Obama's hardly the first American president to favor train travel

The Baltimore Sun

Yesterday's visit to Baltimore by President-elect Barack Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden was the first time in 56 years that an about-to-be-inaugurated president rode a train to his swearing-in.

On a mild Jan. 18, 1953, Dwight D. Eisenhower, accompanied by his wife, son and staffers, boarded Pennsylvania Railroad business car 90 that was coupled to a five-car special train for the journey from New York's Pennsylvania Station to Washington.

The special, which did not stop in Baltimore, arrived at Union Station at 9:05 p.m., whereupon the president and his official party, set out for the Statler Hilton Hotel, where he resided until being sworn in two days later.

While John Quincy Adams was the first ex-president to ride a train in 1830, the first sitting president to travel by train was Andrew Jackson, when he rode the B & O from Ellicott's Mills to Baltimore in 1833.

The first president-elect to ride a passenger train to an inauguration was William Henry Harrison, 8 years later. Harrison holds several other firsts. He was the first presidential candidate to campaign by train. He is also noted for having presided over the shortest presidency, delivering the longest inaugural address at 8,444 words, and being the first chief executive to die in office.

His journey to Washington began in early February 1841, when he departed from Cincinnati, initially traveling by boat and stagecoach, according to Bob Withers, a retired Huntington, W.Va., newspaperman and expert on presidential and campaign rail travel.

Greeted by cheering crowds, Harrison finally arrived in Frederick on Feb. 5, and the next day boarded a B & O train for Baltimore, but not before pickpockets had a field day.

During the time Harrison was in Frederick, The Sun reported, pickpockets "went to work in right good earnest - no less than six persons losing their pocketbooks. One of the persons robbed is a nephew of Gen. Harrison."

At Relay, Harrison's train turned for Baltimore, and after arriving in the city, he took up residence at Barnum's City Hotel, where he remained until departing for Washington on Feb. 9.

In 1845, James K. Polk traveled by B & O from Cumberland to Washington for his swearing-in, as did Zachary Taylor four years later, greeted with an artillery salute by a delegation that had traveled from Baltimore to meet the presidential specials at Relay.

Democrat James Buchanan of Pennsylvania stepped aboard a Northern Central Railway on March 2, 1857, bound for the capital city.

"Four coaches were decorated with patriotic symbols and scenes of Wheatland, his mansion," said Withers, author of The President Travels by Train: Politics and Pullmans.

En route, news reached Buchanan's train that the Know-Nothings - anti-Buchanan demonstrators - planned to meet the president-elect at Baltimore's Calvert Station.

Fearing trouble, Buchanan and his official party detrained at the city's Bolton Station and were accompanied by several cavalry companies to a midday reception at Barnum's City Hotel.

Buchanan, who had fallen ill, rested in a hotel room before slipping down to Camden Station, where he boarded a B & O train for Washington.

In 1861, Abraham Lincoln's inaugural trip to Washington was also threatened by violence.

When it was revealed that quite possibly the Northern Central's tracks had been mined and its bridges weakened and that an attempt would be made on his life by Southern sympathizers as he transferred from Calvert Station to Camden, Lincoln was spirited out of Harrisburg, dressed in a disguise.

He traveled aboard a one-car special Pennsylvania Railroad train to Philadelphia, where still in disguise, he boarded a sleeper on the Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore, which departed for Baltimore at 11 p.m.

To maintain secrecy, Allan Pinkerton ordered that telegraph wires be cut.

Lincoln was most likely asleep when his sleeper was transferred from President Street Station westward over Pratt Street to Camden Station, where it continued its journey via the B & O to Washington.

Other presidents who traveled through Baltimore on their way to being inaugurated included Rutherford B. Hayes and William McKinley.

In the disputed election of 1876 when Hayes ran against New York Democrat Samuel J. Tilden, Hayes claimed the election by a single electoral vote.

Hayes, riding aboard PRR office car 120 that was coupled to a regularly scheduled passenger train, was "awakened near Harrisburg and told he was the winner," Withers said.

On March 3, 1913, Woodrow Wilson boarded a 14-car special train in Princeton, N.J., that would carry him to his swearing-in.

As the train pulled out of the station, Wilson, silk hat in hand, stood on the observation platform of the last car, as the crowd that had gathered there broke into a rousing rendition of "Three Cheers for Old Nassau."

"The smile on his lips vanished as the train gained headway; his lips were moving; the crowd at his feet heard him join in the singing of the college anthem," reported The Sun.

The newspaper also reported that in the baggage car were "25 suitcases, grips and trunks belonging to the president-elect and his party," and that on Wilson's personal luggage was a handwritten tag, in his hand, that read: "Woodrow Wilson, White House."

Even though he earned a doctorate in political science at the Johns Hopkins University in 1883, Wilson did not rouse himself when his train reached Baltimore's Penn Station in the afternoon. Democratic well-wishers had jammed the station but were not permitted to pass through the gates to the platform below. "Only a small crowd of railroad employees saw the President-elect wave his hand in greeting as the train came to a stop," reported The Sun.

According to Withers, after the death of President Warren G. Harding, the frugal Calvin Coolidge refused to ride the special train that had been assembled and would transport him from Rutland, Vt., to Washington via Baltimore.

"He balked until his private car was coupled to a regular train," Withers said.

On March 2, 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt, in the company of Howard E. Simpson, who would later become B & O president, left the new president's townhouse at 49th East 65th Street in Manhattan.

Escorted by 20 police motorcycles, the motorcade traveled through city streets lined with well-wishers to the Central Railroad of New Jersey's Liberty Street ferry, where it boarded a ferryboat for a quick journey across the Hudson River to the railroad's Jersey City terminal, that was also shared by the B & O and Reading railroads.

FDR then boarded the special train and rode "southward through a cold fog toward Washington," wrote Withers.

The Roosevelt Special made a momentary stop at Mount Royal Station at 8:30 p.m. to pick up his son, James Roosevelt.

"With blinds drawn, the president-elect remained inside his car while Secret Service agents guarded the entrances at front and rear," reported The Sun.

Withers has included a wonderful anecdote about an ex-president's final journey home.

On Jan. 20, 1953, after Eisenhower had been sworn in, he ordered that Harry S. Truman and his wife, Bess, travel home to Independence, Mo., aboard the Ferdinand Magellan, the official presidential car.

Coupled to the B & O's westbound National Limited, Truman surprised passengers the next morning as he made his way through a parlor car.

"Don't get up," he told them. "I'm no longer president."

After arriving at Independence, and about to begin private life, anxious newspaper reporters shouted questions at the former chief executive.

"What are you going to do now?" one asked.

Without missing a beat, Truman shot back, "Take the grips up to the attic."

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