South Shore Line Museum Project


The South Shore Line Museum Project (SSLMP) envisions at least seven distinct and mutually reinforcing ways that it will reach out to audiences.

1) SSLMP will display, and make available on a regular basis, as many of its historic South Shore Line cars, and associated locomotives and other rolling stock as it is safe and appropriate to do so.

Presently, several classic South Shore Line cars will be available for exhibit. Car 73, a 1908 wood interurban car from predecessor, The Chicago, Lake Shore and South Bend Railway, is undergoing restoration at a facility in southern Illinois. Additional pieces of South Shore Line and other related equipment will become available for exhibit as they are stabilized and made ready for display.

This is well-understood public engagement with heritage assets in a traditional transportation museum setting. The site of this exhibit space remains to be determined.

2) SSLMP will enhance its web site to provide original documents and images illustrating the history of the South Shore Line from its predecessor companies through the present. This resource may be understood as a digital archive, available through a variety of internet platforms.

This is a well-understood way for various audiences to access and make useful many kinds of digital resources. The Hathi Trust site or Internet Archives site are models for how the SSLMP may make resources available. The web sites of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad Historical Society or the Pennsylvania Railroad Historical and Technical Society (both established nonprofit railroad heritage organizations) are also models. There are over a hundred additional relevant precedents.

3) SSLMP believes strongly in the value of partnerships with colleague institutions and regional educational institutions. At present, SSLMP has on deposit with the Calumet Regional Archives at Gary a set of twenty-six original South Shore Line posters from 1926 through 1930. There will be additional opportunities for SSLMP to either place on long-term deposit or transfer historic and archival resources to regional institutions which would in turn make them available.

4) SSLMP will offer paid internships in a number of disciplines to students at Indiana University, Purdue University, the University of Notre Dame, and other regional post-secondary institutions.

SSLMP offers a platform for students and early-career professionals in a variety of disciplines to gain real-world experience, while applying their academic training to a public benefit project. The objective of offering internships is furtherance of the core SSLMP goals. We believe that this opportunity will be attractive and mutually beneficial to successive rounds of students.

5) The South Shore Line Museum intends to offer authentic, real-world railroad experiences in the same ways as colleague institutions such as the East Troy Electric Railroad, Fox River Valley Railroad Museum, Hoosier Valley Railroad Museum, and other regional and national heritage resources operating historic railroad equipment.

This may happen in conjunction with existing heritage railroad operations, or may be a kind of “demonstration” railroad associated with the SSL museum itself. There are numerous precedents and examples of heritage operations as part of transportation museums throughout the country. They include the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore (which offers brief excursions over the first mile of the first modern railroad in the United States), California State Railroad Museum (which operates the Sacramento Southern Railroad as a heritage experience), the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania (adjacent to the Strasburg Railroad, the country’s first heritage “tourist” railroad), and dozens of additional operations.

The objective is to allow visitors of all types to actually experience the sights, smells, sounds, and physical reality of travel in authentic restored South Shore Line cars from the 1920s. The SSLMP is committed to providing these kinds of “real” living history experiences in ways that are kinetic, evocative, and an accurate representation of travel 100 years ago. That objective is supported by SSLMP’s substantial stock of new old stock and capital spare parts, catenary materials, and other physical resources accumulated over the past 40 years and now housed at its Sheridan Avenue facility in Michigan City.

6) Educational outreach will be a primary aspect of the SSLMP. We regard opportunities to offer both distance learning and in-person learning as cornerstones of our mission. The goal is not to present the history of the South Shore Line per se, but rather to make available the South Shore Line as a platform from which to explore a wide variety of topics at every grade level and curriculum agenda.

Regional railroad history in general, and South Shore Line Railroad History in particular, offer a portal to almost every curriculum objective. It would be the basis for all sorts of topics, ranging STEM and very basic principles of power and electricity, but also to topics of social history including the South Shore Line’s Northern Jim Crow deluxe parlor and dining car services of the 1920s that were reserved only for moneyed white clientele.

SSLMP looks forward to working closely with educators at the state, district, institutional, and local level to create the tools and learning goals that would be most useful. SSLMP understands that this is a continuing process involving many disciplines, many policies and frameworks, and the particular interests of educators and institutions at many levels.

SSLMP cites the longstanding precedent of the California State Railroad Museum as to how a railroad museum’s assets and opportunities may be integrated with statewide educational goals, and the Colebrookdale Railroad Heritage Trust’s pathbreaking efforts to identify new ways of making regional railroad heritage relevant and useful to K-12 education in Eastern Pennsylvania—a region rich in history and heritage.

The project envisions having educators involved at all levels of planning and development to ensure that opportunities are identified and that the SSLMP’s resources may be understood as community and educational resources.

7) SSLMP exists at an interesting time in public history and historic preservation. It could, and in many respects will, follow the conventions of traditional public history methods and interpretations. It also has the vision and opportunity to look forward to present South Shore Line and related history in new and innovative ways.

There are many parallels, analogies, and similarities between the first decades of the 20th Century and the first decades of the 21st Century. One of the ways in which the SSLMP can engage its time and place is by explicitly making that point. There have been times in our shared history when technology, culture, industrialization, art, and so many other aspects of life have changed in ways that were rapid, disorienting, and in ways that fundamentally altered our expectations and the course of our history.

SSLMP understands that reality and will embrace 21st Century technologies and practices to explore a variety of changing attitudes and initiatives. History is most fundamentally understood as “change through time.” The SSLMP will use forward-leaning hardware and approaches to vividly explore those changes, and those times.

These are following are examples of how SSLMP might engage its audiences:

  • Sensory Experience:  In the field of railroad heritage, the California State Railroad Museum 40 years ago pioneered recreated reality. With the clever use of electric motors driving cams at the corners of a Pullman car parked inside the museum, subtle sounds, and lights, the museum created an astonishingly effective (and low-tech) sensory experience that replicates the sensations that Pullman travelers experienced in the years 1900-1960.  The same low-tech, highly sensory experience can be done with South Shore Line cars.
  • History Educational Experience:  An original South Shore Line car exhibit that becomes an effective tool for school groups and educational initiatives. Students of all ages—and engaged in many curriculum agendas—might experience a convincing simulation of travel on a typical Indiana electric interurban car from almost a century before.
  • STEM Educational Experience:  Exhibits could be adapted to a wide variety of math and physics problems, or to illustrate regional settlement and land-use issues.
  • Internet Educational Experiences:  Internet-based programs will be available to anyone with a fast connection. With funding and appropriate talent, the SSLMP will be in a position to explore opportunities in Artificial Intelligence, Gaming, Virtual Reality, and other presentation modes not yet imagined.

The point is not that these may replace the authentic experience of being on a South Shore Line car or substitute for a traditional public history engagement. It is an explicit acknowledgement that the South Shore Line Museum Project understands that it needs to grasp the changing nature of public history and prepare for a future that may be very different from present modes of contact and experience.

SSLMP clearly understands that it must respect and conserve the history and heritage of the South Shore Line in a variety of contexts. It must serve a variety of audiences, each with their own expectations. And it must exist in the present and anticipate the future to remain a viable and effective institution.