MAGNOLIA, Texas — No one in Magnolia can remember such a moment.
“I’ve heard that we’re going to have about 10,000 people,” said Ginger Ware Astolfo, a Magnolia native.
The town often dismisses the trains that roar through. On Thursday, there was an audience along the tracks. “I came by here an hour ago and there were already people coming by,” said Kenneth Langley, Magnolia resident.
President George H.W. Bush’s funeral train was due through just before 2 p.m.
Magnolia was one of eight Texas towns that got to the state funeral on its way to Bush’s burial plot at his presidential library in College Station.
“I’m hoping to get a glimpse of the casket. I want to send my love with balloons in the air,” Astolfo said. She brought six red heart shaped balloons to release as the rail car carrying Bush’s family passes.
“I’m going to send [the balloons] to heaven, as high as they will go,” Astolfo continued.
Even Texas music legend Gary P. Nunn came down from Austin to stand along the tracks with people from as far away as Alabama.
“I think we’ve lost an icon of another era,” he said. “I did have the opportunity to play for him one time. He was at a speaking event in Dallas and I got to stand back stage with him and the Secret Service before we went on.”
Andy and Danna Woody drove their daughters seven hours one-way from Searcy, Arkansas to see this. “We’re basically driving 14 hours for a five-minutes of watching the train go by,” said Danna.
At 1:59 p.m., history came into sight. The blue and white Union Pacific locomotive pulling the presidential funeral train, 11 cars in all, slowed as it arrived in Magnolia.
Bush’s flag-draped casket was visible through windows on each side in the fourth car. Astolfo and her granddaughter released their balloons as it rode by them.
“It’s emotional, even for the few minutes it was here. It was just a perfect tribute to an American icon,” said Andy Woody.
In the end, it took less than 60-seconds for the train to pass.
And it seems, all of Magnolia came out to help the country close a chapter in American history on the tracks that cut through town.