Tracking the "Epic of American Railroads" Mural at Collinwood High School
For more than 75 years, the "Epic of American Railroads" WPA mural on Collinwood High School's first floor southwest hall has been a focal point for countless students, staff and community members, and a sentimental favorite among alumni young and old. Although the mural's current condition reflects both the natural aging process as well as considerable wear and tear, this incredible artwork still has managed to stand the test of time and preserve a story that merits recounting.
Looking back through the Collinwood Spotlight student newspaper archives, a front-page article in the February 10, 1939 edition highlights the mural's artist Johhn Csosz (1879-1969) and the fascinating origins behind the mural itself. Student reporter Elizabeth Stanton had the opportunity to interview Csosz, when the first sections of the mural were installed.
Much to the students' surprise, the murals seemed to appear overnight. (In actuality, they were done on canvas at the studio of the Federal Art Project and then glued on the walls with a special adhesive.)
"The theme of the murals was chosen as appropriate for Collinwood, depicting different kinds of industries. The murals around the elevator show the evolution of the locomotive -- from the first locomotive ever made, to the ultra-modern Mercury. Some of the murals show the various phases in the making of steel: Coal mining in the open mines; iron ore mining; a scene showing coal crushers; a blast furnace and several other types of steel furnaces; the soaking of steel; and finally, a view of the steel rolling mill.
"Murals on the opposite wall show the uses of steel -- machinery, electric generators and huge turbines. What follows on the mural is a study of electricity's uses -- an electric train and a lighted building -- chosen because of the several large light companies in the neighborhood at that time.
"Then in order come: An electric train; a progressive view of a short-to-ship telephone call; a radio broadcast; a television broadcast and experiment; and a panel devoted to airplanes."
Csosz used photos taken inside factories for his reference work. He started designing the murals in the fall of 1937. In the spring of 1938, artists started painting the large murals. (Altogether, there were about ten people working on them.)
The total length of the mural is approximately 440 feet, which made it the largest of its kind in the city at that time.
Gail Greenberg is the media specialist at Collinwood High School.