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What's on the Menu?, Food for Thought

Train Travel Menus


Canyon Diablo, Ariz., Digital ID 62172, New York Public LibraryWhen it comes to romantic ways to travel across the United States, the train gets short shrift. Cars, even Greyhound buses, are the usual setting for burgeoning love affairs, quiet introspection, and hunger for new beginnings. This September, however, train travel gets its due when video artist Doug Aitken celebrates the modest Amtrak with his latest project, Station to Station. Aitken will take an Amtrak train and transform it into a moving kinetic light sculpture (this is not your mother's Northeast Corridor), with stops in major cities along the way for site-specific art "happenings." Artists Kenneth Anger and Rirkrit Tiravanija are on board, so to speak, as are musicians Charlotte Gainsbourg and Beck. To train leaves the station from New York in early September.

Station to Station has featured a few New York Public Library train menus on its website, but there are many more to choose from. Below are some highlights from our online collection, What's on the Menu?

President McKinley's Funeral Procession

President William McKinley was shot by anarchist Leon F. Czolgosz on September 6, 1901 at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. A little over a week later McKinley died from his gunshot wounds. His body was taken from Buffalo to Washington, D.C. for the state funeral, and then to Canton, Ohio where he was buried at Westlawn Cemetery. Below is a menu from the Presidential funeral procession from Washington to Ohio on September 17 and 18, 1901.

Harvey Restaurants

Fred Harvey, a 19th century railroad freight agent, was consistently disappointed by the food offerings along railway lines. In 1873, Harvey set out to change the culinary landscape by opening three restaurants along the Kansas Pacific route. His restaurants were known for their wholesome food and exceptionally clean surroundings. Three years later, Harvey opened both a lunch counter and a hotel along the Atchison, Topeka, and Sante Fe Railway Line, and more followed. Then in 1883, Harvey made news when he supposedly fired the entire male staff of his restaurant in Raton, New Mexico and replaced them with inexperienced, but courteous young women: the Harvey Girl was born. Soon, his restaurants were largely staffed by women recruited to work for the Harvey organization, to live in Harvey dormitories, and to obey Harvey Girl rules (no marriage until at least one year of service was complete). By the time Fred Harvey died in 1901, his organization managed over forty restaurants, dozens of dining cars, and nearly twenty hotels. The Library has more than a few Harvey menus, including those featuring stills from the popular 1946 Judy Garland film, The Harvey Girls.

For more infomation on the Fred Harvey restaurants, check out Donald Duke's Fred Harvey, civilizer of the American Southwest, or George Foster's The Harvey House Cookbook. And for additional information on Doug Aitken's project—or to watch a fascinating short film on the Prelinger Library, a privately funded, public library in San Francisco—head to the Station to Station website. And for an incredible read on the railroad history, I highly recommend Wolfgang Schivelbusch's The Railway Journey.


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