We all have a story – a story for the same story someone else just told. This story, however, is different because it is motivated by different factors. As you may know, the Palsgraf v. Long Island R.R. mural project is part of the Colorado Springs Downtown Development Authority 2009 Challenge Grant program. Sierra Madre Investments, LLP (“SMI”) proposed to paint a large exterior wall mural on the south-facing side of 14 North Sierra Madre Street, facing the Old Railroad Depot, depicting an early twentieth century railroad station scene. The idea was for the project to mirror the Old Depot, which at the time served as Guiseppe’s Restaurant, which will make the mural relevant to all. Given the building’s long standing use as a law firm, we, the members, wanted to draw inspiration for the action or scene depicted in the mural from a famous court case in the law that arose from a minor accident (nothing gruesome) at a railroad station, in order to give the mural further relevance and significance to the legal community. The facts of the famous negligence case, Palsgraf v. Long Island R.R., are as follows:
Helen Palsgraf was standing on a rail road platform in New York City on August 24, 1924, waiting for a train to take her and her two daughters to Rockaway Beach. Two passengers came running across the platform to catch a train. One of the passengers carried a package under his arm. He appeared to two of the railroad‘s employees to be falling. One employee attempted to pull the passenger into the train and the other, from the platform, attempted to push him into the car from behind. As a result of the employees’ pulling and pushing efforts, the passenger dropped the package he was holding, which fell on the rails. Unbeknownst to the employees, the package contained fireworks. It exploded when it hit the rails. The explosion allegedly knocked down scales at the other end of the platform (although later testimony suggests that a panicking bystander may have upset the scale), which injured Mrs. Palsgraf. Palsgraf sued the railroad, claiming her injury resulted from the negligent acts of the employees.
Ms. Palsgraf sued the railroad for negligence. Her complaint was dismissed in a seminal opinion and dissent that pitted two great thinkers in American jurisprudence against each other. The Palsgraf legal opinion is a required reading in law school today, in part because of the theoretical depth of the opinion and in part of this is due to the urban legend-like facts of the case, and the mental images that are easy to draw from those facts.
Our large, outdoor wall mural sits a block away from the place where General Palmer’s crew drove the first stake for the planned town of Colorado Springs. It is a historical reflection, a time portal, into the busy scene that was the Old Railway Depot in the early twentieth century. The Palsgraf v. Long Island R.R. mural gives a momentary pause, an anchor, to help us reflect on the great migration that brought many to visit and remain in Colorado Springs, and to remind us of the continuity between our time and the not-too-distant past. Our mural adds an artistic element to the present surroundings, and gives a new perspective on some important downtown landmarks. It adds to the historical atmosphere of the Old Depot and of Engine 168 (situated in Antler’s Park).
Our railway wall mural project is unique; it is a work of art which benefits not only downtown Colorado Springs, but the whole community. It brightens and inspires the daily throng of Pikes Peak Community College students and faculty; it catches the eye of the numerous downtown joggers and bicyclists who pass by Sierra Madre Street or the park (they have a great view of the south-facing wall while headed north on Sierra Madre Street); and it improves the environment and enlivens the arts and cultural district developing in this part of town.
The Palsgraf v. Long Island R.R. mural contributes to the revitalization of the image of downtown Colorado Springs, which is the heart and soul of our community. It reflects the historical nature of the downtown area and of its railroad history, which appeals to the long-term residents of the Pikes Peak region, and challenges our newer citizens to explore the city’s past. We think our Palsgraf v. Long Island Rail Road Co. wall mural is a great addition to our neighborhood and our community.