Hamlet is a small southern town near the Great Pee Dee River. It’s quiet streets and colorful architecture only hint at its dramatic past.

You might mistake Hamlet for just another poor southern town with many empty storefronts, faded colors and little future. But things happened here and there are echoes of the past all around. If you listen to the sounds, you may still here the crossing of trains, cries of pain and jazz notes in the air.

Three major rail lines crisscross the town dividing it. No visit there is complete without a long train rumbling through town. The Hamlet Passenger Station (still active today) houses the National Railroad Museum. 

In 1991, the infamous Hamlet Chicken Plant fire broke out at Imperial Foods killing 25 people. The cries and suffering spurred a national movement to improve working and safety conditions in plants that still continues today. 

Most surprising tough is that John Coltrane, the jazz great, was born here in 1926. In the 1940’s, having decided on his future. With his horn, he looked at the railroad tracks and the directions they ran. He decided to take the train north to New York and the rest is jazz history. 

A train passed through town as I photographed. I listened hard and maybe heard the loose jazz notes from the past. 

I paused, as the train passed, thinking about the courage it always takes to know when to move on and then do it…

David Young