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From The Vault: President Eisenhower's funeral train stopped at Union Terminal in 1969

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Posted: 2:01 PM, Dec 07, 2018
Updated: 2018-12-07 19:01:38Z

CINCINNATI - Before George H.W. Bush died, the last funeral train to carry a president home for burial stopped at Union Terminal nearly 50 years ago.

On April 1, 1969, the train carrying Dwight D. Eisenhower stopped here about 10 a.m. on its way from Washington, D.C. to Abilene, Kansas. People lined the tracks in Newport to pay their respects before the 10-car train crossed the river into Cincinnati, preceded by a three-car lead train.

At Mrs. Eisenhower’s request, the train carrying her husband’s casket bore no special markings when it left Washington. But she changed her mind after seeing spectators along the route, and when the train stopped here, she requested that the car with her husband’s casket – the second car behind the thre engines – be draped in black bunting and flags.

The first lady didn’t want any ceremonies along the way, so a memorial service planned for the Union Terminal rotunda was canceled. The president’s brother, Edgar Eisenhower, stepped off the train to talk to local reporters because he wanted to thank Cincinnati for planning the service. WCPO was the only TV station there when Edgar spoke, but unfortunately the audio was not preserved.

“I want to thank the city of Cincinnati for its effort to hold a memorial service while the train was stopped here,” he said. He said he was also grateful to thousands of people who stood by the tracks. He said it was “a tribute not only to my brother but to America.”

Edgar was friendly, shaking hands with many reporters. He also thanked the people hanging flags and bunting on the train car.

People who came for the service weren’t allowed on the train platform, so many sat in the terminal lobby. Vila Cook said she drove from Pittsburgh by herself to attend.

“I can at least say I was here,” she said.

Asked if she was an admirer of President Eisenhower, she answered, "I think we all were.”

The train was washed and serviced and left about an hour after arriving.

According to an Associated Press story, Eisenhower’s funeral train was the seventh in U.S. history. Abraham Lincoln’s was the first, in 1865. With air travel becoming the norm in the 50s and 60s, Eisenhower was the last president to travel by train regularly. A main reason was his wife, Mamie, hated to fly. During the 1952 campaign, Eisenhower traveled more than 51,000 miles and made 252 stops. And while he often flew, his wife rode the train the whole time.

READ more about presidential funeral trains at Smithsonian.com.

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SEE more video and stories about Tri-State history in our "From The Vault" series.