rail

The first time I consciously heard the word funicular was last week when I watched the DVD of “Grand Budapest Hotel.” In the award-winning Wes Anderson tale, the term was uttered, it was written large on a building in at least one scene, and there were shots of a funicular (or a clever model of one against a matte painting) in action.

Then, one day later, I heard a reporter use the word on a public radio news story about . . . I can’t remember what, probably something happening in Europe. But there it was, a funicular hauling Sylvia Poggioli up a hill smack in the middle of Morning Edition.

It’s not that I didn’t know what they were, I just didn’t know that’s what they were called.

I’m sure I’ve ridden in one before, and I’ve spent a good portion of my life living a short distance from Dubuque, which has a still-operating funicular. Except, in Dubuque they don’t call it a funicular. They call it an elevator, or “the world’s shortest, steepest scenic railway.” On the official website, “funicular” can only be found once, buried 10 paragraphs down the history page under at least six “cable cars” and five “elevators.” Although, to be fair, the Dubuque setup wasn’t a proper funicular (using two counterbalanced cars on a single cable) until the 1890s, about 10-years after the original was built.

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