The mystery of a President’s Ghost Train.

One of the locomotives used to pull Lincoln's Funeral Train from Washington, D. C., to Springfield, Illinois.
One of the locomotives used to pull Lincoln’s Funeral Train from Washington, D. C., to Springfield, Illinois.

Mrs. McCurdy surveyed the faces in her fourth grade classroom. Most of the unruly students seemed to be paying attention. That was encouraging, as she was about to explain a difficult assignment.

“Boys and girls, as you know we have been studying President Abraham Lincoln for several weeks, now. Since we live in Illinois, I am certain most of you have visited his tomb in Springfield. It is a famous tourist attraction. Please raise your hand now if you have been there.”

Almost all of the students raised their hands.

“Good. This will make you have a better understanding of the whole man, and of this rather tough assignment I am going to give you. I am going to pair you up with a buddy. I have arranged the use of the library during our history hour. We will go to the library and I want you to research, with your buddy, as quietly as possible, President Lincoln’s Funeral Train and its journey from Washington, D. C. to Springfield. There is a paragraph in your history books about this, but you must go above and beyond—ferret out as many interesting details as you can, take notes, write down the sources. You will then write a four-page paper on your own—four full pages. We will turn them in around the time of Lincoln’s birthday which is coming up soon.

Sara Marie Hogg in front of Lincoln's tomb in Springfield. The nose of the bust of Lincoln has been worn and shiny from people actually kissing it.
Sara Marie Hogg in front of Lincoln’s tomb in Springfield. The nose of the bust of Lincoln has been worn and shiny from people actually kissing it.

Okay. Put away your books, get pencils and notebook paper, and line up by the door for our first trip to the library. I want QUIET while going down that hall. Understood? If not, you will deal with the consequences.”

The students lined up at what could be considered a medium level of quietness.

Mrs. McCurdy gave one last speech. “If you get stuck, I will be there to help you, and you can always ask the librarian about reference books or microfilm. Wait your turn and be polite.”

Midway into the first library session, Coltin and Darren ran into some pretty juicy and obscure information, as rascally boys will.

“But we aren’t supposed to write it on this, Coltin! We are supposed to write it on the funeral train and its journey. We will get in trouble for not following directions,” Darren cautioned his friend.

“When has that ever stopped us, huh? Ours will be the best papers. No one else is going to do a paper on this weird article we uncovered. We can write a short couple of paragraphs about the actual funeral train, then, do the whole rest of the paper, three and a half pages, on this article from The Pittsburg Press. Sounds like a winner to me,” Coltin answered.

“Hmmm. Maybe you are right. Our papers will really stand out, anyway. We have found new material that is not in any other books. Maybe Mrs. McCurdy will like that—that we dug real deep, deeper than anyone else.”

*     *     *

     Most of the information that would be in the students’ papers would focus on the funeral train of Abraham Lincoln as it journeyed from Washington to Springfield during the aftermath of that dark day in American history. The train consisted of nine cars including a hearse car and a baggage car. The train would carry Lincoln and the exhumed body of his son, Willie, to be interred with him in Springfield at Oak Ridge Cemetery. One car of the train was a President’s car, built for use by the living president and it contained a parlor, sleeping accommodations and a sitting room. This car was draped in mourning and would carry the two coffins.

The engine, “Nashville,” would pull the cars and a framed portrait of Lincoln was positioned above the cowcatcher of the engine. The 1700 mile funeral procession would travel through 444 communities, some along the Hudson River including Yonkers, Tarrytown, Sing Sing and Poughkeepsie. Throngs of mourning Americans lined the rails to pay their final respects to the President.

How could President Abraham Lincoln’s soul ever rest in peace? There were many problems, including a plot to kidnap his body and hold it for ransom. His body was moved seventeen times. His inability to rest in peace is sometimes offered as the reason for many strange events and hauntings, including one of those mentioned in the article uncovered by Coltin and Darren. It was a quote in the Albany Evening Times that was later printed in The Pittsburg Press in 1978:

“The train always appeared in Albany on April 27, the anniversary of its first passing. Track walkers and section hands would sit along the railroad tracks in the early evening of the fateful day and wait for the ghost train to come into view. At midnight—always at midnight—the engine would emerge from the darkness, moving silently down the track with black crepe flowing from its sides and emitting faintly audible sounds of funeral music. The phantom train would glide over a black carpet that appeared to cover the tracks, while spectral soldiers in blue uniforms of the Union army trotted along side it. As the apparition moved down the tracks, it would fade from view over some phantom horizon.”

The Albany appearances of the funeral train are the most famous, but Lincoln’s funeral train—a ghost train—has appeared in many places along the route. There is a bizarre appendage to the funeral train stories. The actual car that carried the body of Lincoln and Willie burned in a mysterious prairie fire in 1911. The eerie photo of the car burning appears in the March 19, 1911 edition of The Minneapolis Sunday Journal.

The first time I ever really thought seriously about ghost trains was when I heard the spooky song, “Ghost Train” by Rickie Lee Jones. Listening to it can send a chill to your core. There are quite a few stories of ghost trains and phantom locomotives in American folklore and the tale of Lincoln’s funeral train is just one of them. It was one such story that helped Coltin and Darren get A-pluses on their fourth grade history papers. Mrs. Mc Curdy must have been in a very good mood.

Please click the book cover image to read more about Sara Marie Hogg and her books.


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