George Bush's funeral train revives an old tradition used for Lincoln and Trudeau
George H.W. Bush‘s funeral train is a throwback to an era when U.S. presidents, Canadian prime ministers and British monarchs were honoured with railway tours after their deaths.
Bush, who died last week at the age of 94, is scheduled to travel approximately 113 kilometres through suburban Houston on a funeral train Thursday morning, following a service in the city.
Bush is the first U.S. president in nearly 50 years to be transported on a funeral train, but the tradition dates back over 150 years to when railways were the primary means of tying nations together in North America.
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Abraham Lincoln was the first U.S. president to be carried to his final resting place on a funeral train, following his assassination in 1865. The train carried Lincoln’s body through seven states on its way from Washington, D.C., to Springfield, Ill., stopping at many cities along the way for locals to mourn their fallen president.
Abraham Lincoln’s funeral car in New York City on April 26th, 1865 in this folk art style painting.U.S. Library of Congress via AP
A locomotive used in Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train is shown in Ohio in 1865.Library of Congress
Nearly three decades later, the body of Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. MacDonald, was transported by train from Ottawa to Kingston, Ont., in 1891. Mourners swarmed the train at two stops along the way, in Carleton Place and Smiths Falls.
A funeral train carrying the body of Sir John A. MacDonald, Canada’s first prime minister, is shown in this photo from June 20, 1891.Library and Archives Canada
Former prime ministers John Diefenbaker (1979) and Pierre Elliott Trudeau (2000) were also honoured with funeral trains.
Diefenbaker’s train carried him from Ontario, where he was born, to Saskatchewan, where he grew up and lived most of his life.
Trudeau’s funeral train travelled from Ottawa to Montreal, with his sons Sacha and Justin on board.
The train carrying the casket of the late prime minister Pierre Trudeau is greeted by hundreds of mourners as it passes through Alexandria, Ont., on Oct. 2, 2000.CP PHOTO/Frank Gunn
Funeral trains have been a tradition for ruling British monarchs since 1901, when Queen Victoria’s body was transported to London. She was also the first monarch ever to travel by train, and had a custom carriage built for her travels in 1869.
Bush is the eighth U.S. president to be honoured with a funeral train and the first since Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose body travelled from Washington through seven states to Kansas in 1961. Assassinated U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy’s body travelled from New York to Washington via funeral train in 1968.
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Prior to his death, Bush chose to have his casket transported in a partially transparent train car hauled by a locomotive dubbed the “Bush 4141.” Union Pacific commissioned the locomotive and dedicated it to Bush at a ceremony in 2005.
At the time, Bush referred to the train as “the Air Force One of railroads,” and spoke fondly of travelling by rail as a child. “I’ve never forgotten it,” he said at the ceremony, before taking the engineer’s seat for a short trip in the new locomotive.
In this Oct. 18, 2005, file photo, former President George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara wave out the window of a new locomotive numbered 4141 in honor of the 41st president at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas.AP Photo/Pat Sullivan
The funeral train has been part of the official planning for his death for years, Bush spokesman Jim McGrath said.
Union Pacific was contacted by federal officials in early 2009 and asked, at Bush’s request, about providing a funeral train at some point, company spokesman Tom Lange said.
In this Oct. 18, 2005, file photo, a new locomotive numbered 4141 in honor of the 41st president, George H.W. Bush, is unveiled at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas.AP Photo/Pat Sullivan
“We said, ‘Of course and also we have this locomotive that we would want to have obviously be part of it,’” Lange said. He noted that trains were the mode of transportation that first carried Bush to his service as a naval aviator in World War II and back home again.
The train was scheduled to depart on its two-and-a-half-hour journey Thursday morning.
— With files from The Associated Press