HAMMOND | More than 150 years after it steamed through Hessville, the Lincoln funeral train is slated to make a stop this fall at Hammond's Indiana Welcome Center.
The visiting train would include a near-exact, full-size replica of the famous "United States" train car, which carried assassinated President Abraham Lincoln's body from Washington D.C. to his central Illinois tomb in 1865. A replica Civil War-period steam engine and tender also would be part of the exhibition.
The replica recently featured by national broadcasts, including on C-SPAN's American History Television and CBS Sunday Morning, is slated to visit Hammond Oct. 7-11 during a national tour commemorating the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's assassination and funeral procession during the closing weeks of the Civil War.
The actual train made a funeral stop in Michigan City on May 1, 1865, before passing through what is now Hammond's Hessville section on its way to a funeral procession in Chicago.
The South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority Board of Directors voted last week to approve a visit of the train to the agency's Indiana Welcome Center, at Kennedy Avenue just south of Interstate 80/94, on those dates. It would be displayed outside in the parking lot, with nominal admissions charged for tours of the reconstructed funeral train car.
The agency is now seeking sponsors to help fund the visit, which is being coordinated as an event through the South Shore Civil War Memorial Trail.
Speros Batistatos, president and CEO of the authority, said his agency is now working to hammer out a contract with the 2015 Lincoln Funeral Train, an Elgin, Ill., group that rebuilt the famous train as a near-exact replica.
Batistatos dubbed landing a Lincoln train visit as "one of the biggest projects" his team has ever tackled.
The train has been attracting thousands of visitors at other Midwestern stops, which began last month in Springfield, Ill., during an event commemorating the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's burial at Oak Ridge Cemetery in that city.
"I can't stress enough the importance of bringing this type of important historical piece to our region," Batistatos said Friday. "Being the premier Chicagoland stop for this train would be a great source of pride for our region and would provide an incredible family event for Northwest Indiana and Chicago."
The train visit would be a punctuation mark on the South Shore Civil War Memorial Trail — a historical preservation effort over the past four years to tell the stories and preserve the grave sites of Northwest Indiana's Civil War soldiers.
The South Shore CVA would likely charge about $5 per person for admission, offer a VIP reception and be open to school groups, Batistatos said.
Earlier plans by the 2015 Lincoln Funeral Train group called for the replica train to retrace the route of the original along rail lines from Washington to Springfield. However, the train group fell short on funding a cross-country rail tour.
It's now being transported via semitrailer to various communities that reserve it for showings.
Batistatos said his agency is excited to host such an important educational and historical tourism asset for the Northwest Indiana and Chicago markets so closely tied to the original train.
The non-profit group behind the train has reported that several thousand spectators have visited and toured the replica at each of its community stops, including Charleston, Ill., and Ashland, Ohio.
October was the first available date the train could be secured for a region visit.
The original "United States" train car that carried Lincoln's remains initially was commissioned by then U.S. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton to serve as an official traveling office for the president in the 1860s. It has been likened by historians to a 19th century version of Air Force One.
But Lincoln fell to an assassin's bullet on April 14, 1865, and the train car became a locomotive-driven hearse rather than a traveling office.
The original "United States" funeral car burned in a 1911 prairie fire in Minnesota. The nonprofit 2015 Lincoln Funeral Train group relied on photos and other research to reproduce the train car.