In 1897 in Indianapolis, a Monon train and a Pennsylvania Railroad Fast Train hit head-on. Monon engineer William M. Martin died there, on Market Street. This is one of the many dangers in railway life.
“There were a lot of train wrecks,” artist Betsy Stirratt, director and curator of the Grunwald Gallery of Art at Indiana University in Bloomington, said of the heyday of railroads.
But there was also a lot of hauling of lumber, coal and food and college-students, and the Monon’s mid-1900s nickname, Hoosier Lifeline, shows its importance to Indiana’s social and economic life.
Today the Monon’s trains are gone, its tracks largely hushed and still. Its path, however, remains and is the foundation for an understanding of the connections among landscapes, ecosystems and communities through time. Indiana’s environment along the remains of the historic Monon Railroad, from the Ohio River to Lake Michigan’s dunes, has changed. Stirratt wants people to know how and why.
The Grunwald exhibit “Hoosier Lifelines: Environmental and Social Change Along the Monon, 1847-2020” asks the following: What becomes of the future we imagined? What replaces the network of communities and workers who once brought our state together? What will sustain those communities as certain resources wane and environment changes?
It’s a look at this one-rail line, but it’s also a collection of photographs, artifacts and stories — some represented in mounted newspaper reprints — that reveal Indiana’s part in what scientists call the Anthropocene, the age of humans.
The exhibit uses both art and history to describe a network of industry, commerce, agriculture and energy that Hoosiers built during the line’s 100-plus years of service.