Yale Bulletin and Calendar

November 10, 2000Volume 29, Number 10

In this 1947 photograph, a crowded trolley makes its way to the Yale Bowl before the Yale-Harvard football game.

Exhibit illustrates the connections
between Yale, the rail and sports

On Nov. 21, 1914, the University inaugurated its new Yale Bowl in a football game against Harvard that drew 78,000 spectators, many of whom arrived via the also new Grand Central Station in New York.

In the "Roaring Twenties," Yale-Harvard football could move over 121,000 passengers on the day of The Game through Grand Central Station, a record that still holds. Once in New Haven, the football fans would load into a continuous chain of trolleys for the journey to the Bowl in Westville.

The impact of railroad travel on sport at Yale will be the subject of this year's toy trains exhibition at the Eli Whitney Museum, which has made the train shows an annual holiday-time event for the past 15 years.

The exhibition, titled "Chariots of Steel," will "visit" rail stops along Yale's 300-year history. It includes a reconstruction of New Haven as it looked between 1914 and 1924, when the opening of the Yale Bowl -- then the largest coliseum constructed since Rome's -- drew unprecedented audiences through rail arteries, helping to establish the architecture of modern collegiate sport.

While Yale alumnus Walter Camp, Yale Class of 1880, is credited with the invention of football, passenger rails introduced a new dynamic in the sport. The exhibition demonstrates how the "chariots of steel" contributed to making sport a business. Yale was a beneficiary of rail service: New Haven was a rail hub, and passengers could reach New Haven from Manhattan in an hour-and-a-half, making it possible for many out-of-towners to travel to the Yale Bowl and back to New York in one day.

Another link between Yale and the railroad is Joseph Sheffield, who helped finance the Farmington Canal and the railroad that inherited that right of way. He established the science and engineering schools at the University that long bore his name.

To create a sense of the importance of the railroad to sports in Yale's early history, Eli Whitney Museum staff and volunteer artisans have constructed models of the Yale Bowl, the Yale campus in 1919 and the train station. Lionel and American Flyer trains help recreate the atmosphere, and model HO trolleys scurry back and forth as part of the scene. Property artist Hunter Nesbitt Spence created a fall landscape for the scene, as well as a New Haven map.

The exhibit includes images and artifacts of Yale athletics from University archives as well as the Palmer Engine, a scale brass steam engine from the collection of Yale's Department of Engineering. Toy trains come from the collections of the Deming family, John and Robin Vanacore and Jack Schleck.

"Chariots of Steel" will open on Thursday, Nov. 16, with a reception and dinner, 5:30-8:30 p.m. at the Eli Whitney Museum, 915 Whitney Ave., Hamden. The benefit event will support the museum's programs for children in Fair Haven, the New Haven neighborhood that was the headquarters of the A.C. Gilbert Company, a renowned maker of learning toys and trains. The company was founded by A.C. Gilbert, a Yale athlete and alumnus, who is known principally for his all-metal construction toy, the Erector set. The catenary towers that electrified the trains entering Grand Central Station inspired Gilbert's Erector designs.

"Chariots of Steel" will open to the public on Friday, Nov. 24, at noon. All young exhibition visitors will have the opportunity to craft trains of their own with interchangeable wooden parts and tools. The project is included in the price of admission: $2 for children and $3 for adults.

On Wednesday, Nov. 29, W. Jack Cunningham, emeritus professor of engineering at Yale, will present a lecture on "Shef-
field's Railroad" at 6:30 p.m. at the museum. In his talk, Cunningham will trace the history of Sheffield's Farmington Canal and the railroad that would follow it. Admission is free.

The Eli Whitney Museum is open noon-5 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. on Saturday and noon-5 p.m. Sunday and on Dec. 26. "Chariots of Steel" will remain on view through Jan. 28. For further information , call (203) 777-1833.


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