"Julie & Julia:" A chick flick for railfans?

Posted by Matt Van Hattem
on Tuesday, September 1, 2009

by Matt Van Hattem

Senior editor


So guess where I was on a crystal clear Saturday afternoon while the rest of you were out taking train pictures?


At the movies seeing “Julie & Julia.” I’ll admit I was a little reluctant to go, but my moviegoing companion had watched them filming a scene from the window of her New York City apartment, and I used to edit cookbooks so I figured it would be fun.


(Everyone laughs at my past career in cookbooks, seeing as I barely know how to boil water. They say those who can’t … edit!)


Anyway, not too long into the movie, something strange and wonderful caught my eye: a necklace, worn by actress Amy Adams (playing a blogger, no less) in every scene she was in.


Dangling on the end of the necklace, like a flashing amber signal light, was a genuine New York City subway token!


Now this I could relate to. In fact, the keychain I use every day has … yes … a genuine New York City subway token. Like the movie necklace, my keychain features the classic old 50-cent token, with a Y carved into the middle.

I became enchanted with the necklace. (Here’s a catalog photo of it, and follow this link for a scene showing the necklace: Why was she wearing it? What does this mean?


It’s probably the most unexpected piece of railfan paraphernalia captured on film since Johnny Knoxville wore a Chessie Steam Special T-shirt in the “Dukes of Hazzard” movie a few years ago.


Naturally I pointed the necklace out to my companion who gave a familiar, exasperated nod. Loosely translated, the nod means “can there be something we do that doesn’t involve trains?”


Not in this movie. In fact, the necklace was just the beginning. There’s a New York subway map used for a wall decoration in the Queens apartment where Amy Adams’ character lives. It shows up a lot. (Funny, I had a subway map taped to my wall when I was living in New York, too.) She even has occasion to ride the subway a few times in the movie, and I’d venture to say the handful of scenes showing elevated trains rolling through Queens are more visually stunning than anything in this year’s “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3.”


The train connection doesn’t end there, either. At two key points in the film, Meryl Streep, playing uber-gourmand Julia Child, visits a train station. Both times, the location used for filming was New Jersey Transit’s Hoboken Terminal. (Here’s a scene: To be honest, I was a little annoyed that NJ Transit was not credited at the end of the film.)



Grand Central Terminal gets all the glory, and I love it as much as anyone, but Hoboken Terminal — a 3-mile pebble toss across the Hudson River — has an endearing charm and a classic style that’s too often overlooked.


Both stations come from an era when big-city terminals were designed to impress — monuments not only to the city but to the grand railroad that brought you there. Hoboken Terminal’s 1907 opening predates Grand Central Terminal by just six years.


The movie basks in Hoboken’s grand waiting room (seen at left and top). It’s a beautiful public space, whose bright marble walls, solid wooden benches, tiffany skylight, and sweeping staircase become supporting characters in scenes that make you wish you were there.


New Jersey’s United Railroad Historical Society loaned filmmakers a few ex-Great Northern (originally Union Pacific) coaches for a brief platform scene bathed in steam heat that was supposed to replicate a Paris rail terminal.


Hoboken as Paris?? That’s not as far a stretch as you might think. Hoboken Terminal’s mix of Beaux-Arts and Victorian design easily calls to mind a classic European train station.



When I arrived in Paris on the TGV last year, my first thought while taking in the swirl of activity at the Gare de Lyon (left) was “this reminds me of Hoboken.”


(Good thing I didn’t say that out loud, though. I might have been run out of the country!)


The biggest difference between the Paris and Hoboken stations? The French place flower pots on their bumper posts.


So NJ Transit can proudly add “Julie & Julia” to the list of movies that have filmed inside Hoboken Terminal, ranging from the sublime (“On the Waterfront”) to the ridiculous (“The Muppets Take Manhattan”).


And you can go out and see “Julie & Julia” knowing that there’s more than just food to savor on screen.


By the way, you can buy a subway token keychain for $19 at the New York Transit Museum:


And for the special woman in your life, you can order her very own subway token necklace from the museum. It goes for $65 with a leather cord (or $75 with a silver chain available in September that more closely resembles the one in the movie).

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