The horrific sight of a GG1 about to plow into mourners at the Elizabeth station platform was captured on film:
Deeply disturbing. Two people lost their lives, and many more were probably injured. I think that immediately after that accident, Penn Central ordered all NE Corridor trains to stop until the funeral train passed.
In that article, retired Secret Service Agent Paul Levine vividly depicts what he witnessed at Elizabeth from onboard the RFK funeral train that day:
Ahead, some of the crowd push onto the tracks for a closer look. A northbound train suddenly speeds around a curve heading right at them. I wave and shout. Most scatter to safety. But a few freeze in their tracks like frightened deer an instant before the mass of steel grinds them into road kill. I’m thinking, “I didn’t see that.” There is an explosion of sound. Shrieks of horror over screeching steel. A blur of dirty brown metal. The indescribable smell of death.
Our train picks up speed. I turn away, dizzy, grab a wall for balance. Jimmy Breslin the columnist, who 23 years later will eulogize my son Keith, a New York City cop killed in the line of duty, stands drink in hand rocking with the train’s motion. He stares at me curiously. “People just got killed,” I mumble.
I turn to face a compartment full of passengers I’ve been assigned to protect. Shirley Maclaine deep in teary-eyed conversation with her seat-mate Roosevelt Grier the football player who had helped rip the gun from Sirhan Sirhan’s hand stops speaking. The two watch me. Behind her is Coretta Scott King dressed in widow’s black and lost in her own pain. Only minutes earlier we had received a message that her husband Martin Luther King’s killer was captured in England. She had not been told yet. Robert S. McNamara, Rafer Johnson, Everett Dirksen, John Lindsay, Charles Evers and about fifty others in command of everything from the Vietnam war and Congress to New York City and the NAACP—a Blue Book of public service of the dying 60s— stop talking and eye me curiously. I struggle for words. I am one of ten federal agents assigned to the “Kennedy Funeral Train” on Secret Service Detail—a glorified security guard. “Interaction with the protectees” was strictly forbidden.
I too was trackside for the funeral train passage in Trenton, N.J. on that hot afternoon, so long ago. I recall my father telling me that the woman in black waving from the rear of the train was Jackie Kennedy.
Photojournalist Paul Fusco rode the train that day, on assignment for a magazine. I highly recommend his Funeral Train
, which captured so many powerful trackside images between New York and Washington, D.C. Here is a sampling of some of those photos along the corridor tracks:
Many of us in America believed that that President John F. Kennedy was nurturing a renewed belief in the concept of government as an enabler for all its citizens instead of an acquiescent handmaiden to the privileged and the powerful. Before he was able to instill that as a working principle in our society he was gunned down by an assassin. Five years later when Bobby rose to try to reestablish a government of hope, the hearts of Americans quickened and excitement flared. Then tragedy struck again.http://digitaljournalist.org/issue0108/train_intro.htm
The blow was monumental. Hope-on-the-rise had again been shattered and those in most need of hope crowded the tracks of Bobby's last train, stunned into disbelief, and watched that hope trapped in a coffin pass and disappear from their lives.
Writer Evan Thomas was also onboard that day:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/ph ... cerpt.html
On Saturday afternoon, June 8, Kennedy's body, like President Lincoln's 103 years before, was carried by a funeral train from New York to Washington. As they had for Lincoln, many thousands – perhaps, for RFK, a million people – lined the tracks. The coffin, on a bier close to the floor of the observation car, could not be seen by bystanders. So Kennedy's pallbearers lifted it up and placed it, a bit precariously, on chairs. Along the route of the train, Boy Scouts and firemen braced at attention; nuns, some wearing dark glasses, stood witness; housewives wept. Thousands and thousands of black people waited quietly in the heat, perhaps because they lived close to the tracks, but also because they had felt for Kennedy, and knew they would miss him.
I was too young then to appreciate what I had witnessed, but I now know that nothing has ever been the same since that tragic spring when Martin and Bobby fell. Coretta Scott King was on that train, and just two months earlier, upon learning of Martin's assasination, Bobby delivered one of the most powerful speeches in American political history on the evening of April 4, 1968. In words which may sound foreign to those of us numbed by today's debased political culture of cynicism, arrogance, greed, and cowardice, he said:
I have bad news for you, for all of our fellow citizens, and people who love peace all over the world, and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and killed tonight.
Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice for his fellow human beings, and he died because of that effort....
My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He wrote: "In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God." ...
Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of the world. ...
Oh Bobby, what might have been....