Hildene Restores Pullman Rail Car

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(Host) Robert Todd Lincoln first visited Manchester as a boy in 1863 and 1864, when he stayed at the Equinox Hotel with his mother and brother.

Forty years later, Robert returned to Manchester and built Hildene, a summer home for his family. By then he was president of Chicago’s Pullman Palace Company, the maker of private, luxury train cars.

Hildene is now an educational historic site. And as of this summer, the estate has a new teaching tool — a lovingly restored 1903 Pullman Sleeper.

VPR’s Susan Keese has the story.

(Keese) The big green Pullman "Sunbeam" rolled into Manchester this spring, escorted by a parade at the end of its journey from South Carolina.

Hildene director Seth Bongartz says it’s taken years to locate and restore a car that would illustrate the era in which Robert Lincoln lived — America’s Gilded Age

(Bongartz) "The key reason why we got the car is because it helps explain Robert and it helps explain Hildene. Robert made his fortune as president of the Pullman Company. "

(Keese) Bongartz says the Sunbeam may never have visited New England. But it was the right choice for Hildene.

(Bongartz) "This car is exactly the kind of car that the Lincolns would have arrived in Manchester on."

(Keese) The Sunbeam won’t be open to the public until August. 

The car, 165-feet long, sits in a wooded glade, surrounded by a structure built to look like an old depot. Bongartz offers a tour.

(Bongartz) "As you can see it’s a work of art. The very top of the car was stained glass and you can just see that it’s very ornamental you know it has a parlor, a dining room."

(Keese) We enter at the back, where the porters worked. Even here there are stained glass windows and lots of highly polished mahogany.

(Bongartz) "This is where the food was prepared, as you can see it’s small, probably pretty stuffy.

(Keese) There’s a master bedroom, dining and sitting areas and plenty of ingeniously hidden berths with finely carved panels and delicate inlays.

Bongartz says the Sunbeam offers endless opportunities for education and research.

(Bongartz) "And part of it will be about the people who rode on these cars, and part of it will be about the people who worked on these cars."

(Keese) Bongartz says the African-American porters on these trains were treated badly by modern standards. But the porters helped build unions and a black middle class.

It’s one of many areas where he hopes the Sunbeam will shed new light.

For VPR News, I’m Susan Keese in Manchester.

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