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Lincoln Funeral Train Flag (U.S.)


Last modified: 2019-08-01 by rick wyatt
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Jim Ferrigan gave me a call about the flag's decorating the Lincoln funeral train engines. The engines were switched as the train was passed from railroad to railroad. There were at least five different engines used to pull the train on its journey, plus five more that ran the tracks ahead of the train, and each railroad used their best and most powerful engines to move the funeral train from station to station. They each decorated their engines with locally made flags. There was such a demand for mourning flags that flag manufacturers used all their flags in stock, adding the black borders to whatever they had. The result was Great Star, Concentric Circle, and Grand Luminary designs all being used in different places. Basically we can add a black board to any of these period flags and they were all most likely used. Everybody wanted a flag to express their feelings of loss.
Pete Loeser, 24 November 2017

Black-edged flag

[U.S. 36 Great Star flag] image by António Martins-Tuválkin, 24 November 2017

I tried to find images of this flag, but no luck. On this one photo, a ring of stars with something inside can be seen in the canton of the flags hoisted on the locomotive:
António Martins-Tuválkin, 24 November 2017

I'd seen mention of nine engines. I'd also seen a mention of two dozen engines, but that seemed rather high. Maybe the higher count includes the pilot engines, running ahead of the funeral train itself.

Anyway, the point is that though the "United States" (the funeral car, actually intended as a presidential car, a kind of Railroad Car One) travelled the entire route, and one other car apparently did as well, the engines pulling the train did not. Thus "the" engine of the "Lincoln Special" is a rather sloppy description for any of those engines.

I set about gathering what I could find, with both train bits and flag bits. (Several minutes in front of the Funeral Train ran the Pilot Train, which had to make sure the track was clear.)

1 - #25? (B&O) -- Washington DC to Baltimore, MD
Whichever stage the #25 ran, it seems to have had regular flags.

2 - #25? (NCRY) -- Baltimore, MD to Harrisburg, PA

3 - #331 (PRR) -- Harrisburg, PA to Philadelphia, PA: -- A union bearing a star within a circle within a circle.

4a - Philadelphia, PA to New Brunswick, NJ
4b - (NYR&T) -- New Brunswick, NJ to New York, NY

5 - #56 "Union" (HRR) -- New York, NY to Albany, NY: -- "... two silken American flags, shrouded in black, were affixed on either side of the smokestack."
5p "Constitution" on the pilot.
Albany: 'Searcher wrote: “All marchers except the hearse itself were on foot including the governor, mayor, public officials, and all delegations. No banners or other devices were permitted, only the national colors, black-bordered, held in the horizontal position.'}
- (T&G) and (R&S) to get the train to the other side of the Hudson.

6a - "Edward H. Jones" (NYC) -- Albany, NY to Utica, NY:
6ap "Chauncy Vibbard" on the pilot.
Schenectady: Signalmen at the crossings held white square flags bordered with black.

6b "Major Priest" -- Utica, NY to Syracuse, NY:
6bp - #4 on the pilot.
Oneida: "The funeral car stopped directly in front of us and we had an unobstructed view of the interior of the car. ... The casket draped with flags ..."

6c ?

6d - "Dean Richmond" -- Syracuse, NY to Buffalo NY:
6dp - #79 on the pilot
Batavia: The station was decorated with a Grand Luminary!
I don't think I've seen the pattern before.

7 "Atlas" - (C&E) -- Buffalo, NY to Cleveland, OH: -- It was handsomely trimmed with flags, and crape in festoons, and adorned with bouquets. The interior of the cab was concealed from outside by a monster American flag, and the light shining through it produced a fine effect.
7p - "Comet" on the pilot. "It was handsomely decorated with flags, flowers, and tastefully draped with white and black crape."

8 - #113 "Nashville" (CC&C) -- Cleveland, OH to Columbus, OH: -- Mourning fringes around both the flag and the union, the union bearing a circle of stars and one star in the centre. [The Buffalo Daily Courier has it that this was the Atlas again.]

9a - (C&I) -- Columbus, OH to Piqua, OH
9b - Piqua, OH to Indianapolis, IN

10a - (L&I) -- Indianapolis, IN to Lafayette, IN
10b - (CIL) -- Lafayette, IN to Michigan City, IN
10c - (MC) -- Michigan City, IN to Chicago, IL-- No flags that I can see. (After leaving a few breakfasters behind, the Funeral train had to wait while a yardtrain allowed them to catch up.)

11 - #57 (58?) C&A
Chicago, IL to Springfield, IL -- " decorated from the ‘cowcatcher’ to the rear draw-bar with flags intertwined with crepe and bunting and other symbols of mourning"
11p - #40 on the pilot, supposedly double heading on steep track; both engines were dressed the same

Well, every sources added more engines, fragmenting the overview of the journey further, though not all are described or pictured in enough detail to know their flags, if any. It's 11 stages, but with several extra changes; plus in Illinois the number of trains apparently grew larger. I've now seen "at least 42 trains" mentioned, though I expect that's counting the pilots and the Illinois extras. All those engines would mean a lot of flags, but for most, only little is known about flags used.

So far the only Grand Luminary I've found was on a building. If the Great Star Flag had 36 Stars but was nevertheless used in late 1864, for some reason, then it would so far seem more likely it was on a building rather than on the train. (Well: On an engine for the train.)

OK, that's not entirely true: I've also seen what look like grand luminaries on the replica in the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum. But no mention of whether those were authentic.

Also, often, descriptions mention "craped flags" at the stops. Could it be the flags aren't really any different,. but black fringes have merely been added temporarily? The one thing I didn't read about was flags half-staffed in mourning. Too recent a custom, or not something done in a mass tribute?.

Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 1 December 2017

Here are some interesting references as well:  (redirects to:

Esteban Rivera, 4 December 2017