“Celebration of the Underground” at Park Street

And just upstairs from Ralph Helmick’s blessing for our travels is a colorful reminder of just how long we’ve been waiting for the train:

Park Street Mural "The First Subway"

“Celebration of the Underground,” Lilli Ann K. Rosenberg, 1978 (Click to view larger version)

On the outbound Green Line platform—right near the back of Track 1, where the C line usually stops—is a sprawling, 110-foot-long representation of (what was then) the last 100 years of mass transit in Boston. Called “Celebration of the Underground,” the mosaic was designed and installed by Lilli Ann K. Rosenberg in 1978.

Dedicated to public art installments, Rosenberg wove community and architecture into her art. “I rode every subway line and became acquainted with motormen and mechanics,” she wrote. “All these experiences went into this work —a mural to celebrate the underground and engage the passersby in a captivating experience during their wait below ground.” (You can find more information about Rosenberg and her Boston-related works in her obituary, which ran in the Boston Globe this past August.)

A handy sign explains some of the aforementioned history (apologies for the picture quality):

History of the MBTA subway informational sign

Informational sign, Park Street (Click to view larger version)

(To bring this sign into the 21st century…Scollay Square is now called Government Center, and Park Street is now the fourth busiest station in the system, as of 2010.)

The first subway system in America (Alfred Ely Beach’s pneumatic subway doesn’t count, as it was only ever about 300 feet long and subsequently demolished), Boston’s tunnels beat New York’s by seven years. Boston’s MBTA was also responsible for another first not mentioned on this sign: the first concentrated effort to bring art to straphangers everywhere, called Arts on the Line (1977).

I rarely take the C from Park Street, so it took me a while to notice it was even there, especially since it’s in a dark part of the track currently partially obscured by construction plywood where people don’t typically stand to wait for the train—and if it’s a choice between running to catch that train during rush hour and taking the time to look at a mural…well, that hardly seems like a decision, does it. Instead it emerges from the dark, rather as the trains themselves do, and hangs as a silent testament to what has come before, even as we surge forward around it.

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