Lincoln presidential car conveyed pampered pooh-bahs
June 15, 1995
By Pamela Cressey
What happened to Abraham Lincoln’s presidential rail car after its use as a hearse in the funeral train procession to Springfield, Ill.? Was it destined to serve future presidents?
Alas, no. During the car’s trip to Springfield, an advertisement showed up in a Washington, D.C., newspaper, the National Republican, on April 25, 1865, offering the car for sale to “some enterprising man.” Another newspaper called this ad “humiliating.”
The Lincoln car returned home to the Alexandria car shops, part of the U.S. Military Railroad compound near what is now Route 1 and Duke Street. It may have carried the body of the wife of Lincoln’s secretary of state, William H. Seward, to New York for burial, but we cannot be sure of this trip. The car’s funeral drapes were boxed and sent to the Treasury Department.
Eventually the Lincoln car, as well as other rolling stock and other railroad materials, was auctioned. After bidding among several old Lincoln friends and T.C. Durant, vice president of the Union Pacific Railroad, the latter prevailed. Thus began the car’s career in the private sector. As Bob Slusser, author of the Alexandria Chronicles article on the car, states, “the private life of the car began with a contest between reverence and showmanship.”
The Union Pacific officers wanted the car for their private use, and moved it in the spring of 1866 to St. Joseph, Mo., and then on a river steamboat to Omaha, Neb. Durant and others envisioned the car as a magnificent vehicle for celebrating special events. The Lincoln car was in the excursion train in October commemorating the laying of track to the 247th milepost at the 100th meridian for the first transcontinental railway. Between 1866 and 1869 while more track construction was occurring, the Lincoln car was used by the UP for special parties of government commissioners and military officers. It has been determined that the car reached the end of the track near Julesburg, Colo., in 1867, but no one knows whether it witnessed the golden spike ceremony in Promontory, Utah, marking completion of the transcontinental route.
The UP constructed a special building for the car in Omaha, near its 10th and Chicago streets car shop. Even after 60 years, old shop craftsmen referred to the structure as the Lincoln Shed. Thousands of visitors came to see the car; it was housed there until 1872.
Already the car’s future was in doubt. The UP ordered a new directors’ car with a smoother ride and finer appointments. The Lincoln car would enter the next phase of its career, serving in a far less lofty capacity than its builders in Alexandria had intended.
Pamela Cressey is the Alexandria City Archaeologist.
The Lincoln car with presidential seal at the Union Pacific ceremony marking construction of the first transcontinental railway to the 247th milepost at the 100th meridian. Photo/courtesy Union Pacific Museum Collection.