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Classic Train Tale

Indiana, USA
September 1999

In the late 50s and early 60s, when my brothers and I were young, we had a teenaged babysitter who told us the following story.

She and several friends went for a joy ride in the country on the first warm Spring night. The atmosphere was supercharged with the energy of freedom after the long, cold winter. These kids were yelling and waving their arms out the windows of the packed car as if trying to catch that energy with their bare hands.They rode fairly far into the Southern Indiana woodlands when a tire was popped by an unseen rock in the dirt road. They were quiet as they sat in the car in the middle of blackness and silence.

They had a spare tire but no jack so it was determined they would look for the nearest farm house. Someone pointed across the field to a little light that filtered through the trees. The guys in the group hollered and jumped at the idea of uncertain adventure. They planned to dash across the dark field to get the help they needed. A few of the girls felt very nervous all the sudden. They started shivering even on this warm night. They locked themselves in the car while my babysitter and the boys headed across the field.

As they approached the stand of trees, the light brightened. They began to hear mechanical clanging and steam hissing. As they came closer, they heard muffled voices. This development slowed the kids a little but they pressed forward. They broke passed the trees and brush, gasping at the sight. Before them was a long train with a steam engine at the front. There were Civil War era soldiers in blue carrying long rifles guarding the train. My sitter and her friends could see inside one of the cars. The windows were hung with heavy black drapes which were pulled back to reveal a lighted compartment with a coffin on a bier. "You've come to see my father," the sound of the young man's voice startled the teenagers. He motioned them from the steps of the car. "Don't be frightened. You have every right to see him." As if in a slow motion trance, they climbed into the car after him. Soldiers stood at attention at each corner of the open casket. Inside lay the body of Abraham Lincoln. The funeral cortege was taking the slain President through his boyhood home in Southern Indiana to his resting place in Springfield, Illinois. Before the kids could move or speak, the train's bell slowly tolled and the whistle blew. Robert Lincoln told them that he was sorry but they would have to go now. One by one, they jumped from the compartment, the last boy hopping off as the train lurched forward. They watched silently as the phantom train rolled away to reveal an old railroad bed deserted after the ties and rails had long ago been removed. They ran back across the field and pounded on the car's windows. The two girls inside let them in and the car limped a long on the flat tire as far away from the dark, quiet field as it could carry it's load.

Indiana, USA
00:00 / 01:04
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