And now, 'she' is gone too

      It's funny how we always call them "she."

      Just as the body and soul of Eve was crafted in God's image out a rib in Adam's side; statues, monuments, sailing ships, locomotives, airplanes, space shuttles and yes, buildings -- those artifacts considered among the most magnificent of mankind's handiwork -- are always referred to in the feminine gender.

      Perhaps its a holdover from a more polite and sentimental period, when young women were always chaperoned at the first notice of Sunday afternoon male callers and the postcards you sent on any holiday occasion cost only a penny. 
      Anyway, she's gone.  Another old grey lady so much a part of Evansville's history has succumbed to the wrecking ball;  the old L & N train depot.

      Union Station, as the trainmasters since 1902 called her, was once a bustling place with high oak benches and purple stained glass windows that glistened in the warm afternoon sunlight. 

      A small boy found himself amazed at the myriad of fragrances which could be found around the building.  Line the sweet shoeshine paste in the tins at the boot black stand of white marble and shiny brass; the pungent odor of Charles Denby cigar smoke coming from a group of large men apparently in a hurry, who were wearing seersucker suits and large Panama hats; the rye bread used to make the ham and cheese sandwiches in one of the two restaurants. And of course, the stout, oily Diesel fumes out by the l0oading platform where the friendly black Reed Caps in white starched shirts pulled large red carts to and from the baggage cars queued and waiting for departure.

      Periodically, a caller on the loud speaker would sound the All Aboard for passengers leaving in the next few minutes.  The boards posting arrival and departure times shouted out the names of many distant cities.  Biloxi, Pensacola, Mobile, New Orleans, Montgomery, Birmingham, Nashville, Knoxville, Memphis -- all seeming a half a world away since a young boy only got as far as the train station two or three times a year.

      There was once an old Civil War steam locomotive with passenger consist called the General which came to town.  The boy's parents and grandparents made a big fuss about its coming.  The ride was very short but the boy felt very lucky to get to ride behind such an historic locomotive since spare tickets were scare.  His sister wasn't even able to accompany him on the excursion.  The father took the sister to a nearby barbecue show for some sandwiches while the boy road the train.  They said the sandwiches were tasty, but the boy could care less.  He was reveling in having smelled the operation of a real steam engine in transit for the very first time.  "She sure was beautiful," the father said. 

      Some time before or later (the boy does not remember) there seems to have been a good deal of construction work going on downtown as a part of what was called "urban renewal," whatever that was.  Not too far away there was another building raised where the children had first gone to see Walt Disney's 101 Dalmatians and My Fair Lady with their mother.  They remember it being called the Lowe's Majestic Theater.  Then there was a big auction at a hotel called the Vendome when it closed.  The young boy had not been there but he remembers riding past it on the way to another theater around the corner and down the street from Herman's Candy Store where you could get the best hot roast beef sandwiches in town.  It was called the Grand.

      And oh, was it grand.  Rich in rococo and gold leaf decorations inside, the boy often wondered why the owners wanted to turn the lights completely out during the movies.  It was so beautiful. The parents and grandparents used to talk about vaudeville acts appearing there, and the father once wanted to take the children to see one of the last rare appearances of Dixieland trumpeter Louis Armstrong. After a long talk with the mother, they decided the tickets would be too expensive.

      One day the father took the young boy to watch the Grand theater being demolished.  The boy remembers his father asked one of the workmen if he could have the stage pins used on the pin rail of the big stage behind the screen.  The father gave a few of the pins to close personal friends, one of whom was named Shapker, a man who owned a car wash on the East Side and was the former manager of the theater.  The note enclosed with the rope-etched stage pin spoke of something about "building a better mousetrap."  The boy remembers the warm tears which ran down his cheeks as he watched the building to crumble before him.  "There she goes, " the workman cried. 

      Recently the young boy, now a man, watched another wrecking ball used on another old familiar building.  Once again, he cried. 


David Scott Coker is an Evansville native and a 1971 Reitz High School graduate.  He had three grandfathers who spent more than a century of their combined working lives in dedicated service to the Louisville & Nashville and the Illinois Central railroads.





David Coker is a free-lance writer and community activist.