DIAMONDS ARE A RAIL FAN’S BEST FRIEND.
Built in 1902, the Marion Union Station is adorned with marble walls, mosaic tile floors inlaid in beautiful patterns, oak woodwork, an incredible stained glass skylight, and lustrous brass plating throughout its spacious lobby. With the station surrounded by six mainline tracks, creating eight “diamonds,” passenger and freight trains alike made frequent stops in Marion along their way through the Midwest.
With rail serving as one of the more popular modes of transportation in the early 1900’s, the Marion Union Station had its fair share of visitors. From seeing a show at the Palace Theatre to attending one of Harding’s front porch campaigns, people made sure to stop at this, the largest and most frequent, stop between New York and Chicago. In late 1923, the Marion Union Station was the last rail stop on President Harding’s funeral procession before he was laid to rest. The station was also used as a canteen stop for troops during World War II before passenger service ceased in 1971.
Since the days of passenger locomotives, the station currently serves as a museum for the Marion Union Station Association and draws hundreds of visitors – also known as railfans – each year. On a daily basis, one can easily count upwards of 60 trains passing through the intersection of the biggest Ohio railroads, while standing just yards away on the station’s historic brick sidewalks or viewed high in the landmark AC Tower adjacent to the station. Visitors can also tour an Erie Lackawanna caboose that is located on the grounds and harkens back to the near past–as recently as the 1970s—when that railroad was a major employer in the Marion area.
The late Joe Slanser was one of the biggest railfans in Marion. A charter member of Marion’s Model Railroad Club in 1950, he is credited with helping to develop the Marion Union Station into a family-friendly destination where visitors can relive the time when as many as 200 trains chugged through the city of Marion every day.
Pete White, president of the Marion Union Station Association, recalled how Slanser generously supported the Marion Union. The Joe Slanser Fund at Marion Community Foundation awards grants annually to help to keep the Marion Union Station Museum free to visitors – although donations for its continued maintenance are accepted.
Along with restorations made on the Union Station’s interior, visitors will find a collection of interlocking and switch panels, as well as functioning status lights and signals formerly used at surrounding stations and towers in Ohio. The museum is a visual representations of what it looked like and what it must have felt like to have been standing at the elbow of the operator or ticket taker as he watched a train pass by.
Railfans of all ages can visit the local museum on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Marion Union Station is also open during special events and shows, such as Summerail, Everett’s Train Show & Swap Meet, and the Toy and Train Show.
The next such event, Summerail, will take place on August 10. This annual railroad-themed multimedia exhibition is held at the Marion Palace Theatre and includes a large railroad slide show, train show, and numerous speakers on topics such as “The Kyle Railroad and the Great Plains,” “25 Years of Railfanning the Keystone State,” “Riding the C&NW Carousel,” and others. Visitors can visit the show and tour the nearby Marion Union Station. Both the museum and the AC Tower will be open the weekend of Summerail.
Tickets are available from marionpalace.org and information is available at summerrail.com. Additional information on the history of railroads in Marion may be found by visiting http://www.railfanguides.us/oh/marion/.
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