Hugo Cabret Tidbit #18 ~ Gare Montparnasse

by Brian Selznick

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Hugo Cabret Tidbit #18 ~ Gare Montparnasse

Unread postby Liz » Thu Jul 08, 2010 12:35 pm

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Paris Montparnasse is one of the six large terminus railway stations of Paris, located in the Montparnasse area. The station was opened in 1840, and rebuilt completely in 1969. A steam train crashed through the station in 1895; there is a well-known photograph of the event, and full scale reproductions outside a museum chain in South America.

The station is used for the intercity TGV trains to destinations in the west and south-west of France including Tours, Bordeaux, Rennes and Nantes. Additionally, it is served by several suburban and regional services on the Transilien Paris – Montparnasse routes. There is also a metro station, and a high-speed moving walkway.

The original station opened in 1840, and was named Gare de l'Ouest, before later being renamed. A second station was built between 1848 and 1852.

On August 25, 1944, the German military governor of Paris, General von Choltitz, surrendered his garrison to the French General Philippe Leclerc at the old train station, after disobeying Adolf Hitler's direct order to destroy the city.

During the 1960s, a newer station integrated into a complex of office buildings was built. In 1969, the old station was torn down and the Tour Montparnasse built on its spot. An extension was built in 1990 to host the TGV Atlantique (a high speed railway running from Paris to Western France.) Click on the thumbnails to see the current station:

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The Gare Montparnasse became famous for a derailment on October 22, 1895 of the Granville-Paris Express that overran the buffer stop. The engine careened across almost 30 metres (98 ft) of the station concourse, crashed through a 60-centimetre (24 in) thick wall, shot across a terrace and sailed out of the station, plummeting onto the Place de Rennes 10 metres (33 ft) below, where it stood on its nose. All on board the train survived, five sustaining injuries: two passengers (out of 131), the fireman and two conductors. However, one woman on the street below was killed by falling masonry. The accident was caused by a faulty Westinghouse brake and the engine drivers who were trying to make up for lost time. A conductor incurred a 25 franc penalty and the engine driver a 50 franc penalty. For more on this accident see the link provided by Brian’s website:



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A photo by H. Roger-Viollet (below) recorded the accident; but it was the anonymous photo above that became a curious icon of the incident, repeatedly printed on posters, coffee mugs, album covers and in Brian’s book.

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The event captured the imagination of many artists, and inspired surrealism as an art movement.

Not only was this train accident featured in Hugo Cabret, but also in an episode of the TV series Thomas and Friends in "A Better View For Gordon". To my surprise, this is the TV version of the one Thomas the Train book that I read to my son when he was just a little guy. Another TZ moment for me.

[youtube]I3haKn9Dq4M[/youtube]

Replicas of the train crash are recreated outside the Mundo a Vapor ("Steam World") museum chain buildings in Brazil, at the southernmost state, Rio Grande do Sul, in the city of Canela.

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Re: Hugo Cabret Tidbit #18 ~ Gare Montparnasse

Unread postby ladylinn » Thu Jul 08, 2010 1:44 pm

How beautiful and magnificent the Montparnasse terminal must have been. As a child, I traveled by rail many times - by grandfather was a conductor working out of Chicago. The train stations at that time were very beautiful and magnificent also. Geared to travelers' enjoyment and comfort. Today most of the Chicago large terminals are gone and are geared to speed of suburban commuters on their way to work or home.

Another example of how "time" rules our lives.

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Re: Hugo Cabret Tidbit #18 ~ Gare Montparnasse

Unread postby fansmom » Thu Jul 08, 2010 3:21 pm

ladylinn wrote:How beautiful and magnificent the Montparnasse terminal must have been. As a child, I traveled by rail many times - by grandfather was a conductor working out of Chicago. The train stations at that time were very beautiful and magnificent also. Geared to travelers' enjoyment and comfort. Today most of the Chicago large terminals are gone and are geared to speed of suburban commuters on their way to work or home.

Another example of how "time" rules our lives.

They can still be beautiful, Ladylinn, if you have gobs and gobs of money.

