George Bush’s funeral train revives an old tradition used for Lincoln and Trudeau
George H.W. Bush‘s funeral train is a throwback to an era when U.S. presidents, Canadian prime ministers and British monarchs were honoured with railway tours after their deaths.
The former president, who died last week at the age of 94, was carried through several towns in Texas on Thursday on board a train bedecked with the American flag.
Bush is the first U.S. president in nearly 50 years to be transported on a funeral train, but the tradition dates back over 150 years to when railways were the primary means of tying nations together in North America.
WATCH BELOW: Mourners salute train carrying George H.W. Bush’s body
Abraham Lincoln was the first U.S. president to be carried to his final resting place on a funeral train, following his assassination in 1865. The train carried Lincoln’s body through seven states on its way from Washington, D.C., to Springfield, Ill., stopping at many cities along the way for locals to mourn their fallen president.
Nearly three decades later, the body of Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. MacDonald, was transported by train from Ottawa to Kingston, Ont., in 1891. Mourners swarmed the train at two stops along the way, in Carleton Place and Smiths Falls.
Diefenbaker’s train carried him from Ontario, where he was born, to Saskatchewan, where he grew up and lived most of his life.
Trudeau’s funeral train travelled from Ottawa to Montreal, with his sons Sacha and Justin on board.
Funeral trains have been a tradition for ruling British monarchs since 1901, when Queen Victoria’s body was transported to London. She was also the first monarch ever to travel by train, and had a custom carriage built for her travels in 1869.
Bush is the eighth U.S. president to be honoured with a funeral train and the first since Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose body travelled from Washington through seven states to Kansas in 1969. Assassinated U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy’s body travelled from New York to Washington via funeral train in 1968.
WATCH BELOW: Former Canadian PM Brian Mulroney delivers eulogy for George H.W. Bush
Prior to his death, Bush chose to have his casket transported in a partially transparent train car hauled by a locomotive dubbed the “Bush 4141.” Union Pacific commissioned the locomotive and dedicated it to Bush at a ceremony in 2005.
At the time, Bush referred to the train as “the Air Force One of railroads,” and spoke fondly of travelling by rail as a child. “I’ve never forgotten it,” he said at the ceremony, before taking the engineer’s seat for a short trip in the new locomotive.
The funeral train has been part of the official planning for his death for years, Bush spokesman Jim McGrath said.
WATCH BELOW: Train prepared to carry George H.W. Bush’s casket through Texas
Union Pacific was contacted by federal officials in early 2009 and asked, at Bush’s request, about providing a funeral train at some point, company spokesman Tom Lange said.
WATCH BELOW: Former president’s casket loaded onto ‘Bush 4141’ locomotive
“We said, ‘Of course and also we have this locomotive that we would want to have obviously be part of it,’” Lange said. He noted that trains were the mode of transportation that first carried Bush to his service as a naval aviator in World War II and back home again.
Crowds gathered along the train route to pay tribute to the late president on Thursday.
— With files from The Associated Press
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