SPRINGFIELD -- The 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's death is two years away, and two Illinois-based nonprofit groups are planning to commemorate his burial train trip back to Illinois.
The anniversary of the funeral train will be marked May 1-3, 2015, in Springfield. The train left Washington, D.C., on April 21, 1865, and stopped in 11 major cities -- and many other smaller communities, including Bloomington and Lincoln, before arriving at Third and Jefferson streets in Springfield, site of the current Amtrak depot.
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One of the groups wants to recreate the procession from the depot to Oak Ridge Cemetery, where the 16th president is buried. The other group has built a working replica of an 1865 steam locomotive and is recreating the funeral car, hoping to generally retrace the route both by rail and road from Washington to Springfield.
The groups are working independently of more recognized agencies and companies, and that may prove problematic.
Bill Werst, executive director of the Elgin-based 2015 Lincoln Funeral Train, hopes the train cars can mostly move by rail between Chicago and Springfield, but Amtrak and Union Pacific were unaware of funeral train plans.
"It's been our long-standing policy not to operate steam locomotives, other than Union Pacific-owned steam locomotives, on our railroads. So, right out of the box, that may be tough for them," said Union Pacific spokesman Mark Davis.
Parts of The Pantagraph area lie along the rail route followed by the original funeral train, and Werst hopes to have the replica train stop along the way, as the original did. He said he hopes the public can view the cars, perhaps even ride in a passenger car, if the group raises enough money to add one.
State Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, said he hopes the train will be able to stop in Bloomington-Normal, perhaps at Uptown Station.
"I think there would be a great deal of interest" in a visit by the Lincoln funeral train, added Lincoln Mayor Keith Snyder, although he has not yet been contacted. "(The original train) was a big deal, and we would very much like to participate in some type of re-enactment."
Because of the timing and the train's speed -- an 1865-style steam engine travels about 20 mph and needs to be refueled with water about every 20 miles -- the train may need to visit some communities after the funeral commemoration.
The replica train will be followed by a modern locomotive pulling a water car. It can push the replica onto a side-track in case of mechanical trouble.
Werst hopes to get the rail cars into Springfield in time for events planned by the unrelated Springfield group. Both groups want their efforts to be historical, educational and respectful, said organizers.
"You can't mess with Lincoln's legacy," said Katie Spindell, chairwoman of Springfield-based 2015 Lincoln Funeral Coalition that is planning history symposiums, Civil War encampment re-enactments, concerts, educational programs and the funeral re-enactment.
She hopes homeowners along the route will drape their buildings with black bunting. To re-enact the funeral, a period-accurate hearse will move from the Springfield train station to the cemetery, where clergy, Civil War re-enactors and a retired Rhode Island chief justice will present the eulogy, speeches and salutes.
No formal relationship exists between the Springfield coalition and any state agency, including the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency that oversees the Old State Capitol, Lincoln's tomb and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.
Agency spokesman Chris Wills said the museum plans a special entrance and admission to its existing "Lincoln lying in state" area and the Old State Capitol and Lincoln's tomb likely will have special signs of mourning. Programs are likely to focus on Lincoln's achievements, especially passage of the 13th Amendment.