Last year, I worked as Associate Producer on a history app for iPad, Ballista Media’s Timeline Civil War. While researching the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad for the app, I was intrigued to find a guidebook from 1873 on Internet Archive. The 132 page book appears to have been produced specifically for B&O passengers, and was advertised as the “only special Guide to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Circulated on Its Lines” which could be found “on every passenger train” of the railroad. It’s essentially a 19th century (slightly more formal) version of the travel magazines you find in the back pockets of seats on trains and airplanes.
Having been brought up in Maryland, the long history of the B&O was nothing new to me. What caught my eye, however, was the fact that the railroad tracks passed close enough to the ancient Adena civilisation’s 69 foot high mound at the appropriately named town of Moundsville, West Virginia to warrant special note in the guidebook. (The mound and its proximity to the railroad are clearly visible in this 1899 map.)
In a chapter entitled “Baltimore and Ohio Railroad”, set amid promotion of the B&O’s history, feats of engineering, luxurious facilities and hotels, and copious full-page advertisements, B&O passengers were directed to view the Grave Creek mound, as it is known. Over the course of a lengthy paragraph on the history of ancient mounds in America, and the results of amateur investigations that had been undertaken at them, passengers were told to consider the fate of the “intelligent and artistic” ancient people who had once lived on the land.
It didn’t just stop there. Passengers were also asked to turn their thoughts to the fate of the Native American peoples whose lives and culture at that moment were being trampled under the relentless expansion of United States westward migration and settlement.
I find it fascinating that in the early 1870s a railroad company’s guidebook instructed post-Civil War passengers to view the Moundsville mound and ruminate on the ancient and modern context of its history while the train cars (rather than the British “carriages”) chugged away along the track. It’s clear that the author of the chapter (and most of the book) took an interest in both the railroad and the ancient past – perhaps said author, “John T. King, M. D.”, was none other than B&O Railroad Vice President John King. Whoever he was, I’d like to think that a lifetime travelling on the B&O railroad inspired his reflections on the mound of Moundsville, as he watched the landscape roll past his window.
For my purposes though, King’s B&O guidebook is an interesting bit of public archaeology and tourism history rolled into one.
King, J. T. 1873. Guide to the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Baltimore.