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Sykesville Gate House Museum features new exhibits

Mark Fraser, curator of the Sykesville Gate House History Museum shows off a display of railroad safety posters in the museum's new exhibit "Gone Off the Rails -- When Safety Fails" that chronicles the history of regional train accidents and railroad safety in Sykesville Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2012.
Mark Fraser, curator of the Sykesville Gate House History Museum shows off a display of railroad safety posters in the museum's new exhibit "Gone Off the Rails -- When Safety Fails" that chronicles the history of regional train accidents and railroad safety in Sykesville Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2012. (DYLAN SLAGLE/STAFF PHOTO, Carroll County Times)

SYKESVILLE - The Sykesville Gate House Museum's newest exhibit, "Gone off the Rails - When Safety Fails" begins with the sound effect of a train crash, aided by the head-on visual of the front of a train.

"This is a train town," said Dr. Mark Fraser, the curator of the Sykesville Gate House Museum.

The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad extended its line in 1831, and added Sykesville as its third stop, in between Ellicott City and a horse train stop, said Fraser.

The new exhibit is heavy on the words and light on the clutter, Fraser said. Newspaper articles and photos from several of the train crashes in Sykesville and in the surrounding area line the walls of the train-oriented room.

Fraser found a crash dating back to 1845, where a person was scalded in the face, he said. He pointed to a small coal stove and said the stove would tip over in a crash and end up killing passengers because the car would catch on fire.

Many of the items from the Gate House Museum's collection are from B&O, Fraser said. In another room, he pointed out china from the dining car of passenger trains. How did he collect, or inherit, all of the items from B&O?

"People. They just donate them," Fraser said.

Many of the items on display from B&O are not part of the exhibit, but are part of the museum's more permanent exhibits. Fraser said he fields questions about train wrecks, which lent itself to creating the exhibit opening Thursday.

For the "Gone off the Rails - When Safety Fails," Fraser has a railroad sign, which is on loan from a fellow member of the Lion's Club and original 1920s safety manuals on railroad safety procured from eBay.

The research into train wrecks was completed prior to the Ellicott City train derailment which killed two women Aug. 21, so the most recent wreck isn't featured as part of the exhibit. Fraser did include a July 6 incident with a Washington Metro car on the Green Line, which derailed due to a sun kink.

Every once in a while, the heat from the sun will kink the rest of the rail, even though rails are now made from heavy steel, he said.

Since Fraser began working as museum curator last year, he has tried to give the Sykesville Gate House Museum a little more order. Rows of yearbooks dating back to 1924 and scrapbooks from people over the years are categorized by year in file cabinets and bookshelves.

Fraser's signature touch is a kids' table, filled with outdated tools children rarely see. Among them are a shoe horn and horse weight. He also added a table for adults which includes old cigar boxes and a View-Master, a toy children click through to see reels of film.

Though Fraser is a professor of economics at Towson and Carroll Community College, his passion is history. He said he is also somewhat of a train buff as well.

"I hung out at the train station when I was a paper boy, and one day one of the guys said, 'Hey, you want a ride?' and I said 'Yeah!' So we just went a couple of blocks on the train. From then, I was hooked."

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