BY CELESTE CARROLL —
The Village of Shorewood may soon see a community art installation reminiscent of Shorewood’s history regarding the railroad system.
Shorewood’s Public Art Committee, who developed the plan for this installation as well as for the installation of Jaume Plensa’s Spillover II sculpture in Atwater Park, calls it The Ghost Train. It will be a public interactive art project on the Oak Leaf Trail bridge in Shorewood, over Capitol Drive. If approved by the village board in mid April, the committee hopes to install the work — which will reflect the history of Shorewood and the village’s connection to the railroad system — by Halloween of this year.
Pat Algiers, chair of the Ghost Train committee and owner and president of Chemistry in Place, a design and real estate firm across from Shorewood High School who designed the graphics, logos and banners for the project said that the installation will create the image of a long yellow train passing overhead the trail while speakers project the sounds of a train and railroad crossing.
“The Ghost Train is a LED lighting installation that will be located on the Oak Leaf Trail bridge,” Algiers said. “The bridge will have structural lighting from dusk until dawn, and twice each evening after dark an illusionary train reminiscent of the Chicago and Northwestern 400 [Train] will go over the bridge. The LED lights will create the illusion of a train and it will be accompanied by the sounds that a train makes.”
The 400 Train, which once was a powerful presence in Shorewood, as well as the Midwest, ran from 1935 to 1963 and once boasted being able to travel “400 miles in just 400 minutes.” A quarter of a million people rode the train every year in its heyday — now, it’s possible that most people have not even heard of it. Its travel route included the path over Shorewood’s Oak Leaf Trail, and the train’s impact was large in the community.
To execute the design aspect of the Ghost Train, the Public Art Committee hired Marty Peck, a lighting engineer at the Creative Lighting Design & Engineering firm in Germantown, whose works can be seen at the Mitchell Park Domes, the Wisconsin State Capitol, Potawatomi Bingo Casino, as well as others.
“When the committee decided that we wanted a lighting installation on the bridge, I remembered Marty Peck’s work that I had seen years ago,” Algiers said. “I called Marty and told him that we were interested in doing a lighting installation on the bridge. Then, Marty researched the bridge, and brought to our committee the idea of the Ghost Train.”
To find out more background information about the 400 Train and its connection to Shorewood, Algiers said the Shorewood Historical Society was approached. The historical society will contribute to the project by providing the background information on the trains as well as informational signs — Karen de Hartog, president of the Shorewood Historical Society, said the she as well as the historical society has been passionate about communicating the story of the relationship between the trains and Shorewood to the public and believes the installation will benefit not only the community in its entirety, but students as well.
“I think there are a lot of students who have never been on a train, and hopefully [the Ghost Train] will peak their interest enough for them to find out a little bit more about [the history], perhaps come up close to the bridge to read about the history we provide … [The Ghost Train] might be a source of interest for projects, just to learn more about trains, what role they played in not only Shorewood’s history but the history of this country and the way it developed, because they were big until the cars came along,” de Hartog said.
Algiers agreed, saying the project is not only an educational opportunity for the community and students, but a way to bring the community together as a whole.
“I very much hope, and I share the hope of our committee, that the Ghost Train is just another thing that brings our community together, and that we can be proud of, and that we and others can identify with. I think that the Ghost Train, certainly in the village, the city, the region and the state … will be known as a place-making installation in Shorewood,” Algiers said.
The committee has high hopes for the impact on the community.
“I hope the Ghost Train gives people a bigger appreciation of history, but I also hope it’s something fun and enjoyable for people to participate in and bring their kids to see,” de Hartog said.
Regarding potential problems that could surround the installation, such as traffic jams and noise disruptions, Algiers said the committee has taken great care to consider these problems by getting the state, the county, the city and the village highway and transportation engineers involved.
“We’re working to coordinate stop and go lights, and we feel that this will take care of anyone’s traffic concerns. In terms of noise, the Ghost Train, once it gets installed, will be tested and we will be able to control the sound levels,” Algiers said.
Currently, fundraising for the project is still in the process — $350,000 is needed to fund the installation, most of which has already been raised. The project has already received approvals from the city of Milwaukee, as well as Milwaukee County and the state of Wisconsin. The committee hopes to receive approval from the village board in mid April and to install The Ghost Train by Halloween, which Algiers also said would be an opportunity for the village to celebrate Halloween as well as the anniversary of the coming of The Ghost Train to Shorewood. In the long run, she also believes The Ghost Train will benefit the community by becoming an attraction and an opportunity to educate locals of all ages on our history.
“We are so happy because our goal is that, in place-making installations, people of all ages, all backgrounds, all lifestyles, can equally enjoy and appreciate it,” Algiers said. “And we feel that The Ghost Train is … something [everyone will] like.”