The real gem of a sculpture you could miss as you pass through the station, however, is a bas relief called “The Spirit of Transportation” located in the passenger waiting area off the main terminal.
(A bas relief is not a free-standing statue but a sculpted work attached to a wall. In this case and many others, it gives the appearance of a scene emerging from the very wall itself.)
This incredible work was carved in 1895 by the prolific Austrian-American sculptor, Karl Bitter, during our country’s Industrial Revolution. It celebrates, in kind of a triumphal procession, the progress of transportation from beasts of burden to machines of power and speed with some benign goddess in the middle standing watch over the whole realm of progress.
I would draw your attention to the family on the far right side of the pageant. Two of the older children hold images of the modes of transportation that were dominant in the late 1800s: a steam engine and a steam boat.
But the little child at the bottom holds what was then a technology in its infancy: manned flight (represented by some sort of dirigible). It is appropriately held by the youngest child, barely more than an infant himself.
A Reminder of Our Blessings
Just imagine: Bitter carved this work 125 years ago – at the very dawn of the automobile and well before the invention of the airplane! He and his generation could hardly have fathomed the technologies that have since taken us to the moon and back.
Here is another lesson about the monuments of bygone eras. They can be forward-looking and even prophetic, as this one is, but their real value lies in the backward glance they offer to future generations. They humble us as they remind us of what we owe to past workers, leaders, and geniuses for the blessings we now take for granted.
It reminds me of a quote from Ronald Reagan who was once asked if he was aware of all the things a computer could do, and he responded, “Yes, I am. My generation built it.”
If you’re interested in some homespun videos of the 30th Street Station and its monuments (somewhat poor in quality but still interesting), check out these two links.
Angel of the Resurrection (duration, 1:12) | Spirit of Transportation (duration, 2:44)
[This article is a reproduction of the Sacred Windows Email Newsletter of 11/28/21, so it does not end with the regular Soul Work section. Please visit our Newsletter Archives.]