Editor's Note: As Halloween approaches this weekend, we thought we'd share one of our favorite Hudson River Valley ghost stories, based in a real historical event. Many thanks to HRMM volunteer George M. Thompson for finding and transcribing the historic newspaper article.
The assassination of Abraham Lincoln on April 15, 1865 shocked the nation. Six days after his death, an ornate, nine-car funeral train left Washington, D.C. for Lincoln’s home in Springfield, Illinois. The train carried Lincoln’s body as well as the remains of his son William Wallace Lincoln, also known as Willie, who had died of typhoid in 1862 at the age of 11. Pulled by a steam locomotive carrying Lincoln’s framed portrait and a wreath on the front, the nine cars were draped in black bunting and included a car for the hearse and horses, the President’s car, which was retrofitted as a hearse for the two caskets, as well as accommodations for family, an honor guard consisting of Union generals and other military brass, and funeral procession personnel, including an embalmer, who had the somewhat gruesome task of re-embalming Lincoln’s body between stops. Mary Todd Lincoln, distraught by her husband’s violent death, did not accompany the train home.
Traveling an extensive route designed to pass through most major cities in the Northeast, the train arrived in New York City on April 24, 1865. Lincoln’s casket was removed from the train and processed through the city for the thousands of mourners who gathered to see his body.
After the procession, the train departed New York City at 4:15 PM on April 25 and traveled through the evening and overnight, reaching Albany at 1:55 AM on April 26. Traveling up the east shore of the Hudson River, the train passed through many stations, watched by mournful New Yorkers as it made its way to Illinois.
Perhaps because the train’s journey through the Hudson Valley took place largely at night, in the years after experienced railroad men began to report strange sightings. In the days before automation, trackmen and line workers often worked at night, caring for the rails, operating switches, and manning signal and water stations.
On September 13, 1879, the Rockland County Journal published "A Railroad Ghost Story," reprinted from the Fishkill Standard, which is excerpted below in its entirety.
A RAILROAD GHOST STORY.
"An exchange tells the following tale. — We do not remember having seen it before. It was related among a number of other railroad stories. The writer says: "Then was narrated a weird story about an apparition of a train on the Hudson River Railroad. It was told with an effort at sincerity that did not deceive the listener, but I am told that there are many trackmen and laborers along the line of the Hudson River Railroad who pretend to have seen the spectacle. The tale was about a mystic counterpart of the funeral train that bore Abraham Lincoln's remains from New York City to the West. The actual and substantial train passed over the road on a certain day in April, 1865. The car that contained the President's remains was heavily draped, I believe. It is said that on that night, every year, all the train men that are on the road at a certain hour (that varies in various subdivisions of the road), hear and see and feel the spectre train rush by them. It sounds hollow and awful. Its lights are yellow, pale and funeral. Its train hands and passengers are sepulchral figures. It looks like the outline of a train, yet every detail is perfect. Those who have seen it say, though they felt that it was only a vision, that a man could walk through it if he dared, or throw a stone through it; yet it seems perfect in everything but substantialness. It even carries with it a whirl of wind as fast as trains do, but it is a cold, clammy, grave-like atmosphere, all its own. As it passes another train the shriek of its whistle and clang of its bell strike terror to the hearts of those that hear them."
Have you ever seen Lincoln's ghost train? If you haven't you'll have to wait until April 25th of next year to see if you can catch a glimpse. Happy Halloween!
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This blog is written by Hudson River Maritime Museum staff, volunteers and guest contributors.
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