Today the Village Board of Shorewood accepted plans to create a “Ghost Train” art installation that will pass through the Oak Leaf Trail at its Capitol Drive intersection. In an effort to recreate the historic train route of the Twin Cities 400, onlookers will hear audio technology with specially designed lighting features. Light fixtures will line the bottom of the bridge at one-foot increments to give the illusion of a train passing, and the top of the bridge will be riveted with dots of light to convey the sense of windows and approaching train lights. The project is scheduled to be unveiled in time for Halloween.
The light and sound display will occur twice each evening, replicating the schedule of the “400” that ran from Chicago to St. Paul from 1935-1963. The train earned its moniker for its ability to traverse roughly 400 miles in 400 minutes.
As part of the village of Shorewood’s long-term visual arts effort, the Shorewood Public Art Committee petitioned to have Germantown-based Marty Peck design the installation. Peck previously designed lighting projects for the Mitchell Park Domes, Potawatomi Casino and the Wisconsin Club.
Peck says he was originally asked to light up the Oak Leaf Trail, so he began looking into the area’s history.
“I discovered the bridge and that the train going through the village had some historic import and was quite significant back in the day,” Peck says. “There really is no reflection in the city of Milwaukee’s train history.”
The Twin Cities 400, he found, was a popular feature of the neighborhood. Even though freight trains had been around the area for years before the Twin Cities 400 began service, Shorewood residents enjoyed its nightly passing so much that police were often required for traffic control.
Peck says he saw an opportunity to combine this pastime with his expertise in lighting and design. “Knowing how to program and navigate the lighting, it seemed natural to suggest the illusion of the train going across the bridge with lighting techniques,” he says. “The historical group has interest in this because it is recreating a bit of history, and we’re also doing something artistic with the bridge.”
The project, commissioned by the Ghost Train Committee, is in its final stages of fundraising. Once its completed, the forms created by the lighting might not be recognizable the naked eye. In fact, Peck’s goal is subtlety.
“We’re not trying to literally have a train go across the bridge, but using lighting to give the effect of movement,” he says. “Whatever we’re trying to do with lighting, it has a bit of meaning and is a little intriguing. It requires some thought.”