October 22: That Famous Picture With The Train

2016/10/22 § Leave a comment

On this day in 1895 the Granville-Paris Express overran the buffer stop in the Gare Montparnasse and ended up flying through the station’s front window.

Some (sadly) anonymous photographer took a picture of the derailment which has become more famous than the building that was the stage for the accident.  It’s a great photo: a fine clear print to be sure, but also one that rises above simple photojournalism.  Does it capture just a train crash?  An amazingly picturesque failure of technology?  A portrait of a massive iron behemoth made ridiculously toy-like, helpless, as it balances on its nose?  Or the explosive damage done to tradition (the beautiful train station) by harsh technology (train) that has, ahem, run off the tracks?  The latter interpretation might be most poignant, since the nineteenth-century train station is no more; the original (pretty) Gare Montparnasse of 1848 was demolished 121 years later for, what else? Le progrès!

Note: Among the many things it did very well, the Hugo Fabret movie presented a great recreation of the crash, although they have the train pitching out of the Gare du Nord, which is a different place, but a lovely ol’ Gare, and besides, it’s Scorsese, and he can do whatever he wants.

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You are currently reading October 22: That Famous Picture With The Train at Clio’s Calendar: Daily Musings on Architectural History.

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