Abraham Lincoln traveled by train to Fairport, or more accurately through Fairport, twice in life over a span of four years and two months. The first instance was the president-elect’s journey from his home to Washington, D.C., passing through Perinton on Feb. 18, 1861. As he departed the depot in Springfield, Illinois, he addressed the assembled crowd: “To this place and the kindness of these people I owe everything … I now leave with a task before me greater than that which rested upon [George] Washington.”
Lincoln’s second passage through this community occurred 155 years ago. Sadly, it was the president’s funeral train that brought him. The train left Albany on April 26, 1865, on route to Buffalo and, ultimately, Springfield, Illinois. The slowly moving train was met with crowds of mourners at every crossing. Throngs of grief-stricken residents paid their respects in the towns and villages along the route, with endless American flags unfurled and torches illuminating the night.
New York Secretary of State Chauncey Depew (1834-1928) was aboard Lincoln’s funeral train for the trip from Albany to Buffalo and wrote of the experience in his book, “My Memories of 80 Years,” which included the following excerpt:
“It was late in the evening when we started, and the train was running all night through central and western New York. Its schedule was well-known along the route. Wherever the highway crossed the railway track, the whole population of the neighborhood was assembled on the highway and in the fields. Huge bonfires lighted up the scene. Pastors of the local churches of all denominations had united in leading their congregations for greeting and farewell for their beloved president. As we would reach a crossing, there sometimes would be hundreds and at others thousands of men, women and children on their knees, praying and singing hymns. This continuous service of prayer and song and supplication lasted over the 300 miles between Albany and Buffalo, from midnight until dawn.”
The funeral procession passed through Fairport shortly after 3 a.m. Despite the late hour, hundreds from the community witnessed the somber occurrence. The crowd included 14-year-old John Talman Jr., whose memories of the event were published in the Duluth Herald (Minnesota) in April 1925:
“The funeral train bearing the immortal martyr in the cause of human liberty and national oneness passed through Fairport on its way to Springfield, Illinois. My father and I arose at 3 o’clock in the morning to join the waiting hundreds at the station. With a feeling of awed solemnity never before or since experienced, we watched the long train with its somber drapings pass slowly to the sound of tolling bells.”
Bill Poray is historian for the town of Perinton.