George Francis Train in Kearney

George Francis Train (1829-1904) was an author, orator, businessman, and larger-than-life financial promoter. His connection to Nebraska resulted from his interest in the building of the transcontinental railroad through the state. Train served as an assistant to Thomas Durant, who used him to help in the financing of railroad construction, and he was much in evidence while it was being built, doing publicity for a buffalo hunt by Union Pacific officials and engaging in countless other activities.

Train had the Cozzens Hotel built in Omaha, reportedly because he thought that the manager of the Herndon House hotel had insulted him. He claimed to own five thousand lots in Omaha, one thousand in Council Bluffs, and seven thousand in Columbus, and promised to make each town the leading city of the Midwest. In 1872 Train ran unsuccessfully as an independent candidate for the U.S. presidency, with Omaha as his campaign headquarters.

Train was also a world traveler. His first trip around the globe took two years. His second in 1870 took eighty days, serving as what many believe was the inspiration for Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days. In 1890 he traveled around the world in sixty-seven days (to beat Nellie Bly’s 1889-90 record time of seventy-two days); and in 1892 he circled the globe in just sixty days.

During his 1890 trip, Train stopped briefly in Kearney, where his reputation as an eccentric had preceded him. The Kearney Hub of May 22, 1890, carried a short interview: “The Hub man wended his way to the U.P. depot at 8:30 last evening to interview Citizen Train, the Globe Flyer. When the west-bound flyer stopped at the water tank the Hub man accompanied by Col. Charley Gow climbed aboard the car containing Train. Although neither of us had ever seen Mr. Train we at once recognized him by his odd dress and style.”

When the reporter invited Train to address a small crowd on the station platform, he did so “in his usual erratic style telling them to read the account of his trip in the New York Sun, which his secretary was distributing and to keep the papers for five years and they would be worth $25 a copy.” Train declined to shake hands with anyone, saying that he would never get around the world in sixty-five days [he required sixty-seven] if he observed the custom of shaking hands.

“Citizen Train was circling the globe to beat all records in the interest of Tacoma, Washington. The people of that lively city raised $3,000 in 15 minutes at a public meeting to go to paying Train’s expenses and also advertising expenses.”

During his last years, Train lived in seclusion at the Mills Hotel in New York City. In 1902 his entertaining autobiography, My Life in Many States and in Foreign Lands, was published. He died in 1904.

George Francis Train. From History of the City of Omaha, Nebraska by James W. Savage and John R. Bell and South Omaha by Consul W. Butterfield (1894).

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