Friday, March 4, 2011

JCHC Fun Fact: Charles Bowdish

Hello everybody!

Tomorrow marks the opening of our new Civil War exhibit, Drumbeat to War.  It also happens to be the date of our annual Charlie Bowdish Birthday Celebration.  I thought I'd share a little local history with a brief story about Bowdish.

A Brief History of Charles Bowdish...

Charles Bowdish (1896-1988), famous for his miniature railroad displays, called Brookville his hometown.  After being released from service in World War I due to exposure to mustard gas, Bowdish began building models of real buildings in Brookville while he recovered.  Every Christmas, he would assemble his models into a display that featured Lionel trains running throughout.  

On Christmas Eve, 1920, Charles played host to his brother's wedding and reception.  Guests were entertained by his miniature railroad display.  One guest enjoyed it so much that he asked if he could invite friends over to see the display.  Word quickly spread and close to 600 people showed up to see Bowdish's work.

Every Christmas season to follow, Charles began constructing his display with a new theme (White Christmas, Indian Summer, etc.).  The railroad grew so big that it took up the entire second floor of his house.  Thousands of guests would come annually to see his creation, and Bowdish never charged a fee to view his work.

Flooding that would nearly destroy his models and an insurance company that would not cover the amount of people coming to view the displays forced Bowdish to look for a new home for his railroad.  Eventually, Charles chose the Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science in Pittsburgh to house his work in 1954.

In 1987, Buhl officially became part of the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh.  Joining with Carnegie allowed Buhl to expand, and in 1991, under a new name, the Carnegie Science Center was opened.  This new building allowed enough room for Bowdish's railroad to be displayed year-round.

Today, Bowdish's Miniature Railroad and Village display can be viewed at the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh from Thanksgiving through mid-September.  The railroad goes into a two-month shut down period for maintenance, cleaning, and the construction of new features on the railroad.

To view some old photographs of Bowdish's creation, follow this link.


No comments:

Post a Comment