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New York City: Lincoln rode this rail line, in life and in death

December 14, 2012|By Mary Forgione | Los Angeles Times Daily Travel & Deal blogger
  • The plaque that tells the story of Abraham Lincoln's pre-inaugural visit to New York City and his funeral train as well.
The plaque that tells the story of Abraham Lincoln's pre-inaugural… (Tom Politeo )

"Lincoln" set a record Thursday with seven Golden Globe nominations, including those for best picture, best director (Steven Spielberg) and best actor (Daniel Day-Lewis). Since the film opened last month, the 16th president and his personal and political struggle to end slavery has been on many people's minds, including mine.

I had an interesting "Lincoln moment" a few days ago in New York City when I was just steps from the High Line, the elevated freight train track turned urban garden in the Meatpacking District. I spied an unassuming plaque on a huge post office building. It marks the spot of the Hudson River Railroad Depot that once stood at 30th Street and 10th Avenue. The rail line's first passenger on Feb. 19, 1861: Abraham Lincoln.

The president-elect had embarked on a 13-day train tour from his home in Springfield, Ill., to meet the people he was now tasked with leading. He would cover more than 1,600 miles before being sworn into office in Washington. Lincoln told New Yorkers in part that evening:

"I said several times upon this journey, and I shall now repeat it to you, that when the time does come I shall then take the ground that I think is right ... the ground I think is right for the North, for the South, for the East, for the West, for the whole country."

And what an epic stance that would prove to be. The words seem simple, but the pain the Civil War would inflict on the nation and Lincoln was staggering. As the movie shows and history bears out, the president's quest to abolish slavery with a constitutional amendment cost him dearly. 

Lincoln returned to the depot four years later on April 25, not in a passenger car but in a casket. The funeral train carrying his body retraced the journey he had taken on his pre-inaugural trip to Washington.

All that from one marker, which seemed so small compared with the history it conveys.

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