Waiting on the arrival of Lincoln's ghost

ghostly abe lincoln rensselaer train station

By James Greene, Jr.

The Rensselaer Amtrak Station: to me, it was always just an air conditioned waiting room with a post office, a relatively empty (though aesthetically pleasing) open space where I could leech wifi and stare at silent Charmed reruns on the wall mounted televisions whilst waiting for a ride back to New York City.

That changed when I learned this depot might be haunted by the esteemed ectoplasmic residuals of Abraham Lincoln's funeral train. You mean there's a chance my latte sipping could be interrupted by a gh-gh-ghost?

Following his assassination in 1865, Abraham Lincoln's body was boarded onto a locomotive and taken on a near 1,700 mile journey from Washington D.C. up to New York where it cut west across the Empire State through Ohio and Indiana to Illinois. Before reaching Albany proper Lincoln's train steamed through the Greenbush/East Albany station (where the Rensselaer Amtrak stands today) on April 25. The Great Emancipator's spirit must have taken a shine to the spot, for railroad employees over the years have reported the train's numerous silent returns. They feel a cold rush of air on the track, the story goes, then the train's pilot light is spotted hurling ahead. Before the bewildered engineers and railroad hands can react, the silent train rolls by, festooned with grinning skeletons and other poltergeists attempting to play a funeral dirge on ghostly instruments. They know it's Lincoln's procession because his coffin is visible inside one of the cars.

Lincoln's ghost train usually appears only in April, but I figured I'd go investigate right now, not only because it's Halloween but because that Spielberg movie about Honest Abe is coming out soon and I wouldn't put it past the netherworld to partake in a little macabre viral promotion.

I assume I'm qualified to be a paranormal investigator because I've seen Ghostbusters so many times I can practically recite all the dialogue backward in Esperanto; also, I don't not believe in ghosts. Like hypnotism, Bigfoot, and the moon landing, I'm willing to believe for the sake of argument.

lincoln funeral train locomotive loc
One of the locomotives used to pull Lincoln's funeral train.

I ventured to Rensselaer as the sun was setting last Tuesday with a head full of optimism and a pocket full of smelling salts just in case Abe Lincoln's ghost pulled a fast one on me. This time, I was actively looking for the weird, the unusual, the difficult to convey. The parking lot and station interior offered no immediate spooks. There was a limo driver waiting for his passenger. Not far away, two delighted parents welcomed home their son. Admittedly, the guy working the newsstand inside looked less than alive, but selling Corn Nuts all day tends to wear even the most high spirited individual to a nub.

I meandered over to the corridor of mailboxes behind the post office counter. As I entered the last row I was greeted with dimming lights and eerie silence. Suddenly, I did hear voices. They were coming from the right hand furthest corner. I crept closer...

"... November is truck month at DeNooyer Chevrolet! Come on down for a bonanza of savings..."

So much for talking to the dead. It was just a letter carrier watching the idiot box in the post office break room.

Amtrak doesn't let you on the platform at Rensselaer without a ticket, and as a ghostchaser on a budget I could not justify spending x amount just to loiter with intent to be frightened. Thus, I walked back out the front of the train station and north to the narrow Herrick Street bridge that hangs over the tracks. A fine vantage point, I figured, should the Lincoln funeral train come a-runnin'. I mean, it's not like I had a proton pack or a nutrana wand or a PKE meter on my person. Heck, I didn't even have my camera. "Pics or it didn't happen!" the world would say if I actually spotted this locomotive apparition and cried wolf to the world at large.

The straight world would say that, anyhow. The scientists. Those grumps. The world needs less Stephen Hawkings and more Egon Spenglers.

For an hour and a half I stood on that bridge, traffic whizzing behind me, my eyes rolling up and down each length of track, searching for a ghostly signal. Occasionally I'd turn around and peer into the darkness of the opposite direction, never spotting so much as an errant bat. Perhaps the proximity of Dunkin Donuts, around the corner from the Harrick Bridge on Broadway, was acting as an effective supernatural deterrent. I've been in that Dunkin Donuts and I can attest the staff of surly teenagers could ward off even the mightiest boogyman.

The world needs less Stephen Hawkings and more Egon Spenglers.

Just as I was about to pack it in for the night at the Rensselaer train station and call my spirit chase a bust, out of the corner of my right eye I saw a weak beam of light. It was bouncing slowly from left to right as it rose up from the ground.

OH MY GARBONZO, I thought. THIS IS IT! EITHER ABE LINCOLN OR GOZER!

The light drew closer. Soon, I heard a deathly creaking. A blurry vision came into focus. Would I be greeted with the visage of a rotting skull or the president himself riding silently in Grandpa Munster's Dragula (hey, you never know).

Nay, my friend, this heart-stopping haunt was...in fact... just some kid on a bike. The illumination was his handlebar headlight. The tyke, all of nine, sneered as he rode past me. I thought better of shoving him off the bike while screaming, "AH HA, GOT YOU, YOU DUMB GHOST!" The last thing I need right now is any kind of criminal complaint from a pair of angry parents. Feeling silly and defeated, I zipped up my hoodie, walked to my car, and let the legend of Abe Lincoln's ghost train dissipate into the night.

Still, should you find yourself at the Rensselaer train station and you feel a slight chill or hear a voice that isn't necessarily spouting off about truck month, don't be surprised if what you see isn't just an apple-cheeked punk on a Schwinn out past his bedtime.

James Greene, Jr. is a freelance writer who spent twelve years in Florida without once visiting Gatorland. His personal blog is jgtwo.wordpress.com and his CB handle is @HoneyIShrunkJG2.

Earlier on AOA:
+ Gravespotting Chester A. Arthur
+ Lincoln's blood, and other stuff you didn't know was in Troy
+ Why Abraham Lincoln arrived in Albany with "huge whiskers"

Lincoln portrait: Alexander Gardner via Wikipedia | Lincoln funeral train photo via the Library of Congress

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