RFK Funeral Train, The People’s View

Paul Fusco. RFK Funeral Train. June 8, 1968.

My favorite thing I saw at ICP was Paul Fusco’s “RFK Funeral Train” coupled with Rein Jelle Terpstra’s “The People’s View.” I’m familiar with Fusco’s photos (I want to say they were in the 1968 show except I haven’t referenced them on the blog before) but it’s always nice to see them again. They capture a wonderfully raw, impromptu moment in US history where hope and tragedy collide.

I’m also always a sucker for photographs taken from trains and one of the things I like best about the Fusco photos is how, by being shot form the train, they show a side of American cities which we like to avoid seeing. Trains typically front up against the worst parts of town. No one wants to live by them. Industrial shipping and loading needs the access. When I’m on a train I always feel like I’m entering a city via the back door.*

*No this is not a Penn Station joke.

So to see those industrial yards and empty spaces turned into places of emotion and love and thankfulness is extremely cool. As is the way the crowds are so often integrated and focused merely on paying respect to Bobby’s passing.

Annie Ingram. June 8, 1968. From Rein Jelle Terpstra’s The People’s View (2014–18). Courtesy Melinda Watson.
Claire Leary. June 8, 1968. From Rein Jelle Terpstra’s The People’s View (2014–18).

Terpstra flips the lens and tracks down the people who came out to see the train. So we have their photographs and home movies and transcripts of interviews with them. A lot of the photos are of the train but most of the time was spent waiting for the train to arrive so there are photos of crowds and descriptions of the way things felt that day.

There’s that same sense of wonder at the organic nature of it all coming together. People—often kids—just talking about feeling like they had to be there. Some of them out of the feeling that they owed some measure of thanks to RFK. Others out of the recognition that this was a rare chance to see history. But all of them talk about somehow just finding their way to the tracks through the extreme heat and humidity of the day.

My favorite interview note was the story about all the kids putting pennies on the track and then, after the train had passed, retrieving the flattened pennies as souvenirs.

And the photos are equally wonderful. The crowds just waiting. The cars haphazardly parked along the frontage road. Something about the day made people a little extra mindful of everything—a headspace that’s especially conducive to interesting photographs.

Fusco captures how amazing it was to see the support from the train. Terpstra meanwhile captures what was in the air at the time. I’m sure it’s just a shade of the real deal but I’m glad I got to experience it just the same.

Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at njwv.wordpress.com, and the web at vossbrink.net

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