A Brief History of Presidential Funeral Trains

Funeral Train of President Abraham Lincoln
Funeral Train of President Abraham Lincoln
Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons // Public domain

The body of President George H. W. Bush will be transported by train along a 70-mile route to College Station, Texas, where it will be taken to its final resting place at the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum at Texas A&M University. The train—Union Pacific 4141, named for the 41st president—is painted robin's egg blue (just like Air Force One) and will tow a special transparent viewing car, allowing the public one last chance to pay their respects to the former head of state.

It's the first time a president's body has been moved by funeral train in almost 50 years.

Funeral trains, however, used to be something of a tradition for departed politicians: Presidents Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield, Ulysses S. Grant, William McKinley, Warren G. Harding, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Dwight D. Eisenhower were all transported to their final resting places by a ceremonial train. (As were other government figures, including Robert F. Kennedy, Douglas MacArthur, and Frank Lautenberg.)

Lincoln's funeral train, the first, was arguably the most memorable. Traveling 1654 miles from Washington D.C., to Springfield, Illinois, the train chugged at a steady speed of 20 mph and stopped at 180 cities over the course of 13 days. The steam engine featured a portrait of Lincoln at the front and carried nine cars covered in elaborate mourning bunting. According to Olivia B. Waxman at TIME, "When it was in transit, a train traveling 30 minutes ahead of the Lincoln Special sounded a bell to alert those in the area that the funeral train was approaching. Those who could only see it at night camped out at bonfires along the route." Millions of people turned out to show their respects.

The next presidential funeral train was for another head of state who sadly also succumbed to gunshot wounds—James A. Garfield. According to the James A. Garfield National Historic Site blog:

"All along the route mourners stood at trackside, heads bowed as the train went by and church bells tolled. Bridges and buildings were draped in black. At Princeton, New Jersey, students scattered flowers on the track and then retrieved the crushed petals after the train had passed to keep for souvenirs. The train was met in Washington by the Chief Justice, Garfield's entire cabinet, and Presidents Grant and Arthur."

In many cases, the funeral trains traveled through places beloved by the presidents. Ulysses S. Grant's train was saluted as it passed through West Point. McKinley's train made haste to reach his beloved home in Canton, Ohio. (Many onlookers, not content to just bring flowers, made mementos by placing coins on the tracks and watched as the train flattened them.)

Meanwhile, FDR's funeral train—which embarked on a nine-state, three-day ride—carried much more than the president's remains: It also carried some of the most important people in government, including Roosevelt's family, the vice president and his family, every Supreme Court Justice, and most of the administrative cabinet. According to the MacMillan synopsis of Robert Kara's book FDR's Funeral Train, "Many who would recall the journey later would agree it was a foolhardy idea to start with—putting every important elected figure in Washington on a single train during the biggest war in history."

In some cases, the deceased had a special connection to the train itself. Eisenhower's body was transported in a car named "The Old Santa Fe." It was a familiar place: Ike had ridden the same car when he made his first campaign speech in 1952. Similarly, Bush—a train lover—had been acquainted with his funeral train for more than a decade, having given the 4300-horsepower locomotive his seal of approval back in 2005. At the time, he even gave the train a two-mile test drive and called it, "The Air Force One of railroads."

6 Protective Mask Bundles You Can Get On Sale

pinkomelet/iStock via Getty Images Plus
pinkomelet/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Daily life has changed immeasurably since the onset of COVID-19, and one of the ways people have had to adjust is by wearing protective masks out in public places, including in parks and supermarkets. These are an essential part of fighting the spread of the virus, and there are plenty of options for you depending on what you need, whether your situation calls for disposable masks to run quick errands or the more long-lasting KN95 model if you're going to work. Check out some options you can pick up on sale right now.

1. Cotton Face Masks; $20 for 4

Protective Masks with Patterns.
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This four-pack of washable cotton face masks comes in tie-dye, kids patterns, and even a series of mustache patterns, so you can do your part to mask germs without also covering your personality.

Buy it: $20 for four (50 percent off)

2. CE- and FDA-Approved KN95 Mask; $50 for 10

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You’ve likely heard about the N95 face mask and its important role in keeping frontline workers safe. Now, you can get a similar model for yourself. The KN95 has a dual particle layer, which can protect you from 99 percent of particles in the air and those around you from 70 percent of the particles you exhale. Nose clips and ear straps provide security and comfort, giving you some much-needed peace of mind.

Buy it: $50 for 10 (50 percent off)

3. Three-Ply Masks; $13 for 10

Woman wearing a three-ply protective mask.
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These three-ply, non-medical, non-woven face masks provide a moisture-proof layer against your face with strong filtering to keep you and everyone around you safe. The middle layer filters non-oily particles in the air and the outer layer works to block visible objects, like droplets.

