Lincoln Funeral Train Project | HistoryNet MENU

Lincoln Funeral Train Project

By Gerald D. Swick
9/4/2014 • HistoryNet


This car was specially built by the War Department’s Military Railroad section to carry President Abraham Lincoln, but his only trip in it was when it carried his body from Washington, DC, to Springfield, Illinois.

Beginning April 21, 2015, a replica of the locomotive and the special railroad car that carried Abraham Lincoln’s body from Washington to Illinois for interment will retrace as much of the original route as possible, if the plans of the Historic Railroad Equipment Association come to fruition. HistoryNet‘s editor Gerald D. Swick spoke with Shannon Brown, public relations director for the Historic Railroad Equipment Association, about how the project is progressing.

HistoryNet: What are the plans for the 2015 Lincoln’s Funeral Train procession?

Shannon Brown: A replica of an original locomotive and Lincoln’s funeral car will leave Washington, DC, April 21—150 years to the day after the original train steamed out of Washington—and will arrive in Springfield, Illinois, on May 2. In 1865, Lincoln’s funeral train arrived in Springfield on May 3.

The plan is to retrace Lincoln’s funeral route as closely as possible, but in some places there are no longer any rails and in others we’d be competing with commercial traffic, which would be like taking a horse and buggy onto the Interstate. We are working with railroads in Washington, Baltimore and Springfield, and we plan to roll into Springfield under our own power.

HN: Where are you getting the replica train?

SB: The locomotive, a 440 named Leviathan No. 63, was completed in 2009. It is period-specific in everything except where the Federal Railroad Administration required us to include modern safety features. This locomotive was built as a hobby by Dave Kloke. It took him 10 years to build. He had never done anything like that, but his background is in heavy machinery.

'Leviathan' picture on a poster from a recent appearance in Versailles, Ky. Click to enlarge.
'Leviathan' picture on a poster from a recent appearance in Versailles, Ky. Click to enlarge.
He’s a lifelong admirer of Lincoln and was watching a documentary on television one night about Lincoln and the railroads. That’s when he became smitten with the 440; he thought it was a beautiful machine. He initially looked into buying one, but couldn’t find any. He learned blueprints were available for a 440 called the Jupiter. There was already a replica of the Jupiter, but she had a sister locomotive called Leviathan which Dave liked the looks of, so he replicated that. It’s a beautiful machine. While he was completing his Leviathan the Steam into History railroad museum in Pennsylvania contacted him and asked him to build a 440 for them, which he completed in just three years.

He finished Leviathan just as the nation was commemorating the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth. There was a lot of attention being paid to Lincoln, and that got Dave thinking, what better way to pay tribute than to recreate the train and that final, solemn journey? The original car was destroyed by fire in a prairie fire near Minneapolis in 1911. A few pieces still survive. We have blueprints of the original car, and Dave hooked up with Wayne Weselowski—a leading expert on the Lincoln funeral car—and with Scott Trostel, who has written books about Lincoln’s funeral train.

HN: Let’s step back a minute. What can you tell us about the car that actually carried Lincoln’s body to Illinois in 1865?

SB: The car originally was built to be Lincoln’s state coach, sort of the Air Force One of its day. It was built by the United States Military Railroad, an agency operated by the War Department during the Civil War. It was typical of train cars to have two sets of wheels. On this car, however, there were four. That was something the military did to reinforce the car and provide a more comfortable ride for the president. The car was built with government funds, however, and Lincoln didn’t feel it was right to have this well-appointed coach and be out running around in it when the war was still going on and costing so much money. It was finished just before he took the oath of office the second time. He was going to go see it on April 15; he never got to see it.

Once it was decided he was going to be buried in Springfield, the car was modified. Quite a bit of furniture was removed to make room for Lincoln and Willie’s coffins. (The Lincolns’ son, William Wallace, called “Willie,” died in the White House in 1862. His body was carried back to Illinois with that of his father in 1865.—Editor) A few places to sit were left, and an office or lounge space was in the middle.

We have blueprints of the original car and really want to make this look as close as possible to the original— furnishings, decorations, how things were arranged —using input from Wayne Weselowski and Scott Trostel. As a state coach it was very well appointed with mahogany woodwork and gold leafing. Of course, Victorian mourning went overboard compared with what we do today; as Lincoln’s funeral car it had velvet draperies, black crepe inside and out, carpeting and so forth that we want to replicate.

HN: How’s that coming along?

SB: Work is progressing nicely on the car. Anyone who sees it at this point would recognize it if they were familiar with what the original looked like. Volunteers have come from as far away as Iowa to help construct it. (The car is being built in Elgin, Illinois, outside Chicago.) The crew will prepare the exterior for its first coat of paint soon. Dave was able to access some paint chips from the original car. From an analysis of those, we were able to determine the color needed for our exact replica.

Leviathan has been out and touring since 2009, helping to raise money for this project. We really wanted to have an event in Kentucky, since that is where both Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd, were from, so Leviathan was in Versailles, Kentucky, over Labor Day weekend as part of Bluegrass Railroad Museum’s Civil War Train, and we had a good turnout. There’s no government money, no grants in the Lincoln Funeral Train project. Everything is and will continue to be funded through private donations. We’re happy with the progress we’re making, but we still need additional funds to replicate the car as closely as possible to the original.

HN: How much are we talking about?

SB: To outfit the car as it should be, we’re looking at $200,000 – $250,000. We’ve just announced a project on Kickstarter to help with the funding, with rewards for backers such as VIP access to the train at events in Washington and Springfield. More information about the campaign can be found at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2015lincoln/the-lincoln-funeral-car

HN: How did you get involved in this project?

SB: Basically, the same way Dave did. I’m a lifelong admirer of Lincoln and had been doing research into what happened to the original car when I came across his organization. I have a PR background, so it seemed natural to blend that with my love of history, my love of Lincoln. I contacted Historic Railroad Equipment Association, offered my assistance and I’ve been with them ever since.

HN: What are the plans for the funeral train after the event next spring?

SB: We are planning to have a second phase in which we take the train to communities the original funeral train passed through, but that we won’t have time to stop in during 2015 memorial trip. Beyond that we have requests from other communities and we are developing a schedule and dates for those visits as well.

The Lincoln funeral car itself will at some point come to rest at a permanent location, but at this time we don’t know where that location will be.

HN: How can people who are interested learn more about the project and next spring’s trip? Does your organization have a website?

SB: Yes. The address is www.the2015Lincolnfuneraltrain.com. People can watch videos there of Leviathan and of the work of reconstruction the funeral car. We also have a Facebook page.

(Click here to read about the 1865 trip of Lincoln’s funeral train and see more photos of the original.)

All photos in gallery courtesy of Historic Railroad Equipment Association.

[nggallery id=160]

, , , ,



Sponsored Content: