ne hot day in August 1953, a white-and-brown stray dog calmly got off a cargo train at the Campiglia Marittima railway station in Italy, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Elvio Barlettani, the stationmaster in the small Tuscan station, and his daughter Mirna — then a small child — witnessed the event with a mix of amusement and surprise. The dog looked friendly and good-natured and immediately formed a bond with Mirna. After a fair amount of persuasion, Barlettani reluctantly let his daughter keep the dog with her ‘just for the night.’
The dog was supposed to get his marching orders the following morning, but Mirna had fallen in love with the small mutt, and the feeling was mutual. There was no way the two could be separated. In no time they became as thick as thieves, and the stationmaster soon grew very fond of the dog, too.
Father and daughter named the dog Lampo — the Italian word for “flash of lightning” — because of his white fur and the crazy speed at which he jumped on and off trains.
Every morning he traveled (by train, of course) from Campiglia Marittima to Piombino to accompany Mirna to school. Then he jumped on another train to get back home, where he kept the stationmaster company while he was working.
At noon, he hopped on the Campiglia-Piombino train again to pick Mirna up after school, and together they made the journey back.
But going back and forth between Campiglia Marittima and Piombino did not satisfy Lampo’s traveling nature: he often jumped on random express trains just to see a new place.
In the evening, the Barlettanis would see him casually getting off a freight or a fast passenger train, as if nothing unusual had happened. Nobody knew how he managed to get on the right one to get back home, but somehow he appeared to know all train schedules by heart.
He soon learned to distinguish slow trains from fast ones, and the different train cars — with a marked preference for the dining car. He used to jump down the train at every station, run on the platform to reach the restaurant car, and bark enthusiastically at the windows, in hopes that the cooks would throw him something to eat.
They always did. Lampo was the train workers’ unofficial mascot, universally beloved.
Drivers often phoned Barlettani from one station or another to let him know where his dog was, and they kept the train doors open to let him hop on; some of them did not even start their train before they heard Lampo’s good-luck bark always following the stationmaster’s whistle ring.
But not everyone liked Lampo: some passengers complained because a dog was allowed to travel without a leash or a muzzle. After he got stuck in a carriage door and the train had to be stopped to free him, the management of the Florence railway forced a heartbroken Barlettani to get rid of the dog.
Lampo was then put on a cargo train to Naples, in hopes he would become somebody else’s problem. But Lampo would not let anyone separate him from his human family: he managed to get back to Campiglia in just a few days.
Barlettani was once again asked to send the dog away: this time he decided to give Lampo to a friend living in Southern Italy.
After a month, a bewildered and delighted Barlettani and an equally overjoyed Mirna saw a mangy, frightfully thin dog sitting in the station.
“He had come back. He was so thin, he had lost all his fur. At this point, even the railway management had to give up: Lampo became the permanent mascot for our train station,” Barlettani later wrote in his best-selling children’s book Lampo, Il Cane Viaggiatore (‘Lampo, The Traveling Dog’).
Lampo’s reputation soon extended beyond the small rural station’s platform of Campiglia Marittima: the Italian national TV station Rai came to Campiglia and shot a short documentary about him — while he was standing in front of a restaurant car, as per usual. A homeless man in Livorno (a port city on the western coast of Tuscany) recognized Lampo on TV: he said in an interview he had seen the dog getting off an American ship a few years before, and they had lived together on the streets for a while.
The story of the dog traveling through Italy by train intrigued journalists around the world, and the American magazine This Week put him on its cover, shooting him into stardom. This made the management of the Florence railway shut their traps for good.
Lampo had fans all over the world: a fan once sent Lampo a king-size box of dog biscuits all the way from Buffalo, USA!
But his fame was, unfortunately, short-lived: on the evening of July 22, 1961, a maneuvering cargo train in Campiglia hit the dog, instantly killing him: the cargo was off schedule, and Lampo, being the train timetable expert that he was, did not expect it to be there.
The train worker responsible for it broke the news to Barlettani with tears in his eyes, and Lampo was buried in the flowerbed at the foot of an acacia tree at the railway station.
Shortly after his death, thanks to the combined efforts of his friends, the Italian railway workers, and some help from the American magazine This Week, a monument was inaugurated at the Campiglia Marittima railway station: it represents Lampo staring at the trains with a paw in the air and a stationmaster’s hat, and a signaling disc at his feet.
The statue still stands today, greeting passengers and train drivers alike.
Elvio Barlettani wrote a popular children’s book about Lampo’s adventures that was translated into English, French, German, and Japanese. In 1967, the story of Lampo was fictionalized by Polish writer Roman Pisarski in the short story O psie, który jeździł koleją, which is still required reading in primary schools in Poland to this day.
30-something, born and bred in Italy. If you leave me unattended in your house I will sand down and repaint every piece of furniture you own. Can’t parallel park to save my life.