Lincoln Train Museum
"Welcome aboard the Lincoln Funeral Train," said the conductor, who we recognized as the guy behind the gift shop counter only a few minutes earlier. "The lights will dim and shortly thereafter President Lincoln's spirit will come aboard the train."
The conductor left, the doors shut, the lights went out, and we were locked inside a dark, silent, windowless box for the next few minutes -- along with Abraham Lincoln's casket -- while we assume the conductor made his way back to the gift shop to push the "start" button.
Sitting in darkened silence gave us time to ponder the Lincoln Train Museum, whose centerpiece is the Lincoln Funeral Train, a virtual reality ride from the 1960s. It recreates the rail journey taken by the bodies of assassinated President Lincoln and his son, Willie, as they were hauled for two whistle-stop-filled weeks from Washington, DC, to the Lincoln tomb in Springfield, Illinois.
The museum, in a replica of Gettysburg's Civil War train station, opened in 1969. It was built by Ken Rohrbaugh to display his collection of model trains. Lincoln, Gettysburg, and trains have a connection, as the Gettysburg Address was delivered by Lincoln in 1863 after he rode a train into town (The trip was memorably embellished in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter). Rohrbaugh, however, chose the more evocative Funeral Train as the subject for his museum's star attraction.
Rohrbaugh unexpectedly died and the museum was purchased by retired sheriff Jim Kralik. He added patriotic and pop culture exhibits, such as baseball and movie cowboy memorabilia, and Presidential items from his days in law enforcement. "We kept the trains and added the future of America," he told Celebrate Gettysburg in a 2014 interview.
Kralik also created "The Hallway of America," hosted by a video of long-time Lincoln impersonator James Getty (1932-2015). The Lincoln Funeral Train was updated with an appearance by Getty as well.
At this point our thoughts were interrupted by the train jolting into action. Shades covering the windows dropped with a thud, revealing video screens of passing landscapes. The room jiggled, wobbled, and clickity-clacked like an old washing machine, suggesting a rickety slow-moving rail journey of 1865.
"Well, hello!" said a ghostly James Getty, appearing as a full-size Lincoln on a large flat screen monitor next to the casket. "I must thank you for your kindness in accompanying my son Willie and me home to our beloved Springfield."
Ghostly Abe didn't dwell on his untimely death, but spent the next several minutes offering upbeat assessments of America and Americans. "We've not been perfect, and we have had regrets," he said. "But if you are keeping score, we would be in the winner's circle!" Abe's folksy talk was accompanied by uplifting images on two flanking video screens, including the Statue of Liberty, Jackie Robinson, a Space Shuttle launch, and a guy in scrubs looking at CAT scans of a brain.
"For every step back," Abe said, "you folks have taken two or three giant steps forward!"
Abe finished with a cheery goodbye and a reading of his Gettysburg Address. This was followed by Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA," accompanied by images of fireworks, bald eagles, Peter Fonda on his Captain America chopper from Easy Rider, and Jim Kralik sitting on a horse.
It was, we can honestly say, the most feel-good funeral train we have ever ridden.