OK, so the woman speaking was really an actress, playing Mrs. Stanford in a historical re-enactment. But maybe the Stanfords really did discuss the possibility of buying land around here 150 years ago, while enjoying a picnic that celebrated the progress of the San Francisco-to- San Jose railway. In 2013, we can only speculate, as did spectators at the Menlo Park Caltrain station on Saturday afternoon during a re-enactment of the picnic that took place in October 1863.
A few hundred people milled around the parking lot of the train station at the kick-off event for Caltrain's year-long celebration of the 150th anniversary of Peninsula rail service. Toddlers reached longingly for model trains that chugged around a 20-foot-long oval track; older kids dragged their parents toward the free Baskin-Robbins ice cream offered at the other end of the parking lot; and parents listened to numerous speeches, including one by state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo.
Mayor Padraig Conneely of Galway, Ireland, also spoke at the event, sharing stories about the Irish immigrants who gave Menlo Park its name. In the 1850s, Dennis J. Oliver and his brother-in-law D.C. McGlynn bought a tract of land, and erected an arch at the entrance to their property inscribed "Menlo Park" after their home village of Menlough in Galway. The train station constructed here in 1863 took its name from that archway, as did the city that grew around the station.
Mayor Conneely was in town to sign a friendship agreement between his city and Menlo Park, with Mayor Peter Ohtaki.
"It's absolutely fantastic," Mayor Conneely said, adding that he didn't realize there was so much known here about the two immigrants, Oliver and McGlynn.
"I hope (this friendship) will work going forward," he said, "from a business point of view, and from an educational point of view," with contact between universities in both cities.
Food trucks provided lunch for those who came to enjoy the festivities. But the actors sat down to croissants and cold cuts after arriving on the 12:14 p.m. train from San Francisco. At picnic tables decorated with metallic gold pumpkins and wreaths of red and orange leaves, they stayed in character to discuss the importance of the new railroad.
The actor portraying Judge Timothy Dame, who at the time was president of the San Francisco-to-San Jose railroad company, sported a top hat and formal coat. When prompted to put the significance of the railroad into context, he responded in character. The railroad, he said, "provides rapid, convenient, and comfortable transport. It's going to make people's lives so much easier."
People won't have to travel "by buggy and coach," he added. "They will be able to travel without getting muddy and covered in rain!"
The actors themselves might have welcomed a few rain clouds, though. One actress remarked: "Dressed like this, you realize why women fainted so much! Long sleeves, high collars, tight corsets." That's a lot of layers in 75-degree weather.
Even beyond transportation and women's clothing, much has changed here in the past 150 years. Menlo Park has gone from a name on a gate to an economic center that attracts venture capital firms and technological innovators alike. Caltrain's celebration served as a reminder of the advancements that helped build the city we know today.
A new organization to support the friendship agreement between Menlo Park and Galway has been formed, according to co-chairs Jym Clendenin, Fran Dehn and Jim Lewis. For more information, do a Google search for: Two Menlos sisters.