Buy it: $13 for 10 (50 percent off)

4. Disposable masks; $44 for 50

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If the thought of reusing the same mask from one outing to the next makes you feel uneasy, there’s a disposable option that doesn’t compromise quality; in fact, it uses the same three-layered and non-woven protection as other masks to keep you safe from airborne particles. Each mask in this pack of 50 can be worn safely for up to 10 hours. Once you're done, safely dispose of it and start your next outing with a new one.

Buy it: $44 for 50 (41 percent off)

5. Polyester Masks; $22 for 5

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These masks are a blend of 95 percent polyester and 5 percent spandex, and they work to block particles from spreading in the air. And because they're easily compressed, they can travel with you in your bag or pocket, whether you're going to work or out to the store.

Buy it: $22 for five (56 percent off)

6. Mask Protector Cases; $15 for 3

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You're going to need to have a stash of masks on hand for the foreseeable future, so it's a good idea to protect the ones you’ve got. This face mask protector case is waterproof and dust-proof to preserve your mask as long as possible.

Buy it: $15 for three (50 percent off)

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

A Brief History of the White House Bunker

President George Bush consults with senior staff in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center after the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
President George Bush consults with senior staff in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center after the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
The U.S. National Archives, Flickr // No Known Copyright Restrictions

When Japanese forces bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the Secret Service realized something unsettling: If the White House were the target of a similar attack, the soft sandstone structure would easily crumble, and they had no plan of action for ferrying President Franklin D. Roosevelt to safety.

Within weeks, construction had begun on two subterranean projects. The first was a tunnel that connected the East Wing of the White House to the nearby (and much sturdier) Treasury Building, a granite stronghold with underground bank vaults. According to Robert Klara’s book The Hidden White House, one or more of those vaults was transformed into an 1100-square-foot shelter with 10 rooms, including a bedroom, a well-stocked kitchen, a cozy leather chair, and plenty of plush carpeting. The other was a smaller bunker below the East Wing itself. At just 40 feet by 40 feet, the two-room suite featured 7-foot-thick concrete walls, a medical room, enough food and water to sustain dozens of people for days, and a diesel-generated power system.

During President Harry S. Truman’s massive renovation of the White House between 1948 and 1952, this bunker was expanded into what’s now known as the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC). As Gizmodo reports, it was there that the Secret Service escorted Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne; National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice; First Lady Laura Bush; and other senior officials during the attacks on September 11, 2001.

Dick Cheney in the PEOC on 9/11
Vice President Dick Cheney in the PEOC on 9/11.
The U.S. National Archives, Flickr // No Known Copyright Restrictions

While the dimensions and layout of the entire space are kept under wraps, we do know a little about it from photos taken at the time, which show a plain room with television screens, a long conference table, and the Seal of the President of the United States hung on one wall. Laura Bush revealed a few more details in her 2010 memoir, Spoken From the Heart:

“I was hustled inside and downstairs through a pair of big steel doors that closed behind me with a loud hiss, forming an airtight seal … We walked along old tile floors with pipes hanging from the ceiling and all kinds of mechanical equipment. The PEOC is designed to be a command center during emergencies, with televisions, phones, and communications facilities.”

When President George Bush, who had been in Florida that day, arrived at the bunker just after 7 p.m., the Secret Service suggested he and Laura spend the night in the PEOC. “They showed us the bed, a fold-out that looked like it had been installed when FDR was president,” Laura wrote. “George and I stared at it, and we both said no.”

In 2010, workers broke ground on the North Lawn of the White House for yet another underground project. According to the Washington Examiner, the official word was that they were updating electrical wiring and air conditioning in the building, but some journalists speculated this was just to cover for the construction of a new White House bunker. In his 2018 book The Trump White House: Changing the Rules of the Game, former Washington Post journalist Ronald Kessler confirmed this theory.

Kessler alleged the highly secret structure was “at least five stories deep” and could “house the staff of the entire West Wing indefinitely in the event of a weapons of mass destruction attack.” It even has its own air supply, so occupants would be safe from nuclear radiation. Earlier this week, he explained to The Washington Post that the impetus for creating this new bunker was the realization during 9/11 that it wouldn't be feasible to transport White House officials to an existing offsite shelter if the nation were under attack in the future—traffic would make leaving the city by car too time-consuming, and air travel would likely be too dangerous.

And, though Kessler didn’t comment on the furniture, it’s probably safe to assume this state-of-the-art shelter features something more comfortable than a few fold-out beds from the 1940s.

[h/t Gizmodo]