The Lincoln Death Train
(as told by S.E Schlosser of Americanfolklore)
I’d been transferred to the Hudson Division of the New York Central system, and was working the rails on the main line between New York and Albany. I was on the late shift to start with, since I was a bit of a night owl. After six weeks of stomping the tracks and mending the rails, I was feeling right at home in my new job.
Then, just before midnight on a clear spring night in late April, we got a report of some brush on the track near our station. I was sent out immediately to clear it away before the next train came. I had nearly an hour before the next train, and so I did not hurry as I walked along the rails. It was surprisingly pleasant and rather warm. Overhead, the clouds were obscuring the moon, but the light from my lantern made a cheerful glow in the night.
Suddenly, a chilly wind swept over the rails with a whoosh, like a wind just before a thunderstorm. It was so strong that it nearly knocked me over. I staggered backward, swearing and wind-milling my arms to try to keep my balance. I almost dropped the lantern, but managed to get my balance just before it slipped out of my hand.
Shivering in the sudden cold, I squinted down the track and saw a huge blanket of utter darkness rolling toward me. It blanked out the rails, the trees, the sky, everything. “Good lord, what is that?” I gasped. I leapt away from the track and started to run back toward the station, but the darkness swept up and over me before I had moved a yard. The lantern in my hand was snuffed out instantly.
I stopped, unable to see more than a few paces around me. To my right, the rails began to gleam with a strange blue light. I staggered backwards from the tracks, my pulses pounding in fear and dread. What was going on?
Then the headlight of a train pierced the thick darkness. It gleamed blue-white in the strange black fog, and when it appeared, the rails brightened in response. A huge steam-engine draped in black crepe approached, stacks bellowing forth a steady stream of smoke. The brass on the engine gleamed, and it pulled several flat cars along behind it. I stared into the windows of the engine, but couldn’t see any crew.
Just at the edge of hearing came the faint sound of music and turned to look at the flat cars behind the engine. I gasped and back up so far that I bumped into the trunk of a tree growing near the tracks. There was a glowing orchestra of skeletons seated in a semi-circle. They were playing a nearly-soundless funeral dirge on glowing black instruments. A violinist played passionately; a skeleton lifted a flute to its lipless mouth; a lone drummer sat waiting patiently for his cue from the skeletal conductor.
Then the orchestra was gone and another glowing headlight pierced the blackness. I was trying unsuccessfully to push my way through the bark of the tree by this time. Another black crepe draped train was approaching. A funeral train, I thought. Again, there was no one manning the engine, and no one appeared on the flat car behind it. The only thing there was a single black-crepe draped coffin. But swirling in the air around the train were the ghostly figures of soldiers dressed in the blue uniforms worn by the North during the civil war. They lined up before my eyes, saluting the solitary coffin as it passed. Some of the ghosts staggered under the weight of their own coffins; some limped on one leg or sat in a wheeled chair, legless. Their eyes were fixed upon the flat-car and the black-creped coffin. Then they were joined by soldiers from the Southern army, and all these lads saluted too, honoring the one who had fallen.
That’s when I knew what I was seeing. This was the funeral train of Abraham Lincoln. I straightened up and saluted myself, having done my bit for the North many years ago.
The steam train moved slowly away and with it went the darkness and the chill and the clouds that had obscured the moon. In my hand, the lantern sprang back to life. I blinked a few times and brushed away a tear. As the world around me brightened, I saw the reported brush littering the tracks right in front of me. Mechanically, I cleared it away and made sure the track was safe for the next train. Then I went back to the station.
The next morning, all the clocks on the Hudson Division were six minutes behind and all the trains were running six minutes late. When I asked the stationmaster about it, he shook his head and told me not to worry. It was caused by the Lincoln Death Train, which had stopped time as it ran by in the night.