The Ghosts Of Greatness Past – Cegled: Kossuth’s Frontier (For The Love of Hungary Part 43)

Hungary was a day trip dreamers delight. Here was a nation where everything was within reach. From Budapest, I could take the train to any large city or town in the country, arriving in my chosen destination in a few hours at most. There was a range of options on offer since everything ran to or through Budapest. The Hungarian railway network allowed me access to places I would have never imagined visiting. This was how I ended up in Cegled, a leisurely hourlong train ride west of Budapest. Cegled had first piqued my interest a week earlier when I traveled through it on the way to Debrecen. I had never heard of the town before, but it was one of a handful of stops on the Intercity route.

The Steel Trail - Rail lines at Cegled Station

The Steel Trail – Rail lines at Cegled Station (Credit: BZsolt)

Stepping Back In Time – Cegled Station
As the train pulled up to Cegled’s station, I was struck by how different its style and architecture was from the other stations I was used to seeing in Hungary. It was constructed entirely out of brick, a striking design feature that gave it an air of permanence. There was also an old locomotive monumentalized between the rail siding and station. Such stylistic elements attracted my attention. At first glance, I could have sworn that Cegled’s station had been transported out of the late 19th century and dropped along the outskirts of a forgotten settlement on the Great Hungarian Plain. The station appealed to the romantic in me precisely because it evoked a lost golden age of rail travel. The station was a conduit to another world, one that existed somewhere between dreams and reality. That desire was fulfilled on an autumn morning where I would soon discover that Cegled’s railway station was not the only site worth visiting in this modestly sized town.

Cegled, the name’s closeness in pronunciation to the famous Hungarian city of Szeged kept it memorable in my mind right from the start. The way a town’s name lodges in the memory and rolls off the tongue can lend an air of sophistication to a place that might otherwise lack the dramatic effects. In other words, Cegled sounded impressive to pronounce. Such wordplay made me like the city even before I set foot on the platform just outside the station. Upon arrival, I spent time inspecting the railway station’s unique architecture, a fusion of material and style unlike anything I had seen up to this point in my Hungarian travels. The station had historical charm. It was redolent of an age of railway travel that still existed in half-forgotten, provincial places that were on the way to somewhere bigger or better.

Points of Arrival - Detail of Cegled Railway Station

Points of Arrival – Detail of Cegled Railway Station (Credit: Globetrotter19)

An Air Of Importance – A Call To Revolution
Cegled was an important railway junction, where lines to Szeged and Szolnok splintered. This ensured that it would have no less than six lines of track running through the station. Those lines, along with the impressive design of the station, gave Cegled an air of importance that new arrivals could not help but notice. The walk from Cegled’s train station to the downtown was longer than I imagined. It took me a good 15 minutes at a brisk pace to find my way into the modestly sized city center. It was hard to imagine that this quiet town of 33,000 had once been a hotbed of rebellion during the Hungarian Revolution in 1848-49. Cegled’s chief historical attraction was aligned with that event, the Lajos Kossuth Museum.

At first, I thought Cegled’s link with Kossuth was likely to have have been tenuous, a barely veiled attempt to attract tourists into a downtown they would otherwise ignore. What could one of the greatest and flawed Hungarians possibly have done in Cegled. I braced myself for a Kossuth slept here type of museum. My assumption could not have been more wrong. The museum was one of several Kossuth inspired sites that the town was extremely proud to share with visitors. Cegled’s citizens had been fired with revolutionary fervor by Kossuth’s legendary oratorical skills when he made one of his more memorable speeches in the town.

An Ecelectic Kossuthism - The Art Nouveau Kossuth Museum in Cegled

An Ecelectic Kossuthism – The Art Nouveau Kossuth Museum in Cegled (Credit: Globetrotter19)

Favorite Son – Between Dreams & Reality
The speech whipped up revolutionary fervor as Kossuth called for the citizenry of the entire Great Hungarian Plain region to take up arms against the Austrian Habsburgs. Cegled never forgot that moment or his visit. When Kossuth was living in permanent exile in northern Italy, one hundred citizens from Cegled traveled there to ask him if he would consider a return to Hungary and run for Parliament. He rejected their overtures, but his son Ferenc did become the MP for Cegled a decade and a half later. It was also Ferenc, who in 1917 donated two thousand artifacts that became the bulk of the Kossuth Museum’s collection in Cegled. The museum was housed in a quite impressive Art Nouveau style building that at one time had served as a bank.

This former bank building, with ornate decoration covering its upper half, reminded me of a cake that had just been drizzled with a fabulously lavish icing. The inside of the museum was anything, but fabulous. It was rather obvious that the museum was poorly funded and badly in need of new exhibits. One of the museum staff followed me from room to room cutting lights on and off. The museum had a wide range of Kossuth’s paraphernalia. It was likely one of the largest collections of the famous statesman’s artifacts in the world. It looked to be gathering dust and aging rather badly. This was a shame. I felt pangs of empathy for those who worked here. They were polite and well mannered, but they reminded me of impoverished nobles who have inherited a grand estate, decades past its prime.

The Glory Was All Gone – Twinges Of Sorrow
Twinges of sorrow began to gnaw at me. The potential of the Kossuth Museum was unrealized and looked to be unattainable under current conditions. Kossuth’s magnificent legacy had grown musty inside this museum. Cegled had been touched by greatness, but only the ghosts of past greatness pervaded the museum. I grew sad at the thought of those whose idea this had been. There was still pride, but the glory was all gone.

 

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