I just happened to have watched part of a PBS special about the Orient Express last night (since I live in the Twilight Zone things come up in my life and the ONBC simultaneously)--

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Re: Hugo Cabret Tidbit #18 ~ Gare Montparnasse

Unread postby gemini » Thu Jul 08, 2010 6:24 pm

Strangely enough I can’t recall ever being on a train. Until reading this article I had not given it much thought. Must have been never living in large city. You are correct ladylinn, on how time rule our lives.
I have always enjoyed toy train sets.
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Re: Hugo Cabret Tidbit #18 ~ Gare Montparnasse

Unread postby Liz » Fri Jul 09, 2010 2:19 am

I've ridden the California Zephyr a few times throughout my life. And once I actually stayed in a sleeper car.
You can't judge a book by its cover.

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Re: Hugo Cabret Tidbit #18 ~ Gare Montparnasse

Unread postby fansmom » Fri Jul 09, 2010 5:59 pm

gemini wrote:Strangely enough I can’t recall ever being on a train. Until reading this article I had not given it much thought. Must have been never living in large city. You are correct ladylinn, on how time rule our lives.
If you want to ride Amtrak from Florida up to my area, Gemini, I'll pick you up at the train station and show you around DC!

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Re: Hugo Cabret Tidbit #18 ~ Gare Montparnasse

Unread postby lizbet » Sat Jul 10, 2010 4:29 pm

No matter how many times I read about / see those photographs from Gere Montparnasse - I can't imagine the reality of the train over shooting the tracks and coming out the end of the building - it some how feels surreal and a movie special effect!?!? Travel by train (if one had money) must have been luxurious as that PBS special showed. If one wanted a once in a lifetime rail trip in Canada - I understand that the trip through the Rockies (Alberta - British Columbia) is quite breathtaking though how much of that is the natural scenery and how much is the actual train itself I can't comment on as I could afford a car or the trip and well I bought the car (a firefly) which lasted seventeen years as opposed to the three day rail journey!!!
trying to live in "a profound state of ignorance"

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Re: Hugo Cabret Tidbit #18 ~ Gare Montparnasse

Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Sun Jul 11, 2010 10:54 am

I know some people that have taken that very train ride, lizbet and they say it is stunning!
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -
Wow! What a ride!

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Re: Hugo Cabret Tidbit #18 ~ Gare Montparnasse

Unread postby gemini » Mon Jul 12, 2010 2:19 pm

fansmom wrote:
gemini wrote:Strangely enough I can’t recall ever being on a train. Until reading this article I had not given it much thought. Must have been never living in large city. You are correct ladylinn, on how time rule our lives.
If you want to ride Amtrak from Florida up to my area, Gemini, I'll pick you up at the train station and show you around DC!


Thanks for the offer fansmom but I find myself the caretaker for elderly parents and pets these days and cant leave home for long. Washington would be a big city for me.
"If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went." Will Rogers



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Re: Hugo Cabret Tidbit #18 ~ Gare Montparnasse

Unread postby Liz » Wed Jul 14, 2010 12:14 am

FYI, this is a You Tube video from Paris in the 20's that fireflydances sent to me. There are lots of train station shots.

[youtube]OZrRWAhY00w[/youtube]
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Re: Hugo Cabret Tidbit #18 ~ Gare Montparnasse

Unread postby fireflydances » Wed Jul 14, 2010 10:54 pm

Thank you for posting it Liz! I found this and then promptly forgot I was supposed to post it. Aren't the trains wonderful?

I was once lucky enough to go overnight from Nairobi to Mombasa in Kenya by train. Old style probably 1930s era stuff, bunks along the corridors, heavy velvety curtains etc. Train travel is by far (or was -sob!) one of the most romantic ways to move from one place to another. The current edition of Amtrak travel has taken the heart out, too streamlined and DIY.
"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested." Sir Francis Bacon, Of Studies

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Re: Hugo Cabret Tidbit #18 ~ Gare Montparnasse

Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Thu Jul 15, 2010 2:13 pm

Cool video! That was quite some traffic jam! Thanks, Liz and fireflydances.
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -

Wow! What a ride!


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