Obama's train to stop here on way to inaugural

December 16, 2008|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,liz.kay@baltsun.com

President-elect Barack Obama will follow in the tracks of many other presidents when he travels by rail to his inauguration in Washington and stops in Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore along the way.

Details have not been released, but Obama is scheduled to ride a train through each city, picking up Vice President-elect Joe Biden in Delaware, the Presidential Inauguration Committee said yesterday.

A Baltimore event is scheduled Jan. 17, and city police said they are preparing for a crowd of 150,000 for a speech at a site to be announced.

"It's an opportunity to pay tribute to the rich history of our country," said Clark Stevens, a spokesman for the Presidential Inauguration Committee. "The events are designed to ensure that as many people as possible can participate in this historic process."

The rail trip will highlight promises written into the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia and "immortalized in our national anthem" in Baltimore, according to a committee news release.

Ian Brennan, a spokesman for Mayor Sheila Dixon, said Fort McHenry would be a natural choice. Francis Scott Key was inspired by its bombardment during the War of 1812 to write a poem that became the lyrics to "The Star-Spangled Banner."

"It'll be personally exciting for the mayor and other Baltimoreans who came out in historic numbers to vote for President-elect Obama and may not have an opportunity to get themselves to D.C. on Inauguration Day," Brennan said.

A number of presidents passed through Maryland by rail or on the National Road, John T. Willis, director of the public policy program at the University of Baltimore and author of Presidential Elections in Maryland, wrote in an e-mail. "In order to get to D.C., you had to come through us," he said.

The first president, George Washington, rode his horse through Baltimore on his way to New York for his swearing-in, according to reports.

According to Baltimore Sun archives, railroad employees saw Woodrow Wilson wave from his train on his way to his inauguration in 1913. Franklin D. Roosevelt's train stopped in Baltimore in 1933 to pick up his son James. Bill Clinton held pre-inaugural events at the Capital Center in Prince George's County and in Baltimore.

Obama is patterning much of his inauguration after that of another man from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln. "The Obama folks are both learning from history and doing their own things," Willis said.

But the plans for Obama's trip through Baltimore will be different from those of the 16th president, even though both started at the Springfield Statehouse.

Lincoln was scheduled to arrive in Washington in February 1861, after several Southern states had seceded and weeks before the Civil War broke out. The headline of a Feb. 25, 1861, Sun article referred to Lincoln's trip as an "Underground Railroad" journey to Washington. He had been advised that his life would be in danger in Baltimore, where many residents were Southern sympathizers.

Lincoln left Harrisburg, Pa., earlier than planned and got to Baltimore about 4 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 23. He arrived at the President Street Station on the Pennsylvania Wilmington & Baltimore line and was secreted through the streets in a coach or box car to Camden Station, on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad line, said Courtney Wilson, executive director of the B&O Museum. At the time, the railroads did not connect, so teams of horses pulled rail cars between the stations.

The next day, an unruly crowd gathered to catch a glimpse of the president-elect but saw only luggage belonging to Mrs. Lincoln and their sons, who stuck with the original itinerary.

A Sun editorial noted snidely that Mrs. Lincoln rode the train despite the threat of assassination, and that indeed "there is to be some pluck in the White House, if it is to be under a bodice."

Baltimore Sun staff researcher Paul McCardell and reporters Annie Linskey and Paul West contributed to this article.

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