On the west side of downtown Nashville, there’s a beautiful stone building with a tall clock tower. You probably know exactly what I’m talking about – it’s Union Station, a building that carries so much history. It’s a beautiful building that I feel like tourists and even Nashville natives don’t know much about, so I wanted to write a post about it.
Union Station’s construction started in 1898 and was open in 1900. The station is an example of late-Victorian Romanesque Revival architecture. The tower contained an early mechanical digital clock. When replacement French silk drive belts proved unavailable during World War I, it was replaced by a traditional analog clock. Originally the tower was topped by a bronze statue of the Roman god Mercury, but in 1951, the statue toppled in a terrible storm.
In the height of the railroading glory years, the Union Station saw characters such as movie starlet Mae West and Mafia leader Al Capone – who was escorted through the station on his way to Georgia penitentiary. At one time, the track level held two alligator ponds. Why they needed alligator ponds, I am not sure! The station was famous for having the largest train shed of its time. The shed could hold 10 trains at once. Unfortunately in 1996, a fire destroyed the train shed’s truss and it was demolished in 2003.
During World War I and II, many of our military men would ride a train from Union Station. They were either leaving to go to war or coming home from the war through that station. When my grandfather returned home from World War II, the last part of his trip was on a train that pulled into Union Station. My grandmother and my mom rode down from Big Rock, Tennessee to Nashville. They waited patiently for him on the station’s platform dressed to the nines. This was the first time my grandfather met my mom. Sounds like a story out of an old movie.
Like a good ghost story? Well, there are several ghost stories involving Union Station. A woman who was on the station’s platform waiting for her loved one to return from war, had received news he was not coming home on the train that was pulling in, so she leaped in front of the train to her death. Some people have witnessed her ghostly appearance standing in front of Union Station smoking a cigarette. Another tale is about “Gentlemen George,” an English tourist who, while running to catch his train, slipped off the platform and was crushed by his departing train. Reportedly, George comes out when it’s quiet inside the lobby. The last ghostly tale is “The Pullman’s Ghost.” As the story goes, two rail workers were competing for the same beautiful woman…one was a brakeman and the other a pullman. The brakeman didn’t slow the train enough and crushed the pullman. The Pullman’s ghost has been spotted in the railyard by many third shift security guards. I would love to see one of the three ghosts – I love that kind of stuff!
I am amazed at the history around Nashville. There is so much in every corner, and as our city grows, we have to remember places like Union Station to protect them for future generations. I believe this is what preserves Nashville’s uniqueness, and as a native, I have great family memories tied to these historic places. You name a place, and I’ll tell you a story!