Saturday, April 25, 2009

Lincoln's Ghost Train

At 10:55pm on April 25, 1865, President Lincoln's funeral train pulled into the Greenbush/East Albany station (this was before we became "Rensselaer"). The Great Funeral Cortage passed through 9 states on its way from Washington, DC to Springfield, IL, passing through New York City with great ceremony, and continuing to Greenbush, NY, the northern terminus of the Hudson River Railroad. On this leg of the journey the train was pulled by a locomotive named the Union and a pilot engine named the Constitution.

According to historic register documents, the Dearstyne Inn played a role: "Tradition has it that the body of President Lincoln was housed temporarily in the hotel in 1865 while awaiting ferry transport to the capitol at Albany." (The train went on to Troy to cross the river there.) What was intended to be a simple procession in Albany drew crowds of 50,000 or more.

It's no surprise then that legends sprung up around this momentous event, and a ghostly funeral train is said to travel the rails to Rensselaer. The Assasination of Lincoln quotes the Albany Evening Times as follows:
Regularily in the month of April the air becomes very keen and cutting. On either side of the tracks it is warm and still. ... Soon the pilot engine of Lincoln's funeral train passes with long, black streamers, and with a band of black instruments playing dirges, grinning skeletons sitting all about. ...."
On the site American Folklore, there is a great version of The Lincoln Death Train story, as retold by S. E. Schlosser:
There was a glowing orchestra of skeletons seated in a semi-circle. ...Then the orchestra was gone and another glowing headlight pierced the blackness. ... Another black crepe draped train was approaching. A funeral train, I thought. ... The only thing there was a single black-crepe draped coffin. But swirling in the air around the train were the ghostly figures of soldiers dressed in the blue uniforms worn by the North during the civil war. They lined up before my eyes, saluting the solitary coffin as it passed.

The next morning, all the clocks on the Hudson Division were six minutes behind and all the trains were running six minutes late. When I asked the stationmaster about it, he shook his head and told me not to worry. It was caused by the Lincoln Death Train, which had stopped time as it ran by in the night.

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