another 65 soldiers on a stand-by list. Not wanting to turn soldiers away, changes were made to the train’s consist to ensure no “soldier, sailor or Marine would be left behind!” The 2006 trip would ultimately take 132 wounded warriors, invited guests and 26 medical staff to the game. With no press, politicians or Pentagon officials these men and women were treated to a first class experience in honor of their sacrifice for our country.

Last week for Monmouth Museum Exhibition!

The Izaak Walton Inn was constructed by the Great Northern Railway in 1939 just outside of Glacier National Park near Essex, Montana. This image is one of several by contemporary photographer Travis Dewitz included in the exhibition "All Aboard! Railroads and the Historic Landscapes They Travel" at the Monmouth Museum in Lincroft, NJ. Image courtesy of Travis Dewitz

The Izaak Walton Inn was constructed by the Great Northern Railway in 1939 just outside of Glacier National Park near Essex, Montana. This image is one of several by contemporary photographer Travis Dewitz included in the exhibition "All Aboard! Railroads and the Historic Landscapes They Travel" at the Monmouth Museum in Lincroft, NJ. Image courtesy of Travis Dewitz

If you have not had a chance please take the time to visit the Monmouth Museum to view the exhibition "All Aboard! Railroads and the Historic Landscapes They Travel". This visually stunning and informative exhibition will be on view for another week, closing January 4th, 2015. For hours and additional information, please call the Museum at 732-747-2266, or visit the website at: www.monmouthmuseum.org. Museum admission is $7 per person

The Monmouth Museum, a private, non-profit organization, is located at 765 Newman Springs Road, in Lincroft, NJ.

Monmouth Museum: Lecture This Friday!

CSX westbound empty coal train at Hawks Nest, West Virginia  , January 2005   by Scott Lothes is one of roughly 80 photographs in the exhibition titled, All Aboard! Railroads and the Historic Landscape they Travel.   Please join me this Friday evening for a gallery talk for the exhibition,   All Aboard! Railroads and the Historic Landscape they Travel   which is currently on view at the Monmouth Museum. This informal lecture will provide insight on work featured in the exhibition with a historical background on the rise, fall and rebirth of American railroads in the 20th Century and the artists that were driven to document them.

CSX westbound empty coal train at Hawks Nest, West Virginia, January 2005 by Scott Lothes is one of roughly 80 photographs in the exhibition titled, All Aboard! Railroads and the Historic Landscape they Travel. Please join me this Friday evening for a gallery talk for the exhibition, All Aboard! Railroads and the Historic Landscape they Travel which is currently on view at the Monmouth Museum. This informal lecture will provide insight on work featured in the exhibition with a historical background on the rise, fall and rebirth of American railroads in the 20th Century and the artists that were driven to document them.

Exhibition installation views courtesy of  Benjamin Riley

Exhibition installation views courtesy of Benjamin Riley

The lecture will take place at the Monmouth Museum, Friday, December 12th, at 7PM and is open to the public with paid admission or museum membership. Museum admission is $7 per person.

Can't make it to the lecture? The show runs through January 4, 2015. For hours and additional information, please call the Museum at 732-747-2266, or visit the website at: www.monmouthmuseum.org.

The Monmouth Museum, a private, non-profit organization, is located at 765 Newman Springs Road, in Lincroft, NJ.

Monmouth Exhibition: Upcoming Lecture

Great Northern Railway. Westbound freight train, west of Havre, Montana, 1968 by noted photographer  David Plowden  is one of roughly 80 photographs in the exhibition titled, All Aboard! Railroads and the Historic Landscape they Travel.

Great Northern Railway. Westbound freight train, west of Havre, Montana, 1968 by noted photographer David Plowden is one of roughly 80 photographs in the exhibition titled, All Aboard! Railroads and the Historic Landscape they Travel.

Friends, Please join me next Friday evening for a gallery talk for the exhibition, All Aboard! Railroads and the Historic Landscape they Travel which is currently on view at the Monmouth Museum. This informal lecture will provide insight on work featured in the exhibition with a historical background on the rise, fall and rebirth of American railroads in the 20th Century and the artists that were driven to document them. Featuring the work of eight noted photographers and a selection of vintage travel and advertising posters the exhibition and lecture highlight the history and nostalgia the railroads evoke and the landscape it has traveled and changed for over 150 years.

Exhibition installation views courtesy of  Benjamin Riley

Exhibition installation views courtesy of Benjamin Riley

The lecture will take place at the Monmouth Museum, Friday, December 12th, at 7PM and is open to the public with paid admission or museum membership. Museum admission is $7 per person.

