Creativity in the Bayou City

Here's Why the Hermann Park Railroad Tunnel Now Looks Like a Comic Book

Yes, Destination Mound Town got rid of the puppets, but the iconic tunnel's been entertaining Houstonians for generations.

By Emma Schkloven February 4, 2021 Published in the December 2020 issue of Houstonia Magazine

If you grew up in the Bayou City, chances are you’ve climbed aboard the Hermann Park Railroad a time or two. And if your favorite part of the ride was going through the tunnel, you weren’t alone. But part of that view is definitely different from your childhood memories. In 2014 local artist superstar Trenton Doyle Hancock redecorated the interior of the railroad’s 140-foot train tunnel as part of the park’s centennial public art project. Well, redecorated might be a bit of an understatement.

Gone are those loveable yet bedraggled puppets—admittedly, they’d seen better days after 50 years—now replaced by a fantastical landscape of creatures, both real and imagined. Destination Mound Town takes travelers through a day in the life of the Mounds, the ancient half-animal, half-plant creatures Hancock’s been drawing since the ’90s. Passengers join the artist’s superhero alter ego, Torpedo Boy, at the helm of the train (which looks remarkably like the one they happen to be riding) amid the Starburst colors of morning, before spending time with cartoon versions of the nearby Houston Zoo residents, various furry park inhabitants, and even Rice’s owl mascot. Text phrases encircle and animate this zany entourage as cutouts of critters and plant life bring the action off the wall and onto the Astroturf running up to the tracks.

Oh, did we mention that’s just the right side of the tunnel? A black and white mirror image of the scene covers the opposite wall, strategically bedecked in mirrors that let passengers see themselves in the middle of the action. A little bit pop art à la Peter Max, a touch Hanna-Barbera-meets-Sesame Street, plus a splash of those old ’70s Tootsie Pop commercials, Destination Mound Town’s graphic lines and bold colors, melded with a comic book-esque iconography and a dizzying degree of maximalism, encapsulate a style that’s completely Hancock’s.

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