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February 16, 2008 8:01 AM   Subscribe

Calling all geography sleuths - can you ID the destination from the train route described inside?

I'm re-reading an old favorite book and trying to determine in what Southern city/state a doctor described by the author is located. The family in the book lives in Rye, New York, and they travel by train. The train ride lasts three hours, and their destination is in the South somewhere. The station at their ultimate destination is described thusly:

"I never enter this station without feeling like a character in an Alfred Hitchcock movie. Vaulted tunnels, spotted with naked bulbs, huge shadows, frozen in weird patterns by glacial smoke."

After they disembark, the train continues to Washington (I presume DC). The purpose of their trip is to see a "Dr. B" who is a cerebral palsy specialist. The journey described above took place circa 1942. Whenever the author makes reference to Dr. B, she always mentions going South or placing a phone call "down South." I was sort of thinking they were headed to Johns Hopkins, as that appears to have had a decent-sized children's orthopedic center at that time, but is Baltimore considered to be part of the South (to a New Yorker)? (Duke Medical Center was my other thought, and that seems more "Southern" to me, but does it fit the three-hour train ride criteria?) Later in the book she mentions taking the B&O railroad on part of this same journey (they made the trip several times per year for many years to get treatment for their CP daughter).

What does the Hive Mind deduce from these clues?
posted by Oriole Adams to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total)
When I think of 'vaulted ceilings' in relation to train stations, the first thing that comes to mind is all the Penn Stations. I don't believe there's much in the way of train routes that bypass NYC/Newark/Philly to get to DC, and chances are very high it took that Northeast Corridor route. So thusly, here are my guesses:
New York Penn (and remember, this would be the OLD NYP, not the ugly shit it is now)
Newark Penn
30th Street Station (Philly Penn)
Baltimore Penn
posted by Mach5 at 8:29 AM on February 16, 2008

My wife's family is from Rye, and I just asked her: "Would people of your parents' generation considering Baltimore 'The South' or 'Down South'?"

She said yes, given that Maryland was below the Mason-Dixon line. She says they wouldn't call it "Down South", however, as that would be "like the Carolinas and below".
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 8:41 AM on February 16, 2008

Baltimore would be a good guess for a children's medical center, but when I lived in Charm City in the 1980s it took about 4 hours to get to Rye, and the train station did not have vaulted tunnels with naked light bulbs. The station perched over the tracks and you walked down covered stairways to get to the trains. The tracks were fairly open to the sky despite the building overhead and there was no sense of being in a tunnel.

Maybe Philly? I seem to recall the train pulling in to a long dark tunnel (created by an overhead station building like Baltimore's but big enough to give a proper tunnel effect). Never got off and looked at the station there, but the travel time would be about 3 hours to Rye.
posted by Quietgal at 9:45 AM on February 16, 2008

I think it would have had to have been Baltimore. Outside guess is Wilmington Del. While people don't generally think of MD and DE as the South, as These Premises Are Alarmed notes, they were slave states, south of the Mason-Dixon line, and parts of both states (although not necessarily all) had Jim Crow laws up until the fifties. ( I recall reading the ambassador for a newly independent African nation being refused service in Delaware when he was driving to New York because he wasn't in the colored section of some diner. Caused some embarrassment)

Part of the problem is that even if the stations still exist that existed then, you have no idea the routes of the trains, or how the trains entered the stations or if the interiors are the same. Today's Wilmington station on the Amtrak like is like a commuter rail station. But maybe it was different in '42.
posted by xetere at 10:25 AM on February 16, 2008

30th Street in Philly immediately came to mind, and the ride from Rye NY would be just short of 3 hours, including other stops on the Penn line. But I doubt it would have been called "down South" even in previous generations - Philly is sometimes called "the Northernmost Southern City" but it doesn't really get associated with the South in a serious way.

But one argument in favor of Philly is that there has long been a major children's medical facility there.

If it's not Philly, then I think Baltimore or Wilmington would fit the bill. As someone who grew up in the NY Metro area, we do think you're starting to dip your toes into the South when you cross the Delaware line.
posted by Miko at 10:52 AM on February 16, 2008

you have no idea the routes of the trains

The Pennsylvania line remains basically unchanged, although in some cases a new station has been built near an old (defunct) station.

There is so much infrastructure and property-ownership stuff associated with the geographic train lines that, though the operating companies change, the tracks themselves hardly ever do. Most train lines follow trails laid in the mid- to late 1800s, so that even though there's no Pennsylvania Railroad any more, the Northeast Corridor tracks they laid and stations they built are often still around, only now they're used by newer regional rail companies.
posted by Miko at 10:56 AM on February 16, 2008

(Sorry to keep posting)

how the trains entered the stations or if the interiors are the same.

This detail of your description is going to look different today in most of the old Penn stations even if the station lobbies are the same. When the trains were electrified, the track entrances and tunnels had to be remodeled. They were also made ADA-compliant by lifting the track platforms to the door level of the trains, where in the old days, you had to step up a couple of steps to board the train.

A lot of that work was going on in the 80s when I was in my teens. So the old vaulted yellow-brick tunnels with the hanging bulbs (which I well remember) were taken out then and replaced with what someone must have thought were attractively sleek granite and concrete rectilinear halls with flourescent lights and aluminum poster cases.

There are still someof the old track and platform infrastructure details left at Newark Penn, including some beautiful ironwork, but the old walkway tunnels and track platforms have been changed.
posted by Miko at 11:01 AM on February 16, 2008

Best answer: I think it's Baltimore, too. The length of the train ride varies wildly depending on number of stops and time of day, but a non-local, off-hour train makes the trip from Baltimore to NYC in about 2:45. When I was riding the trains regularly in the early '90s, it was another 25 minutes to Rye (before Amtrak built the New Rochelle station).

Also, it appears there was a fairly new facility dedicated to treating children with cerebral palsy in Baltimore in the '40s.

I agree with Quietgal that I can't see Baltimore Penn meeting the film noir description. I vaguely recall my father once telling me that the open air platforms used to be more enclosed, but I don't have any evidence or specifics to back that up. The B&O station in Baltimore was Mount Royal Station, which is a long low building that has an arcade structure over the platforms. (Some description of Mount Royal here.) The mention of vaulted tunnels makes me think of 30th Street in Philadelphia, but I can't imagine anyone considering Philly to be the "South." Perhaps your author is conflating memories?
posted by weebil at 11:49 AM on February 16, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all the responses. That Kennedy Krieger center sounds like it could very well be the place. The parents in the book had seen dozens of doctors trying to first get their baby diagnosed, and then treated once it was determined that she had CP. When they finally found Dr. B, it was mentioned that his clinic was one of the few (if not the only) facility that specifically treated children with CP.

Years later, they began seeing a Dr. Temple Fay at Temple University Hospital in Phildelphia, and they always drove there, didn't take the train, and the author didn't refer to that journey as going south. So I think Baltimore is probably correct.
posted by Oriole Adams at 5:12 PM on February 16, 2008

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