Dr. Earl Douglas Childs recalled visiting the Carnegie Science Center’s Miniature Railroad & Village as a young boy, when it was located at the Buhl Planetarium. The trains mesmerized him.
On Tuesday, the grown man was drawn to something else. The miniature model of his childhood home was unveiled at the attraction on Pittsburgh’s North Shore.
“This is such a beautiful depiction of the building we lived in,” said Childs, a dentist. “I love seeing our home. It’s an enchanted place. So this is the ultimate déjà vu.”
His family lived on the third floor, one flight above his grandmother, Daisy Lampkin, at 2519 Webster Ave. in the Hill District. The first floor was rented.
Lampkin is being honored for her devotion to civil rights and women’s suffrage movements. She called Pittsburgh home most of her adult life. The new model celebrates the centennial of the railroad as well as the centennial anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which granted women the right to vote.
People can view the display, including the new model, on Wednesday.
Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review
The Carnegie Science Center’s miniature railroad.
Lampkin made an indelible mark on the future of Black Americans and American history, said Carnegie Science Center Jason Brown.
No matter how busy she was, Lampkin would make time for Childs. The first snow she would call him, open a window, grab some of the white flakes, and add cream, sugar and vanilla, he said.
“And just like that, we had the first ice cream of the season,” Childs said. “Because of her I knew no bounds. She opened doors so that I was able to pass through them.”
Childs said that Lampkin is one of the people who led the way for Kamala Harris, the first woman and woman of color to be elected vice president.
Lampkin cared about what was right, he said.
Childs would sit on a chair by the window as Lampkin worked.
“She let me cut up paper, and I am sure I destroyed something important, but she didn’t care,” he said.
In addition to the new model, upgrades to the exhibition space include new digital text panels, a wall of archival images, and décor and lighting enhancements.
The story of the railroad began when Charles Bowdish of Brookville, Jefferson County, built a holiday display in his house in 1919. He grew the creation over the decades, eventually moving it to the Buhl Planetarium in Pittsburgh’s North Side in 1954. After the Buhl merged with the Carnegie Museums in 1987, the railroad moved to the Carnegie Science Center in 1992. It features hundreds of realistic animated scenes.
The Carnegie Science Center’s Miniature Village & Railroad debuted a new model today pic.twitter.com/mcyhmK9etC
— JoAnne Harrop (@joannescoop) November 17, 2020
Lampkin was born in 1883 near Washington, D.C., moved to Pittsburgh in 1909, and married William Lampkin, a restaurant proprietor, chef and caterer.
She started her public career in 1912 leading groups of Black women for street-corner campaigns and consumer protests. She was instrumental in the growth of the NAACP, winning its National Woman of the Year award in 1945.
The science center was excited about sharing Lampkin’s story, said Patty Everly, who has been curator of historic exhibits for the science center the past 29 years.
“What an activist she was,” Everly said. “I love her story because she made a difference.”
The model fits perfectly into the centennial for women’s suffrage, said Nikki Wilhelm, program assistant for the science center. She wrote a paper on Lampkin for graduate school.
“It also ties into the social unrest this year in our country,” Wilhelm said. “So our timing couldn’t have been better.”
Childs remembered the last time his grandmother left the state for a speech. She wasn’t feeling well but told him she had to go. She suffered a stroke and then additional mini-strokes. She died not long after.
“I remember her as a woman who didn’t rest and wasn’t looking for accolades,” Childs said. “She was an amazing lady to so many. To me, she was also amazing, an amazing grandma. Whenever she went out of town she always told me it was good to be home, to this home, right here.”
AandE | Local | Art & Museums | Northside | Pittsburgh