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Museum highlights history of trains in town

At the end of September the Sykesville Gate House Museum of History will present its newest exhibit, "Gone off the Rails - When Safety Fails."

Gate House Museum Curator Mark Fraser said the exhibit will focus on the history of trains in Sykesville and the surrounding areas, especially train crashes and safety advancements over the years.

He said he has been planning the exhibit for about two months, and had to decided whether or not he would go ahead with it after the train derailment that killed two 19-year-old women in Ellicott City Aug. 21.

"It's kind of regrettable because of the accident in Ellicott city, but we decided to go ahead with it because we had quite a lot of work in it," Fraser said.

The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, which runs through the town of Sykesville, has been around for more than 180 years and was the country's first common carrier railroad, according to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Historical Society website.

Fraser said throughout the railroad's history in Sykesville and the surrounding areas there have been several accidents.

"Gone off the Rails - When Safety Fails" will feature photos and reports of train accidents in and around Sykesville, a review of the causes of train accidents, and a tribute to those who have perished.

Two of the incidents featured in the exhibit are an accident around Marriottsville in the 1990's in which several cars derailed, and an incident in the 1940's when a steam locomotive came off the tracks and crushed a fireman, killing him.

"We've had derailments, and there was a fireman killed and several people injured, but fortunately there hasn't been anything really catastrophic with a lot of carnage," Fraser said.

He said each train accident is unique, and the causes of accidents vary greatly.

The exhibit will also feature old railroad safety posters, slogans, patches and manuals.

Fraser said at one point in the railroad's history, the Baltimore and Ohio Railway safety slogan was, "Safety first," and then the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway added to that slogan, turning it into, "Safety first, avoid the Hurst."

"Every individual railroad in the old days had their old safety campaign to prevent railway crossing problems, to make sure the equipment was safe and to avoid worker injuries," he said.

All of the items on display at the exhibit were either donated by community members, borrowed from historical societies or libraries, or are from Fraser's personal collection - he and his wife are railroad buffs, he said.

Artwork by Wiley Purkey, a local artist who owned Purkey's Toy Trains in Sykesville from 2000 to 2009, will be on display at the new exhibit.

Reprints and posters of Purkey's work will be for sale, with proceeds benefiting the museum, according to Fraser.

"Gone off the Rails - When Safety Fails" will open to the public Sept. 27 and will be open during regular museum hours.

There will be a premiere event for museum members and ArtiFACTS or Gate House Watch subscribers to see the exhibit before it officially opens, Fraser said.

Fraser said he thinks the community will find the exhibit interesting, and he is hoping to get the Sykesville community more involved with the museum in the future.

"We are trying to involve the community, and I'm really open to ideas for future exhibits," he said. "If they have any suggestions going forward, I'm very open. It doesn't have to be history, it can be art, literature or anything."

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