Local enthusiast harbors memory of Kennedy's funeral train — and the rail car

Philadelphians remember Robert F. Kennedy 50 years since his assassination

Steve Tawa
June 04, 2018 - 9:12 pm
In 1985, Bennett Levin acquired the very same Tuscan red Pennsylvania No. 120 railcar for $75,000, rather than see it head to the scrap heap.

Courtesy of Bennett Levin

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — As the nation pauses to remember the sudden loss of Robert F. Kennedy 50 years ago, some may recall that three days after his assassination, millions of people were drawn to railroad crossings from New York to Washington for a glimpse of his funeral train. 

One of those onlookers was a local train enthusiast, who now owns the final car that carried RFK's coffin. 

Bennett Levin recalled finding a spot on the Spring Garden Street Bridge, overlooking the railroad tracks leading to 30th Street Station. As he looked around, it was a "somber, silent crowd"  viewing the slow-moving 21-car funeral train.

"The country was in a rather rudderless position," he said. "Everybody was very disoriented by what was going on. He was articulating a different kind of government, with fairness and hope for people who perceived themselves to be trapped in a hopeless situation."

In 1985, Levin acquired the very same Tuscan red Pennsylvania No. 120 rail car for $75,000, rather than see it head to the scrap heap. 

In 1985, Bennett Levin acquired the very same Tuscan red Pennsylvania No. 120 railcar for $75,000, rather than see it head to the scrap heap.
Courtesy of Bennett Levin

The "business car" was built for the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1928, and it was the final car that carried Kennedy's coffin from New York to Arlington National Cemetery. The route was said to be lined by more than 1 million people.

Levin remembered a diverse, "reverently silent" crowd; the outpouring of affection for Kennedy was a "reflection of the times."

Levin referenced old photos of the Pennsylvania 120 carrying John F. Kennedy to and from the Army-Navy football games, as well as celebrities like Frank Sinatra, who also chartered the car. 

Levin and his son, who works for Conrail, spent six years restoring the train car by following original engineering drawings.

"We saved it from becoming razor blades," added the self-proclaimed "train nut." "Here's a part of our popular culture, history and our tradition — and it still exists today."

The 85-foot, 100-ton rail passenger car remains in his North Philadelphia work shed.

Fifty years since the assassination, Levin said Kennedy was a "beacon for a vast class of people."

"That really reflected the reverence and the introspection of the people who waited on that hot day for the train to pass," he said.