Monday, October 22, 2018

The Great Danbury Railway Fair

When I was growing up, one major attraction not too far away that almost everyone I knew wanted to visit was the "Great Danbury Fair." Danbury was not that far away in Western Connecticut and the fair, held in the autumn, was described in glowing terms that later were rekindled in me when I first read James Joyce's story, Araby, in which a boy longs to make it to a highly-touted fair and ends up being completely disappointed when he finally gets there.

In this case, I never managed to join up with some friends to go, and my father made it clear that he regarded this fair as a total tourist trap, which, who knows, it may well have been. I never even passed through Danbury until last weekend when we were staying there over a weekend when we were attending a nice family wedding out in the country about 20 miles north of Danbury near Candlewood Lake.

Having some free time on Saturday, I paid a visit to the Danbury Railway Museum, located in the heart of town where there is a large loop of tracks alongside a great old New Haven station. The old station, well-preserved, is now the museum and includes a large railyard in the middle of the loop where the museum maintains in various states of renovation a fleet of about 20 engines and other rolling stock.

Along the loop also stands a modern rail station that serves as the terminus of a Metro North branch line inherited from the New Haven, excuse me, the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad,  which maintained two stations in Mt. Vernon, where I grew up. This Danbury branch, which breaks off from the main Shore Line at Norwalk, once extended as far as Pittsfield, Mass. It is mentioned in a very good John P. Marquand novel, B.F.'s Daughter, in which a character boards a train on the now-abandoned stretch for Grand Central.

The museum in the old station has a good range of mainly New Haven memorabilia, especially good old maps. There are several layouts and dioramas of model trains and a gift shop featuring a wealth of old railroad books for sale at very reasonable prices. And on the platform where they were running brief three-car trips around the railyard ferrying passengers, mostly kids, to a pumpkin patch, a charming hot dog vendor was selling decent dogs with your choice of yellow or brown mustard and several other condiments. It's the first place I've found in years where he puts the mustard on and then the sauerkraut. It's those simple things that no one seems to know how to do any more.

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