Outside Looking In
Lincoln Funeral Car destroyed in MN
I have always been fascinated with Abraham Lincoln, as several people are well aware, and have a large collection of Lincoln books, paintings, busts, coins, stamps, and more.
One thing I have been working on is a chance to go and see the replica Lincoln Funeral Train in Springfield, IL, an historically accurate scale model built by Wayne Wesolowski, whom I recently had the pleasure of conversing with.
The original Lincoln Funeral Train bounced around from place-to-place following Lincoln's burial until it ended up years later burning in a prairie fire .... in Minnesota!
After Lincoln's 1,600-mile journey home to be buried in Springfield, IL, the U.S. government sold the train car to the Union Pacific Railroad for $6,850, where it was used by executives of that railroad for trips.
Eventually, the car was sold for $2,000 to a man named Franklyn Snow, who hoped to get rich by showcasing the train car across the Midwest and charging people to enter it. But that idea failed as few people showed interest. Snow was able to make a small profit when he sold the train car for $3,000 to the Colorado Central Railroad. Sadly, they stripped the car down and used it as an ordinary working car.
Wesolowski and his wife, Mary Cay, wrote an exhibit book about the real Lincoln funeral and the model they researched and built together. His exhaustive research was detailed down to the exact color of paint based on a chip of paint sent to him from someone in Minnesota whose family had salvaged a window frame off the train. Wesolowski was able to track down the Minnesota man who was in possession of the window frame. The man, who requested anonymity, agreed to scrape off a piece of paint from the window frame and give it to Wesolowski in exchange for a piece of black bunting that was draped on the actual funeral car that carried Lincoln. The color turned out to be deep maroon.
Through their research, the Wesolowskis discovered that Thomas Lowry, a wealthy 62-year-old Minneapolis real estate developer and President of the SOO Line Railroad, enjoyed the practice of buying and selling. Realizing the value of this piece of history, Lowry purchased the funeral train car in 1905. Lowry owned the Twin Cities Rapid Transit Company and would have his mechanics attempt to restore the train car as much as they could to its original condition. He planned to permanently display the restored car where many people could view a piece of history.
Following his death from tuberculosis four years later, Lowry's estate decided to donate the historic train car that carried Lincoln and his son to the Minnesota Federation of Women’s Clubs, which planned to use it as an exhibit in 1911. For nearly two years, the car sat idle in a a wooden shed in Columbia Heights.
On March 18, 1911, just months away from the opening of the exhibit and the train being moved to a new location, a prairie fire was raging out of control in high winds. The car sat just seven blocks south of the Columbia Heights Fire Hall, but by the time the fire fighters could answer the bell, they were unable to save this valuable part of history.
Two men, using brooms and coats soaked in water, were burned about their hands and face trying to save the train car, according to Wesolowski's research.
The train was reduced to a charred shell as photographs following the fire revealed.
The public was allowed to take fragments of the train as souvenirs, but very few did.
The Lincoln Funeral Car now also belongs to the ages.
The funeral trip from Washington D.C. to Springfield, IL passed through 180 cities and over seven million mourners watched along the tracks in disbelief as the black smoke billowed from the train as it passed them by. The body of Lincoln and the exhumed body of his son, Willie, who died at age 11 of typhoid fever during his Abe's first term in office, rode together in the train car that was draped in black cloth.
When the train stopped in cities along the route in order for mourners to pay their respect, Lincoln's coffin would be removed and placed on an elaborate horse-drawn hearse that would travel down the streets of that town.
The locomotive and three-car train were constructed in Alexandria, VA during the Civil war in 1863-64 for Lincoln and the set was simply called the "United States". The cars had meeting rooms and parlor rooms for socializing and relaxing. A painted bald eagle crest was also present on the main presidential car.
Lincoln, however, never saw the inside of the train cars while he was alive, claiming it was too flashy or fancy, especially during war time, for his liking.
In 2013, with the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's death just two years away, a replica of the funeral car was to be built. That's when Wesolowski, an expert in the building of model trains, became a big part of the project.
Through extensive research, including matching the color of the paint for the car, Wesolowski built three model copies of the president's car.
"My (original) model has been on permanent display at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library which is just across the street from the big Lincoln Museum in Springfield," Wesolowski said. "The one in Springfield, one in the Kibbe Museum in Monmoth, IL, and one at the National Museum of Funeral Practice in Houston."
Based on over 3,000 pages of research that Wesolowski donated to a group in Elizabethtown, PA, an actual-sized reproduction of the Lincoln funeral car and locomotive is now on display.
Years ago, on a research trip to Minnesota, Wesolowski gave a talk at the Hennepin County Historical Society.
"I dressed as one of Lincoln's pallbearers," said Wesolowski. "Loved it."
In a bit of irony, the horse-drawn hearse that was used in various cities to carry Lincoln's coffin also burned up in a St. Louis livery stable in 1887.