Riding the Rails

During the Great Depression, many people forced off the farm hopped on freight trains, illegally, to chase after work they heard of from hundreds of miles away. If they are lucky, they would have prepared for provisions along the way, or will accept the kindness of strangers they meet along the way.  A shower, a shave are not amenities included in “riding the rails.”

Born of immigrant parents in Philadelphia, Pablo Davis worked as a coal miner at age 14 until he became involved in a strike. He noted an ad in the paper that Diego Rivera was to begin work on murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts.  The teen-aged Pablo Davis, determined to meet Diego, then rode the rails to Detroit.

On reaching Detroit, yard workers could not tell him where the museum was. When he eventually found it, the guards will not let him in.  He sat sadly on its front steps and a woman came by and said to him,”You look like you just lost your best friend.”

The woman – Frida Kahlo – took him into the museum and introduced him to Diego Rivera. This was an important meeting, as Pablo assisted Diego in the layering of the fresco murals.  In tribute to him, Diego depicted him, alongside workers, on the south wall of The Detroit Industry Murals still standing at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

In 1985, Pablo Davis was the only person depicted in the murals still alive, and he was used as an advisor in the restoration work of the mural.

Our visit to this museum last May 11-12 was like a pilgrimage.


About macconlon

Artist, activist, community organizer now working as a Community Minister for the Davenport Perth Community Ministry of the Shining Waters Region of the United Church of Canada.
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2 Responses to Riding the Rails

  1. Tony Leah says:

    This is a wonderful story!

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