Can't make it to the lecture? The show runs through January 4, 2015.

The Monmouth Museum, a private, non-profit organization, is located at 765 Newman Springs Road, in Lincroft, NJ. For hours and additional information, please call the Museum at 732-747-2266, or visit the website at: www.monmouthmuseum.org.

Monmouth Museum Exhibition Opens This Weekend!

Allegheny Summit, Tunnelhill, Pennsylvania. One of roughly 80 photographs in the exhibition   "All Aboard, Railroads and the Historic Landscapes They Travel" which opens Sunday, November 16th.

Allegheny Summit, Tunnelhill, Pennsylvania. One of roughly 80 photographs in the exhibition "All Aboard, Railroads and the Historic Landscapes They Travel" which opens Sunday, November 16th.

Please join me this coming Sunday at the Monmouth Museum for the opening of, "All Aboard, Railroads and the Historic Landscapes They Travel". This visually stunning and informative historical exhibition features the work of 8 renowned photographers spanning 70 years of railroad history and will be accompanied by historic travel posters from the private collection of Bennett Levin.

The Monmouth Museum Presents

All Aboard! Railroads and the Historic Landscapes They Travel

Curated by Michael Froio

Opening Reception:Sunday, November 16, 3 – 5 pm is open to the public and free of charge

Can't make it to the opening? The show runs from November 16, 2014 through January 4, 2015

Museum admission is $7 per person

The Monmouth Museum, a private, non-profit organization, is located at 765 Newman Springs Road, in Lincroft, NJ. For hours and additional information, please call the Museum at 732-747-2266, or visit the website at: www.monmouthmuseum.org.

Upcoming Exhibition: Monmouth Museum

I am very excited to announce the Monmouth Museum's upcoming exhibition, "All Aboard, Railroads and the Historic Landscapes They Travel" which was curated by yours truly! See below for the full press release and look forward to future posts on the artists featured in the exhibition!

Locomotive 5145 in Canadian Pacific Railway St. Luc Roundhouse, Montreal, Quebec, 1960. Photograph © David Plowden

Locomotive 5145 in Canadian Pacific Railway St. Luc Roundhouse, Montreal, Quebec, 1960. Photograph © David Plowden

The Monmouth Museum Presents

All Aboard! Railroads and the Historic Landscapes They Travel

Curated by Michael Froio

November 16, 2014 – January 4, 2015

Opening Reception: Sunday, November 16, 3 – 5 pm

Gallery Talk with Curator Michael Froio: Friday, December 12, 7 pm

(LINCROFT, NJ) The Monmouth Museum presents All Aboard! Railroads and the Historic Landscapes They Travel, curated by Michael Froio. An Opening Reception will be held on Sunday, November 16, 3 - 5 pm, and a Gallery Talk will take place on Friday, December 12 at 7 pm, with Curator Michael Froio. The Opening Reception and Gallery Talk are free of charge. We are delighted to announce the Monmouth Museum Model Train Display will make its comeback with new, improved trains and updated network of track! The Friends of Monmouth Museum will present their Annual Holiday Tree, decorated with train and railroad memorabilia!

Railroads played a vital role in the development of the United States, providing the vehicle to feed the industrial revolution, the means to bridge the east and west coasts and the ability to move the American people, goods and raw materials over a network that greatly shaped the American landscape. All Aboard! is a celebration of railroads in the American landscape detailing some of the most transformative times in railroad history. This visually stunning and informative historical exhibition features the work of eight renowned photographers, including David Plowden, Jim Shaughnessy (both on loan from The Center for Railroad Photography and Art), Ron Wright, Mel Patrick, Scott Lothes, John Sanderson, Travis Dewitz and Guest Curator Michael Froio. Also featured are vintage travel and advertising posters (on loan from the Private Collection of Bennett Levin).  All Aboard! Railroads & The Historic Landscapes They Travel is an enchanting journey through the history and nostalgia the railroads evoke and the landscape they have traveled for over 150 years.

Michael Froio is an acclaimed professional photographer, associate professor and facilities manager for the Photography Program, part of the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts and Design at Drexel University in Philadelphia. Michael has received several grants and fellowships including a two-year Career Development Fellowship and Alumni Travel Grant with the Center for Emerging Visual Artists as well as a 2009 Individual Artist Fellowship from the New Jersey Council on the Arts. Michael has published articles with the National Railway Historical Society and presented lectures for the Center for Railroad Photography and Art, The Library Company of Philadelphia and various Chapters of the National Railway Historical Society across the country.