Shorewood - More than 1,000 people flooded the west end of Capitol Drive in Shorewood on Halloween night for the first run of the long-anticipated Ghost Train project.
The lights and sounds of the multimedia art exhibit brought to life the Chicago and North Western Railway's "Twin Cities 400" train, which ended its route from Chicago to Milwaukee to Minneapolis in 1963. The light show and the sound of the train horns reminded Shorewood resident Hugh Smith of growing up listening to the New York Central run through his hometown in Ohio.
"How often are you able to recall memories from your past, bringing that sense of merriment and wonder about who's on the train and where they're going," he said. "That's what (the Ghost Train) did for me."
The Ghost Train required $375,000 in donations, $300,000 of which went to the construction of the bridge. The first donors to the project were Diane and David Buck. Diane Buck said she believes the audio-visual display will engage people and build a sense of community.
"It's very ephemeral," she said. "It's not like a block piece of art."
That's also the vision of Pat Algiers, who headed the Ghost Train project on behalf of the Shorewood Public Art Committee. Now that the village has Jaume Plensa's "Spillover II" sculpture on the east end of Capitol Drive, she said it was important for Shorewood to have a piece of public art on the west end of the street to create a bookend that defines Shorewood's sense of place while also attracting neighbors west of the river in Milwaukee.
"It is reaching out and extending our border as a welcome to Milwaukee," Algiers said. "On many levels, it was important that the bridge be our next project."
In addition to all of the fundraising and planning, Algiers also promoted the Ghost Train by handing out fliers to all trick-or-treaters that came to her door Sunday afternoon. One of those families was the Riege family from Hartland, which was in town to trick-or-treat with relatives from Shorewood. Amy Riege said they were so intrigued by Algiers' description that they drove all the way from Hartland to catch a glimpse of the light show Monday night.
"We don't have anything like this in our community, so I thought it was nice," she said. "It's like a memento for the community and its history."
The "Twin Cities 400" passed over the Capitol Drive railroad bridge, now the Oak Leaf Trail pedestrian bridge, from 1935 to 1963. To recreate the train's passing, lighting engineer Marty Peck used 78 strips of light along the bottom of the bridge to create the 400's signature yellow streak of light. He created windows, shadows and the definition between train cars through his computer software and flashing strips of white light on the top of the bridge.
The display starts with the sound of a distant train, and then the sound of signal bells as lights on each of the four beacons flash. After about 40 seconds, 10 train cars will pass by over the course of about 30 seconds, and then the sound of the train will fade away. The entire production takes about a minute and a half.
When Peck first started work on the train, he reached out to Ralph Maffongelli, who he met through the Sheboygan Theater company. Sporting a Milwaukee Railroad sweatshirt during the train's debut, Maffongelli, a model train buff, said the Ghost Train aligned with all of his research into trains.
"I thought it was incredibly real," he said. "You could see the headlights and the windows. Underneath you could even hear the clickety clack. This train is an incredibly artistic piece of work."
To celebrate the Ghost Train, the nearby Culver's restaurant has designated an entire wall to historic images and advertisements of the train, which franchise owner George Dimitropoulos discovered by scouring eBay and other retail websites. The Ghost Train's nightly hours will also be posted inside the front entrance to the restaurant.
The northbound train will pass at 8 p.m., and the southbound train will pass at 8:30 p.m. Those hours will change on March 16, when the train hours are pushed back to 9:30 p.m. for the northbound train and 10 p.m. for the southbound train. The train will switch back to its winter hours on Oct. 1.
When the train runs, traffic will be stopped in all directions to prevent confusion for drivers, as well as to simulate an actual train crossing. The nearest stoplight on the west end of the bridge is across the Milwaukee River at Humboldt Boulevard. The coordination of the stoplights and other factors required approval from the village of Shorewood, city of Milwaukee, Milwaukee County and the state of Wisconsin.
When the train is not running, Peck will use all of the lighting infrastructure on the bridge to create 25 four-minute light shows to be displayed from dusk to the early morning hours. He said he can create literally millions of different color combinations with the 3,200 lights attached to the top of the bridge, as well as the light bars along the bottom of the bridge.
Peck showed off his creativity on the Ghost Train's debut night by creating a spectacular light show choreographed to "The Time Warp" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" - a fitting song given the occasion.
Peck said he was happy with the first run of the Ghost Train, but he thinks the sound should be louder. He said the village will collect feedback from neighbors about the volume of the train, as well as other neighborhood factors like the run time of the train.