A Famous Passenger Train Completes Its Last Run

December 3, 1967

After 65 years of service, the New York Central Railroad (NYC) express passenger train 20th Century Limited completed its final journey. The half-full train pulled into LaSalle Street Station in Chicago at 6:45 p.m. The Limited had actually been scheduled to arrive nine hours earlier, but was delayed due to a freight derailment in Ohio. “I’m just sorry we could not get it in on time,” remarked J.A. McClain, the Limited’s engineer for this last trip.

The Limited had left New York City’s Grand Central Terminal at 6:00 p.m. the previous day. “Among the passengers there was a sprinkling of mink stoles and sparkle,” reported the New York Times in its account of this departure. “Older men and women who rode the Twentieth Century in its heyday were a little sad.” The newspaper also noted, “As usual, carnations were given to the men boarding the train, and perfume and flowers to the women.”

NYC first placed the Limited in service in 1902 so that the company could more effectively compete with the Pennsylvania Railroad for train passengers traveling between New York City and Chicago. The train’s name, which was coined by NYC general passenger agent George H. Daniels, reflected the hope that the train would be the forerunner of a new era in high-speed rail transportation during the still-young 20th century.

The Limited was heavily promoted by NYC as “The Most Famous Train in the World,” and it quickly became synonymous with luxurious railroad travel. (The above image of the train was created for NYC in 1938 for use in everything from advertisements to dining car menus.) The train’s regular passengers included Theodore Roosevelt, William Jennings Bryan, actress and singer Lillian Russell, businessman “Diamond Jim” Brady, financier J.P. Morgan, operatic tenor Enrico Caruso, and operatic soprano Nellie Melba.

The Limited left a huge cultural imprint in other ways as well. The train was featured in the 1959 Alfred Hitchcock film North by Northwest, for example, and it served as the subject of E.B. White’s poem “The Twentieth Century Gets Through.” In 1999, the U.S. Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp depicting the train en route from Chicago to New York City.  

For more information on the 20th Century Limited, please check out  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/20th_Century_Limited

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