Abraham Lincoln, our sixteenth president, died on the morning of April 15th, 1865, nine hours after he was shot by the actor John Wilkes Booth. After several days of lying in state and funeral rites in Washington DC, his body (and that of his son Willie, who had died in 1862 and rested in a borrowed mausoleum ever since) were placed on a train called The Lincoln Special. This train, consisting of nine cars, left Washington on April 21st on a long, sad, circuitous route through the northern states that ended in his adopted hometown of Springfield, Illinois on May 4th.
Lincoln himself has over the century and a half since his death become Washington’s most famous ghost. His favorite haunt, you should pardon the pun, is of course the White House. Less common are tales of the reappearance of the funeral train that carried him home.
The best known of these tales comes from Albany, New York. In 1865, the train passed over the Hudson River Railroad, later a part of the Hudson Division of the NY Central railroad, and later still part of the Conrail system. An account from an Albany newspaper, first cited in Lloyd Lewis’s 1929 book MYTHS AFTER LINCOLN, begins: “Regularly in the month of April, about midnight the air on the tracks becomes very keen and cutting. . .”
The account goes on to say that clouds obscure the moon, a black carpet seems to roll down the track, and all sounds are silenced. The engines–two; one for an escort train, draped in black crepe and crewless save for one flatcar carrying a band of skeletons playing black, noiseless instruments, the second bearing Lincoln’s coffin on a single flatcar–are oldtime woodburners, puffing out great clouds of smoke from huge smokestacks, covered in polished brass as many of the old engines were.
To add to this fantastic appearance, it is said that when real trains are on the track, the ghost train runs right through them, and that clocks and watches, all along the line where the phantom runs, will be five to eight minutes slow once it passes.
A very Gothic sort of tale, but what is interesting is the date when these appearances are said to happen. The ghost train has been reported without exception on the night of April 26-27. There would seem to be no particular reason why it should appear outside Albany on that night, although it did pass through that section about that date, except for this.
On April 26th, 1865, Lincoln’s murderer, John Wilkes Booth, was surrounded in a flaming barn outside Port Royal, Virginia, by Federal troops after a twelve-day manhunt. Orders were given to take Booth alive, but he was shot by Sergeant Boston Corbett, who said God told him to shoot Booth. Hit in the spine, and paralyzed, Booth died three hours later on the porch of a nearby farmhouse.
By telegraph, after the War Department and others had been notified, word could have–notice I’m not saying it did, but it could have–reached Albany by midnight.
Are the death of Booth and the sightings of the Lincoln funeral train on the same date coincidences?
You be the judge. I know what I think.