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The Rise and Fall of Penn Station - An American Railroad Cathedral on PBS

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Railroad stations were once rated among the new great wonders of the world, and few were as wondrous as the original Penn Station, the New York City terminus for those who took a ride on the 10,000 miles of rails of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Filmmaker Randall MacLowry lovingly covers the grand creation and sad demise of this great railroad cathedral in The Rise and Fall of Penn Station, the latest entry in the American Experience series on PBS.

Completed in 1910 after a decade of work, Penn Station was a marriage of art and industry. Its great open concourse was more Renaissance cathedral nave than mere rail passenger waiting room, and as such was often favorably compared to St. Peter’s Basilica or Il Duomo of Florence for its grandeur, ingenuity of design and use of light. Even that great edifice was but merely the crown on another engineering marvel: a network of sixteen miles of rail tunnels built under Manhattan and the Hudson and East Rivers which flank the island.

The Rise and Fall of Penn Station is part of the American Experience series and will premiere on CPTV Connecticut Public Television and most other PBS stations at 9 pm Eastern Time on Tuesday, February 18.

Once not only a New York landmark and vital rail station but also a signature piece of American architecture and industry, the original Penn Station was also a monument to progress and power – a signal to the world of the imperial might and energy of the United States. Sadly, by the 1960s, neglect, the changing fortunes of American railroads and the loss of passenger traffic to the automobile began to takes it toll – and in 1961 the Pennsylvania Railroad sold the “air rights” above its hallmark station – and within two years down she came, its beaux-arts grandeur replaced by the functional utilitarian skyscraper that is part of the Madison Square Garden complex.

Penn Station, however, did not die in vain. The sorrow and the furor caused by its demise, as filmmaker MacLowry notes with great pride and relief, led to the formation of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which has saved many another great New York City landmark – including Penn Station’s beautiful and recently restored sister, Grand Central.

The Rise and Fall of Penn Station is part of the American Experience series and will premiere on CPTV Connecticut Public Television and most other PBS stations at 9 pm Eastern Time on Tuesday, February 18.

Mark G. McLaughlin is a Connecticut-based free lance journalist and game designer with over 30 years of experience as a ghost-writer, columnist, historian and game designer. An author whose first published book was Battles of the American Civil War, and whose games include the Mr. Lincoln’s War set, Mark continues to be enthralled by stories from the age of Lincoln. To view Mark's 16th published design, the American Civil War Naval strategy game Rebel Raiders on the High Seas, visit his publisher at
…or his blog at
Mark’s latest work, the science fiction adventure novel Princess Ryan's Star Marines, is available on in both paperback and Kindle e-book formats at
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