Joseph F. Berenato
Blue Comet rides again in Hammonton
On October 15, a screening of De Luxe: The Tale of the Blue Comet was held at Kathedral Event Center at 7 p.m. More than 170 people attended the event.
The venue was decorated with memorabilia of the Blue Comet, including photos, souvenirs and two Lionel model train sets.
The 2009 documentary, written and directed by Dr. Robert A. Emmons Jr., explores the lifetime of the legendary train from its inception in 1929 to its abandonment 12 years later, and was shown to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Blue Comet’s final ride on September 27, 1941.
Tony Macrie, owner of Cape May Seashore Lines—which sponsored the event—said that he was “extremely excited for the opportunity to do this.”
“We’re excited about this event. We put a lot of work into it, and we got a good response,” Macrie told The Gazette.
Macrie said that the Blue Comet is New Jersey folklore, no different than the Hindenburg or the Jersey Devil.
“It’s very historic. What’s interesting is that the train only operated 12 years, but it’s lasted 80 years. The Blue Comet is probably more popular today, through social media platforms and so forth, than it was when it was operating because everyone wants to know about it,” Macrie said.
Emmons said that he was pleased to have the film shown in Hammonton, which was one of the regular stops for the Blue Comet.
“In the film, I have a dual shot of the train station in Hammonton, both old and new, so right from the start I put on display the special relationship between Hammonton and the train passing through here. It’s great that it’s playing here,” Emmons said.
Emmons noted that his film, released 12 years ago, continues to generate viewership because the “train itself still has a life, and all that it has represented since its inception until now, and that is uniqueness, its extraordinary life and its untimely death.”
“It’s an incredible piece of American history during a time that was a tragic time—the Depression, It came out of a period of great struggle, and that’s why I think people remember it so fondly: because of its uniqueness through that hard time. It’s great to see that it still has a life today,” Emmons said.
Emmons, who has made a number of films on a variety subjects, said that train enthusiasts in general and Blue Comet fans in particular are “the truest fans that I have met about any subject I have worked with.”
“They just have such a passion for the history and the culture. Ultimately, my film is about history, and how we think about history, and what the past means to us now—so it’s great to see that this still happens,” Emmons said.
Before showing the film, while addressing the audience, Macrie said that he wanted to dedicate the screening to his mother, Angelina, who was born in Hammonton in 1922 and lived on Washington Street. From 1929 to 1933, Macrie said, the Blue Comet passed 60 feet behind her house.
“My mom had many, many stories that she told me of the tale of the Blue Comet. She remembered watching it; it went right past her house, and that’s one of the first things—when I was 4 or 5 years old—that got me interested not only in railroading but the Blue Comet,” Macrie said.
Following the film, Emmons and Macrie held a Q&A with the audience. Macrie also presented a slideshow containing photos of the Blue Comet during its run, including several taken in Hammonton, as well as one of the train’s cars that is in Macrie’s possession.
“That car is on our railroad in Tuckahoe, being restored. If you’d like to see it, I’ll be happy to give you my phone number. I will give you a personal tour for a slice of pizza,” Macrie said.
Macrie also told the audience of several places in Hammonton where remnants of the Blue Comet can still be found, including next to Pool House on Bellevue Avenue.
“If you look behind there, it looks like a curb that goes from Route 54 to Orchard Street. That’s not a curb; that’s a station platform. That’s where the Reading station used to be. If you’re as nostalgic as I am, you can stand on that piece of concrete and pretend you’re waiting for the Blue Comet ... that’s where you would have boarded the Blue Comet if you were going to Atlantic City,” Macrie said.
Macrie also said that, next to the Hammonton Bike Path Connector is the right-of-way of the Reading Railroad where the Blue Comet used to operate.
“The bike path is not directly on top of the railroad, but I rode my bike out there, and I could have sworn I heard the ground vibrating and shaking. I thought for sure the Blue Comet was right behind me,” Macrie said.
At night’s end, Emmons said that he thought the event “went fabulously.”
“It’s always great to meet people at events like this, because so many people have connections to the train and to the area in so many different ways, like family members who have worked on similar trains. There’s always someone with a connection and a story, and that’s why I love doing this: hearing other people’s stories, and how they’re connected to this, and what it means to them,” Emmons said.