Gettysburg isn’t the only local burg with a claim to important Civil War-era events.
President Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train chugged through southcentral Pennsylvania on April 22, 1865, making stops in Harrisburg and Elizabethtown. Now 155 years later, Elizabethtown’s role in the well documented funeral train procession is re-enacted at Stone Gables Estate, site of the Star Barn.
Re-enactors at the upcoming two-day event aimed to make the event’s elements historically accurate, with only few variances.
According to records, the locomotive pulled in to Elizabethtown at 12:15 p.m. for a quick, 15-minute stop to refuel, using the wood and water from the “tender” car. Onlookers swarmed the platform to get a better view of the benediction, speakers and ceremonies. Then the train headed to Philadelphia for another casket viewing, stopping every 20 miles to refuel.
The “United States” was Lincoln’s private presidential train car, later carrying his casket. Unfortunately, the train was destroyed by fire in 1911, forever lost to history.
According to Shannon Brown, event coordinator, only two existing structures at Stone Gables Estate were around when the original train came through.
“Whoever lived in the old stone house on the knoll could have watched the funeral train from 400 yards away,” she said. “That, and a retaining wall.”
Brown served on the 30-person team that brought the replica train to life. David Kloke spearheaded the effort as an educational outreach. He spent 3½ years building it from scratch in his workshop in Illinois. Weighing 67,000 pounds and measuring 9-feet wide, 13-feet tall and 48-feet long, the replica can chug easily over U.S. standard rails that didn’t exist in 1865.
Of everything offered at the re-enactment, “the ambience of that car has the biggest wow factor,” Brown said. “It feels very period, which was the intention. It sets the mood. It sets the stage for what happens next.”
The passenger car smacks of opulence and attention to detail germane to yesteryear craftsmen unconcerned with schedules or cost.
Curtains, carpets and interior crimson silk fabrics were specially designed and hand-rendered. Painters matched the original paint colors, hand-lettering and drawing embellishments from photographs. Blacksmiths hand-forged the railings, and woodworkers carved countless details. Decorators hung period paintings and sconces resembling oil lamps on the walls.
“Walking through the Pioneer Coach passenger car, there are walkover seats flipped so you can ride in either direction,” Brown said. “When people get to the funeral car, the coffin is the last thing they see. It’s quite powerful—draped in mourning, black crepe, flowers. It’s incredible to see people’s reactions, wiping away tears.”
You’ll also find period artisans at the event, like a lady making lye soap, another making Victorian hair jewelry, and a metalworker forging all kinds of metal wares.
The second oldest municipal band in the nation, the New Holland Band, will play period music. The band can trace its history back to 1829 to a fife and drum corps for the 51st Regiment, Pennsylvania State Militia.
“In all the records I’ve seen, there was some type of music at the train stops,” Brown said. “Bands played dirges, and, if they didn’t have instruments, people sang hymns.”
Re-enactors and lecturers will roam the grounds, giving demos, giving wagon rides, doing drills in the encampments, and demonstrating what life was like in 1865. Some play a simultaneous role of re-enactor and lecturer.
“At the inaugural event, a gentleman who looks like General Grant was on horseback giving people a tour,” Brown said.
No Civil War re-enactment would be complete without a military presence. To keep the ranks well rounded, there’s a nice mix of infantry, artillery, dismounted cavalry, civilians and sutlers. Jeffrey Cohen, commander of the 6th New York Independent Battery, will return with his co-ed unit of 35 to demonstrate the drill, military protocol of that time, campsite cooking, how to use small arms, and even an authentic cannon that fires.
The cannon is an original model 1857 bronze Napoleon, weighing over a ton, with cannonballs the size of shot puts. Cohen recruits kids from the audience to put on uniforms, and he puts them in a popular scenario of the day, such as a 16-year-old running away to enlist. Observing all safety measures, the re-enactors encourage the kids to perform soldiers’ tasks: pulling the cannon by the rope, operating the sponge rammers, or throwing the cannonballs.
“You really get to teach the public. People are coming to see us, so you want people to see an accurate picture of everything,” Cohen said. “It’s been alleged that we hijacked the train. There were no photos, so it’s a lie.”
The Lincoln Funeral Train Commemoration takes place April 23 and 24 at Stone Gables Estate, 1 Hollinger Lane, Elizabethtown. For more information, visit www.stonegablesestate.com.
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