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President Abraham Lincoln's funeral 149 years ago is considered by historians as "the greatest funeral in the history of the United States." Nearly 3 million people paid respect to "Honest Abe" during activities that lasted more than two weeks.
In addition to ceremonies at the White House and Capitol in Washington, D.C., and his final resting place in Springfield, Ill., his body was viewed by millions of people in 11 major cities along a zig-zagging train route through seven states between the two cities.
Thanks to a construction business owner in Elgin, Ill., the 150th anniversary of the 1,654-mile trip will be observed with a re-enactment of that mournful journey in 2015.
Hundreds of Ohioans got a glimpse of a replica similar to the steam locomotives which pulled the nine-car funeral train. It made stops in Wellington (Lorain County) and Columbus recently, kicking off a yearlong tour promoting the funeral train project.
Northern Ohioans, including myself, had the opportunity to ride in cars pulled by the Leviathan 63 on about a 2 1/2-mile stretch of track near Wellington. The 4-4-0 steam engine and its tender weigh 44 tons -- tiny compared to later iron horses in the 200- to 400-ton range.
It was an exciting excursion for rail fans like myself. The black and red Leviathan, a replica of the 1868 locomotive of the same name, is a beautiful piece of work. Since its completion in 2009, it has toured the eastern and midwestern portions of the nation.
This winter, it spent a few months at Jerry Joe Jacobson's Age of Steam Roundhouse near Sugarcreek, where Jacobson's crew did bearing work on its driving axles. In the roundhouse, it sat between Jacobson's 4-8-4 No. 6325 and 2-8-0 No. 13 steam locomotives.
The Wellington train rides took place April 18-20 with cooperation from the Lakeshore Railway Association, which owns 20 miles of former Lorain & West Virginia track in Lorain County. Its depot is on Route 18, a mile west of town.
The group operates on six miles of the track with an E-8 diesel locomotive, which pulls passenger cars during fall excursions. It hopes to eventually restore the Nickel Plate Road 384 steam locomotive.
During its visit to Wellington, the Leviathan pulled an open-air gondola, which I rode in, plus one passenger coach and a caboose on 12 excursions over three days.
DAVID KLOKE'S VISION
For 40 years, David Kloke has been a master mechanic and operator of heavy equipment and machinery. He is the owner of Kloke Construction and Kloke Locomotive Works, first in Wisconsin and now in Illinois.
He also has had been an admirer of Abraham Lincoln, so about five years ago he devised plans to build a replica of the parlor car which carried Lincoln's body between Washington, D.C. and Springfield, plus an officers' car.
Lincoln's funeral train is one of many works of famous train carver Ernest "Mooney" Warther of Dover, Ohio, whose museum I've visited several times over the years.
Kloke has started construction, and it is hoped that through this year's tours of the Leviathan, plus many donations, the $600,000 price tag will be reached to complete the parlor car, which was called "The United States."
Lincoln didn't want to use the original car because "it was too fancy during wartime." The car was destroyed by a prairie fire in Minnesota in 1911.
The original car had been given to the government for use by Lincoln during his presidency, but it was never used until it carried his body during the 12-day funeral procession.
The funeral trip included stops in Cleveland, where his casket was viewed at Monument Park in Public Square, and Columbus, where it laid in the Statehouse, each for a period of about a half day.
The train also made stops in Baltimore, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, New York City, Albany, Buffalo, Indianapolis, Michigan City, Ind. and Chicago.
The Lincoln Funeral Coalition hopes to operate the funeral procession as close to the original route as possible.
Since modern day freight traffic takes precedence on the rails, many stretches of the trip will require the locomotive and cars to be hauled on heavy duty semi-trailers, just as the engine and tender are hauled during annual tours since its completion in 2009.
However, there may be some stretches along the roue that the Leviathan will pull the funeral and officers' cars over existing tracks.
Kloke and his crew began building the Leviathan in 1999, and it took 10 years to complete. He also has built another 1860s era replica locomotive -- the York 17. The plan to build the two replicas came after Kloke watched a documentary about Lincoln.
Plans are for the funeral train to pass through 160 towns during the trip. The Lincoln Funeral Coalition is working with communities to plan local events related to the excursion.
Kloke has said he is not planning the funeral train to make money, but to bring a glimpse of history to Americans. Once the train completes it tours in 2015, Kloke plans to take it out west in 2016 for people to see.
He and his colleagues also have created the Historic Railroad Equipment Association to educate the public about Lincoln's life and his influence on American railroad development, and operate historically accurate Civil War railroad equipment.
ABE LINCOLN'S FUNERAL
After lying in state at the White House and Capitol, Lincoln's body left Washington, D.C. via train on April 21, 1865. Accompanying his body was that of his son William Wallace, who died at age 11 and was first interred at a cemetery in Georgetown.
Lincoln's son, Robert Todd, rode the train from Washington to Baltimore, disembarked and returned to the capital. Lincoln's wife, Mary Todd, did not make the trip with the two bodies, but returned to Illinois about a month later.
The car containing the caskets had a parlor, sitting room and sleeping apartment, and was draped in mourning. Several engines, including the Old Nashville, pulled the cars. They were preceded by a pilot locomotive and car to make sure the track was unobstructed.
Many government officials and military officers, including Ohio Gov. John Brough, rode the train, which never traveled faster than 20 mph. The train was the first national commemoration by rail of a president's death.
The train arrived in Springfield on May 3, and the funeral and burial took place May 4. Historians have said it was "the largest spectacle the Midwest had ever seen."
Lincoln, his wife, three of their four sons and other family members are entombed at the Lincoln Tomb and War Memorials State Historic Site in Oak Ridge Cemetery, the site chosen by Mrs. Lincoln as their final resting place. Robert Todd is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
The tomb has been reconstructed twice since Lincoln's original burial -- in 1900-01 and 1930-31. The president's coffin has been moved 17 times and opened six times.
Springfield, the capital of Illinois which has a population of about 116,000, has planned several activities next spring in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's death.
Among them are a presentation of the play "Our American Cousin," which was the one the Lincolns were watching at the Ford Theater when he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth.
Organizers are hoping national and international dignitaries will be on hand.
Other activities include scholarly symposia, carillon and Illinois Symphony Orchestra concerts, Civil War encampments and "Performances of Poetry, Music and Visual Arts Celebrating the Essence of Lincoln."
A period-accurate hearse will follow the historic route from the city's Amtrak station to Washington and 6th Street, where an opening ceremony and candlelight vigil will take place throughout the night.
On the final day, a funeral procession will follow the route to Oak Ridge Cemetery, where clergy and Civil War re-enactors will present a eulogy, speeches, salutes and music at the public receiving vault.
For more information about the Lincoln funeral train, visit www.the2015lincolnfuneraltrain.com. Anyone wishing to contribute to the project can mail checks payable to the Historic Railroad Equipment Association, 1325 Spaulding Road, Elgin, Ill 60120.
Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4189