traveling in our songs and dreams are the A Train, the Orange Blossom
Special and the City of New Orleans. A new locomotive is about to
enter that lore: the Ghost Train. It will cross the intersections of
technology and history.
The story behind
its inception is one even Albert Einstein, who explained the strange
nature of light, would find interesting. Only slightly less creative
than Einstein himself, ingenious groups of Village of Shorewood
residents wished to expand public art in the town they love. The
Public Art Committee partnered with a savvy local historical society
and generous donors, and together they are transforming an old
railroad trestle into a heart-thumping, twice-nightly event. Renowned
lighting designer Marty Peck, their artist of choice, used
contemporary technology to resurrect a historic train — the Chicago
and Northwestern Railway’s Twin Cities 400.
"400" never stopped in Shorewood, but from 1935 to 1963, it
thundered across the trestle at Capitol Drive, site of the current Oak
Leaf Trail bridge. Daily, it departed from and arrived back in
Chicago, making the 400-mile trip to Minneapolis in 400 minutes (hence
the name). It even looked fast, with its exterior painted bright
yellow-gold and green. Dinner was served on white linen by liveried
waitstaff to diners in their finest, including gloves for ladies.
Alas, as cars
and interstates became ubiquitous in the ’50s, with fast food
stations dotting roadsides along the way (no gloves required),
motoring became the transportation of choice, ridership declined, and
by 1963, the "400" was history. Until Peck had an idea.
Public Art Committee initially consulted him about the possibility of
simply lighting the gateway bridge. But the train aficionado — also
a former star-struck performance guy for both drama and rock bands,
electrical engineer, and most recently, the conductor of his own,
nationally known lighting company, Creative Lighting Design &
Engineering, LLC — saw an opportunity. He could bring light rail to
Shorewood, with absolutely all puns intended. The attendant groups
agreed with Peck’s proposal in a nanosecond. Here was a matchless
opportunity, as the man has a well-respected reputation to uphold.
Peck has taken
his ability to "paint with light in order to tell an underlying
architectural story" across the country. He lives to calculate
lumens, candelas and primary color mixing with electricity. He lit the
famous NASA Rocket Garden at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Visible at night, America’s space endeavor is presented by the
cylindrical towering remains of the Juno, Titan II and soaring,
223-feet-tall Saturn 1B rockets. They stand bathed in moon-white light
— except for the ostensible rocket fuel orange flares around the
base, of course. Peck has illuminated a ski resort in Keystone, Colo.,
casinos, the Wisconsin governor’s mansion and the Mitchell Park
Domes, where he synchronized light to music. In 1994, he re-created a
historic fire in the Historic Third Ward. The building blazed with
light-strip flames and smoke machines — so convincingly that fire
engines appeared, despite being informed beforehand. Thousands lined
up to gawk.
Exactly who is
Marty Peck? "Artists create a stand-alone thing; lighting
designers illuminate what’s there. This is where my synergy
exists," Peck explains. "I say I work in the area of black
magic. I deal in illusions and an ephemeral medium — light, which is
made visible and colorful only when energy of certain wavelengths is
For the Village
of Shorewood, he proposed to create the "illusion of an allusion
to the ‘400.’" The twice-daily Ghost Train will cross the
bridge in 40 seconds. Here’s how it works: The signal lights flash;
a whooshing sound indicates the approach. A stream of white light
passes, with slits of green indicating car separation, a little red
ball of light signifies the end, and — wait for it — pixie dust
zinging into space indicates the train is gone. Whether traveling
north or south, the show will be the same, but atmospheric variants
like pollutants or fog will keep it fresh and new.
Not to spoil the
magic, but how is this achieved? Knowing a lot about LEDs helps, says
Peck. "Each fixture segment has separate primary colors of red,
blue and green, so I can make literally millions of colors by mixing
them," he explains. "Red and green, for example, make
yellow. Across the bottom of the bridge arch, I install multiple
4-feet-long by 3-inch-wide strips of LEDs to create the effect of the
train cars passing by, washing light up the sides of the bridge with
moving segments of yellow. Three rows of LED dots across the top rail
of the bridge will produce the illusion of headlights and windows
moving with the ‘cars.’
the animated effects, the digital information to each LED light
fixture is refreshed 40 times per second," Peck continues, adding
that he first creates and designs all projects on his computer.
affable, gregarious and tall man, doesn’t look much like a standard
wizard, but looks can be deceiving. m
It Takes a
chair of the Ghost Train effort and member of Shorewood’s Public Art
Committee, believes the enchantment of the train is what brought about
the magical cooperation among county, city, village and state highway
personnel. "The bridge sits at the intersection of so many
governmental bodies (that) many doubted we could get this done,"
she says. "Each group saw the plans and was immediately on board.
We also had to get police agreement and account for crossing lights
blinking and the sounds of a rushing train that no longer exists
passing over the heavily trafficked Capitol Drive. We had many
meetings but little resistance. Guy Johnson, the (Village of
Shorewood) president, told us, ‘This will be a first-of-its-kind
experience, blending art, history and technology, and we believe it
will draw interest not only in Shorewood but throughout Wisconsin and
all-volunteer Shorewood Historical Society, led by Karen de Hartog and
the source for all historical information in this story, is a savvy
group; it uses the virtual and digital worlds. No museum exists in
Shorewood to display its rich history, but the Village Hall allows the
society archival space. De Hartog recites the society’s motto:
"Our style is to get our history public in the most accessible
way possible." De Hartog and the society provided Peck with
photos and articles about the "400" and will provide story
banners about the train.
investing in the
No J.P. Morgan
railroad tycoon resides in Shorewood, but people with pockets both
deep and shallow donated $350,000 to make Peck’s vision a reality.
of Heartland Advisors committed time and money, encouraging friends to
pitch in. Why? He had an epiphany watching Peck’s initial
presentation. "Suddenly, I remembered (how) my dad used to bring
my little sister and (me) to watch the ‘400’ roar by," he
says. "The real one looked so ‘Packerish.’ We have to keep
those memories going."
Train is a wonderful example of Shorewood: a storied history,
exceptional community leadership, and involvement and eyes on the
future," say donors Jim and Vida Langenkamp.