Antioch to host Replica of train car built as Lincoln's equivalent of Air Force One
A serendipitous encounter rooted in a love of Civil War history and railroads led to a coup for Antioch and the Lakes Region Historical Society.
Beginning Aug. 25, an exact replica of the train car that carried President Abraham Lincoln's body from Washington, D.C., to Springfield in 1865 will be open for daily tours as part of a two-week celebration.
Civil War re-enactors, encampments, period music, renowned Lincoln speaker and actor Fritz Klein and other attractions will be featured on Labor Day weekend as part of the event honoring the Land of Lincoln and Illinois' 200th anniversary.
"There are so many wonderful stories about this," said museum director Ainsley Wonderling, who volunteered to help prepare the funeral car for its public unveiling.
The train car "United States" debuted three years ago at Springfield's sesquicentennial commemoration of Lincoln's funeral. An educational tour followed, and more than 52,000 visitors at a dozen stops in several states toured the Lincoln Funeral Car.
It since has been in a railroad museum in Duluth, Minnesota, and is scheduled to arrive in Antioch Aug. 24, where it will be lifted by crane off a set of axles and wheels and prepared for tours.
"It's the only chance that folks will have to see it in Illinois this year," said Shannon Brown, a representative for the Lincoln Funeral Train, which operates under the umbrella of the Historic Railroad Equipment Association. "I'm very glad we're back on the road, so to speak. It is really amazing to watch peoples' reactions. It truly is a one-of-a-kind experience."
The original car was destroyed in a prairie fire outside Minneapolis in 1911. Over four years, master mechanic David Kloke of Bartlett, with the help of volunteers, built the full-sized recreation at his shop in Elgin.
The original was to have been Lincoln's equivalent of today's Air Force One, but he never rode in it while alive.
"He was going to travel around and reunite the states," Wonderling said.
The original, built in 1864, was the only train passenger car manufactured by the U.S. government, according to Kloke. Brown said it was completed shortly before Lincoln died.
"It was built to be President Lincoln's state coach," she said. "It would have been his way to travel around the country. That was its initial purpose but it was never used for that purpose."
The replica car contains a stateroom flanked by parlors. One of them contains a coffin 6 feet, 8 inches long, the exact dimension as the one that carried the fallen president, who was 6 feet, 4 inches tall.
"They'll get a sense of what it was like to file past and pay your respects," Brown said.
Why Antioch? In 2014, Bill Werst, head of the Historic Railroad Equipment Association and his wife traveled north from Elgin to see Wonderling's exhibit of Civil War dresses.
"My husband is a train nut," Wonderling explained. "They started talking trains, and it took off from there."
Her involvement with the car and introduction to Kloke began shortly after.
"We always told David when he got it moving again, we wanted to get it in Antioch," she said.
General tours are 9 to 10 a.m. and noon to 6 p.m. Large groups or bus tours should call (847) 395-1166 to reserve times. Admission is $5 and will benefit the schoolhouse museum restoration fund.
Klein as Lincoln will present "Last Full Measure," his thoughts on life, war and the future, on Sept. 2 at Antioch High School and on Sept. 3 at the PM & L Theatre.
Visit the Lakes Region Historical Society Facebook page for additional event information.