When I think of the Haunted Hudson Valley, I tend to gravitate toward exploring the area’s rich history that lends itself to some of the Valley’s greatest legends. I usually find myself in the middle of an old cemetery or hiking through ruins in the area, but recently I found myself at the banks of the Hudson River where the train track spans as far as the horizon meets the sky. It is astonishing to think that these tracks carried the body of Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth President of the United States, to his final resting place following his assassination. The month of April marks the anniversary of that mournful trip in 1865 and brings the legend of the Lincoln Ghost Train back to the Hudson Valley.
Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, became involved in spiritualism when she became grief stricken at the loss of their son Willie who had died in the White House. She held séances in an effort to try and communicate with her dead son. While Lincoln attended the events, he was not a strong believer but was not a stranger to the unexplained. Lincoln once had had a strange experience of seeing a double image of himself in a mirror. He found this so disturbing that he discussed it with his wife. Mary felt that it was an omen that he would be elected for a second term but would not see it through. On another occasion President Lincoln had dreamt that he was in the lower levels of the White House witnessing a funeral. When he asked what happened, he was told that the President was assassinated. Weeks later Lincoln would be dead and a country would be grief-stricken.
April 15, 1865, was a dark day as a nation mourned the loss of a President. The Civil War had ended, and Abraham Lincoln was a man held in mixed regard more notably due to his actions involving a war against the South and his position on civil rights. Lincoln died tragically by the hand of an assassin, and in the upcoming days, Lincoln would be immortalized with an elaborate 1,700 mile funeral procession that would stem from Washington, D.C. to his home in Springfield, Illinois.
The Funeral Train
The Lincoln funeral processional would make its way from Washington, D.C. to Springfield by locomotive. Lincoln’s body, along with the exhumed body of this son Willie, was loaded aboard the funeral train.
“The funeral train consisted of nine cars, including baggage and hearse cars. Eight of the cars were provided by the chief railways over which the remains were transported. The ninth was the President’s car, which had been built for use by the President and other officials, containing a parlor, sitting room, and sleeping compartment. This car was draped in mourning and contained the coffins of Lincoln and his son.” (Funeral and Burial of Abraham Lincoln, 2010).
Between Albany and New York City, crowds grew among the small towns along the route to watch the funeral train pass. The train passed through every town traveling north along the Hudson River—Yonkers, Tarrytown, Sing Sing, and making the one and only stop in Poughkeepsie, on April 25th, before heading to Albany. While stopped in Poughkeepsie, college President Matthew Vassar boarded the train to place a cluster of handpicked magnolias aboard the car in a poignant moment to honor the fallen President.
Lincoln’s and his son’s remains traveled though 444 communities until the train came to its final destination where the two were interred at the Oak Ridge Cemetery in Illinois. This mournful and solemn trip took a toll on the family and the country in what was the grandest funeral procession ever held for a President. However, the story does not end here. “Rest in peace” is not a suitable phrase to be used for President Lincoln. Following a plot to steal his body and hold it for ransom among other various issues with security and tomb reconstruction, Lincoln’s body was moved 17 times. How then is it possible that his spirit would rest? In the years following, reported sightings of a phantom Lincoln Funeral Train were reported by railroad workers along the route from Washington, D.C. to Springfield, IL.
Tales along the Rails
There are varying accounts of spectral train sightings of the old Union silently traveling in the night. Those who have seen the vision report that they have seen a train car draped in black, housing a casket surrounded by mourners, guarded with skeletal remains dressed in blue uniforms. The smoke stacks billow and bells clang but not of this time and place. A popular version of this story is one that has been retold many times stemming from a quote in the Albany Evening Times. This version is taken from The Pittsburgh Press (1978)
“The train always appeared in Albany on April 27th, 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 solders 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”
Over time the sightings decreased until the Lincoln ghost train was no longer seen, but the story still piques the curiosity of historical and locomotive enthusiasts alike.
The Legend Lives On
This legend of the Lincoln ghost train really stems from of the senseless murder of a man who envisioned his death, a country in grave mourning, and a send off of historic proportion that would carry the body of a President over 1,700 miles by rail and still be in a state of unrest. What a magnificently morbid setting for a ghost story. I suspect that on April 25th, the curious will head to the tracks in Poughkeepsie to see if they can get a glimpse of the ghostly figures standing guard, surrounding the black coffin being transported by the spectral Union. Wondering what happened to the Lincoln funeral car? Unfortunately this piece of history was lost on March 20, 1911; it burned in a prairie fire in Illinois—yet another tragic loss.
McNamara, Robert, (n.d.). Abraham Lincoln Saw a Spooky Vision of Himself in a Mirror
Spraggett, Alan. (1978, January 22). Ghost Train. The Pittsburgh Press
Funeral and burial of Abraham Lincoln. (2010, March 28). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 16:18, April 18, 2010, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Funeral_and_burial_of_Abraham_Lincoln&oldid=352562911