Looking for the ghost of the Lincoln funeral train with 'The Q Files'

Andy Downing
Shane McClelland and Lori Gum look for ghostly traces of the Lincoln funeral train on a stretch of Clintonville tracks for an episode of their podcast, "The Q Files."

Lori Gum received Carl Sandburg’s biography of Abraham Lincoln at age 9, kicking off a lifelong fascination with the former president that led her to join podcast partner Shane McClelland in a walk along the train tracks behind a Clintonville shopping plaza on a cool, rainy Wednesday night in late April. The pair, who co-host biweekly episodes of “The Q Files,” hoped to document any ghostly reverberations from the Lincoln funeral train that passed through Columbus on the same evening exactly 155 years earlier.

For the last three years, Gum has researched the 1865 route taken by the train, which stopped in 11 major cities, including Columbus, and passed through 440 small communities, drawing hundreds of thousands who alternately mourned the death and celebrated the life of the assassinated president. She has compared rail maps and read eyewitness accounts, and she believes with “99.99 percent certainty,” as she put it, that the train traversed this particular stretch of track sometime around dusk as it traveled north out of the city.

“And this event, this funeral train, encapsulated that historic moment for this country, where you had us coming out of the Civil War, so you had this sort of joy and sorrow happening at the same time,” said Gum, who reunited with McClelland for the paranormal investigation podcast, havingpreviously teamed for the “Queer Ghost Hunters” web series. “There are a couple of different notions of energy in paranormal investigations. One is that you contact a specific entity. The other is what we call ‘residual energy,’ where there’s an energy left in a place … because something highly emotional happened, whether traumatic or joyful, and the venue holds that, and that’s what you pick up on. … I can just envision thousands of people standing on these tracks and in these fields, dressed in black and with Union flags. It gives me chills thinking about it, and it’s our belief that there’s a residual cosmic energy to that day.”

There's a residual energy to the Alive distribution boxes that still dot the city, serving as a ghostly reminder of the time we were actually in print. Sign up for our daily newsletter

The search followed the gloomy evening’s final cloudburst and the appearance of an arcing double rainbow, which Gum would later interpret as a nature-provided clue. Gum and McLelland started by walking a length of the tracks, clearing their minds and introducing themselves to any present entities. With weather and the surroundings depriving the two of some of their usual investigative tools (dowsing rods, typically used to detect the presence of spirits, are rendered useless by wind, and even potential recordings of electronic voice phenomenon, or EVPs, could be lost amid the hum of nearby highway traffic from Interstate 71), the pair was more reliant on sensory experiences, whether perceiving a sudden, unexpected gust of hot air, as if from the belching smokestack of a train, or a glimpse of unexplainable phenomenon, be it lights or swirling columns of smoke (more on that one later). 

In addition, Gum and McClelland sporadically employed the Estes method, in which one person wears noise-isolation headphones, calling out words or phrases they detect in the blur of white noise as the other person asks a series of questions. McClelland wore the headphones first, remaining largely unresponsive as Gum asked: “Is there anybody out there?”; “Is there anyone who still walks the tracks?”; “Can anyone hear us?” 

McClelland followed Gum as the questioner, picking up on the words or phrases that Gum detected in the headphone static and exclaimed aloud, including laughter and the word “trouble,” and redirecting his line of inquiry. “Can you tell us what trouble?” McClelland asked. “Is there something on the tracks? Should we not be on the tracks?”

For the better part of four hours the two will repeat this exercise, walking the tracks between Estes sessions until a half past midnight. While collected evidence is scant — the recordings of passing trains and buzzing traffic set the evening’s scene but offer little proof of Lincoln’s ghost train or any other paranormal visitors — the two later deem the evening a success, each highlighting some encountered, unexplained phenomenon. 

“As the night went on, we started hearing train sounds where we couldn’t see one, though we weren’t sure if it was echoing in from somewhere else,” McClelland said in a phone call the weekend following the investigation. “And we saw some strange lights that had this glow to them, and then they just went away, or dispersed.”

In a phone call, Gum also recalled seeing what she described as a small tornado of smoke just off of the tracks and stretching up into the night air. “It streamed right into the sky like a phantom smokestack, and we both saw it at the same time and sort of marveled at it, and then it dispersed very quickly,” Gum said. “And it shifted our perception immediately because one of the traditions of sightings of the Lincoln ghost funeral train is physical or weather phenomenon, and we hadn’t really been looking at that. We had done the Estes sessions and tried to connect that way, and suddenly it brought our attention to that more cosmic view, which brought us back to the double rainbow, almost like [nature] was trying to tell us to look to the skies from the beginning.”

With “Queer Ghost Hunters,” the two focused exclusively on queer-centric investigations, exploring an often overlooked aspect of history. With “The Q Files,” the scope is expanded, allowing the two to tell all manner of historical and paranormal tales. “Just the title [‘Queer Ghost Hunters’] alone limits what you’re able to explore and share with the world while still remaining ‘on-brand,’” McClelland said. “When we were wrapping that up, we still wanted to do something, but we didn’t necessarily need it to be all ghosts, or all queer ghosts. There are a lot of other things that are interesting, or make for a fun story, so it was like, let’s open up the concept and explore the weird world around us, and share that with folks.”

It helps that the two are bonded by a deep sense of curiosity, which they have brought to episodes exploring topics such as stigmata, the UFO experiences of minorities andthe Hinsdale House.

“Shane is as curious, if not more curious, than I am,” said Gum, who is also working on a fictional screenplay set on the Lincoln funeral train. “And there’s a magic that happens when two curious people go out into the world together with a wacky concept about nature or the cosmos or folklore.”

This search has felt particularly necessary at this point in time, when the coronavirus has caused a massive societal upheaval that has ground much of the planet to a halt. “This event is taking us away from our jobs, it’s taking us away from our busy lives, and it’s making us pay attention to the present moment,” said Gum, who, with McClelland, has adopted mindfulness, or existing entirely in the moment, as a vital aspect of investigating paranormal events. “This is a pause for the cosmos to say, ‘What are you without your job? What are you without your friends? Your societal connections?What are you?’ It’s a time to take stock, and mindfulness and being in the present are very much a part of that.”

Listen to the Lincoln's ghost train episode of "The Q Files" here.