Inaugural procession for the Walkway Over the Hudson
OCTOBER 3, 2009.


CONCEPT and DESIGN: Alex Kahn and Sophia Michahelles


Act Two: Steam

The construction of Poughkeepsie Rail Bridge marked a paradigm shift in the economy and culture of the mid-Hudson Valley and in the country as a whole, as the steam-driven mills of New England drew upon newly available sources of power from the Pennsylvania coal fields. Railroads such as the Central New England and the Penn Central welcomed the expediency of a route that could circumvent New York City in the transport of goods and resources. Although coal was both impetus and fuel for this expansion, the bridge soon became an East-West corridor for agricultural produce and manufactured goods, along with trains carrying mail, passengers, and even circus animals.

Act Two of the procession was led by the bridge itself. Scale replicas of the bridge's steel spans formed a moving corridor along the Walkway, as performers paid homage to the utilitarian grace of the structure beneath their feet. Between these dancing spans, trains and cargo of all types – from coal cars to circus trains, drawn from archival images and historical sources – passed in a choreography of commerce, framed by banners evoking the railroad's visual language of semaphors and signals.

The idenities of the individual train cars were framed by stories brought into the workshop by individual participants. One volunteer, whose father worked as a track fireman, recounted watching troop trains during WW II from which departing soldiers tossed final letters to their loved ones, hopes that someone below would post them. Other participant recalled his first job as a chemist in the Poughkeepsie Smith Brothers cough drop plant. One man in his eighties described his childhood memeory of Barnum and Bailey Circus cars coming into the city over the bridge. As the train passed through the procession, each car's performer wore a head-piece depicting one of these local narratives, while casting off keepsakes to passers-by: the elephant in the circus car threw peanuts, the Smith Brothers ("Trade" and "Mark") gave out cough drops, etc. – narrative fragments left on the tracks, inviting the curious to delve deeper in the history of the bridge.

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