Funeral car became traveling attraction

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Funeral car became traveling attraction

June 22, 1995
By Pamela Cressey

Lincoln Funeral CarThe Lincoln railroad car made in Alexandria during the Civil War eventually was sold by the Union pacific Railroad to the Colorado Central in the early 1870s. It was used as a regular coach car. One passenger described it as painted bright yellow with long seats running on both sides of the interior.

After the Colorado Central was absorbed by the UP in 1878, the Lincoln car continued its downward slide in status. It served as a construction car, a bunk car in a work train, a dining car for construction crews and a carpenter’s work car in Idaho and Montana.

In 1892, some New Yorkers proposed purchasing the Lincoln car for exhibition at the Chicago World’s Fair. Apparently, this proposal was not accepted by the UP. However, the car was exhibited in Omaha, Neb., five years later, where it was vandalized by souvenir hunters. The car had entered its last stage, no longer a working car but a symbol of a slain president.

Some blacks in Omaha proposed in 1900 that the city council buy and restore the Lincoln car. This proposal did not become a reality either. A showman, Franklyn B. Snow, brought the car and some furnishings for $2,000 in 1903. He staged a special exhibition of the car at the Lincoln Museum building in the St. Louis World’s Fair the next year. The St. Louis Republican reported; “Of all the interesting exhibits at the World’s Fair, there is none that has created more general attention or is viewed with a greater affection and reverence than the old ‘Lincoln Car.’… the car is now in a dilapidated condition, plainly showing that it has been abandoned to the cold storms of winter and the sun’s hot rays of summer for too many years. …its sides are cracked and weather-beaten. …”

Nevertheless, the reporter pointed out, “The visitors who see it recognize it in a national treasure of incomparable value and rich association.”

Snow continued to show the car around the country, with cannon shots announcing its arrival in each town.

Upon Snow’s death in 1905, Thomas Lowry purchased the car for $800. His intention was to turn the car into a museum for the City of Minneapolis.

Was the car restored to its former magnificence? Next week bob Slusser’s research, published by the Alexandria Historical Society, will answer this question.

To join the Alexandria Historical Society and receive its quarterly publication, Alexandria Chronicles, write AHS at 201 S. Washington St., Alexandria, Va. 22314. The society hosts monthly lectures on fascinating topics at the Lyceum, too.

Pamela Cressey is the Alexandria City Archaeologist.

Photo Caption: 

The weather beaten Lincoln car in the union Pacific’s Omaha rail yard before it was put on exhibition. Photo/courtesy Union Pacific Museum Collection.