Saturday, March 5, 2011

Lay of the Lost Traveler

Essex Junction is the location where a short branch to Burlington connects to the Central Vermont’s mainline. Until the late 1930s, that branch didn’t end at the CV main, it actually crossed itt as the Burlington & Lamoille branch of the CV (named after the original B&L RR).
As one of the key scenes on my layout I've done a lot of research on Essex Junction over the years. One of the most interesting things to turn up in my research is the following poem. (I'm not particularly into poetry . . . oh heck, I can't stand it and never read it after I finished school and didn't have to . . .) But the following goes to show just how classy this blog is - not just poetry but 19th century poetry no less.
A number of railroad towns have been immortalized in poetry and song over the years, and Essex Junction is no exception. The poem, “Lay of the Lost Traveler” is said to have been inspired when the author, the Honorable Edward J. Phelps, left Burlington on the so-called “shuttle train” for Boston via Essex Junction.  He stepped off this train in Essex and waited for the arrival of the mainline train. The usual shifting of trains took place and Mr. Phelps, without inquiring, got on board the train he anticipated would take him to Boston. In fact, he had reboarded the “shuttle” train which promptly deposited Mr. Phelps back in Burlington, his starting point. There, on his arrival, he penned the following:

The Lay of the Lost Traveler

With saddened eye and battered hat
And eye that told of black despair,
On wooden bench the traveler sat,
Cursing the fate that brought him there.
“Nine hours,” he cried, “we’ve lingered here
With thought intent on distant homes,
Waiting for that delusive train
That, always coming, never comes,
Till weary, worn
Distressed, forlorn
And paralyzed in every function!
I hope in hell
His soul my dwell
Who first invented Essex Junction!

“Here Boston waits for Ogdensburg
And Ogdensburg for Montreal,
And late New York tarrieth
And Saratoga hindereth all!
From far Atlantic’ wave-swept bays
To Mississippi’s turbid tide
All accidents, mishaps, delays,
Are gathered here and multiplied!
Oh, fellow man avoid this spot
As you would plague or Peter Funk shun!
And I hope in hell
His soul may dwell
Who first invented Essex Junction!

“And long and late conductors tell
Of trains delayed or late or slow,
Till the e’en the very engine’s bell
Takes up the cry, 'No go! No go!'
Oh! Let me from this hole depart,
By any route so’t be a lone one,”
He cried, with madness in his heart,
And jumped aboard a train – the wrong one.
And as he vanished in the smoke
He shouted with redoubled unction,
“I hope in hell
His soul may dwell
Who first invented Essex Junction!”


TOM WILSON said...

Back in 2010 I vacationed a week in Vermont and made a special trip to Essex Junction to see where that weary traveler was forced to board the wro0ng train. A slow freight was creeping south south of what was a main street. A large triangular-like area was vacant between two angling tracks--suggesting once important rail installations. Not too active .

Tom Greco said...

I love this poem and first came across it in 1999. I play, write and sine railroad folk music and put the poem to music. It makes an uproarious folk song, especially after I explain the story behind the poem and song!

Tom Greco

CVSNE said...

This poem put to song...that's something I have to hear!
Thanks for writing!