New York to San Francisco: June 1-4, 1876. Unbound.
The transcontinental Lightning Express captured the attention of the nation while transporting a theatrical troupe from New York to San Francisco in record-breaking time for opening night.
A small archive relating to Jarrett & Palmer's famous non-stop transcontinental Lightning Express train that transported their theatrical company from New York to San Francisco in under 84 hours. The national excitement generated by the arrival of the Lightning Express in Oakland was incredible and not to be again matched until Charles Lindbergh landed the Spirit of St. Louis in Paris fifty years later. This grouping consists of
A rare transcontinental cover franked with a 3-cent green Washington stamp (Scott #158) that has been canceled with a circular postmark that reads "Jarrett - Palmer's / Special Fast Trans-Continental Train" and is dated "New York / June / 1-1876 / 12.10 A.M." It bears an oval "4 June / 1876) receiving handstamp from "E. Rass & Co. / San-Francisco". There is an advertising corner card from Leon & H. Blum, New York City dry goods merchants.
A postal card (Scott #UX3) reporting the arrival of the Lightning Express which is dated "Oakland June 4th" and canceled with a 'circle of Vs' handstamp and a San Francisco postmark. And
A newspaper clipping containing a reproduction of an original newspaper article, information about the trip, a map showing the location of Jarret and Palmer's Booth Theater across from Madison Square Park, and a half-tone photograph of the train after it arrived in Oakland. The article was authored by Clark Kinnaird, a long-time newspaper reporter who also wrote a syndicated 'history' column for the New York Journal-American.
While the envelope has no contents, the text of the postal card reads in part:
"Will not visit you and the Centennial but wish we could. The 'Jarrett & Palmer' lightning train arrived at S.F. Safely at about 10 o'clock this morning, having half an hour to spare from their schedule time of 84 hours from New York. Great feat, & everyone here is enthusiastic over it, though few want to try it themselves! Tomorrow's papers will give details - will send.". Very good. Item #009587
Lucious Beebe--the renowned author, gourmand, photographer, railroad historian, syndicated columnist, and all-round social raconteur--vividly described the journey in his railroad classic, The Age of Steam
"In 1876, . . . seven full days and nights with changes of cars at Chicago and Omaha, were conventional time between New York and the Pacific Coast. When, therefore, a specially chartered train filled with theatrical celebrities . . . made the passage from coast to coast in the record time of eighty-four hours, Americans followed the magnificently publicized event with awed enthusiasm. . .. The Lightning Express was chartered by Henry Jarrett of Jarrett & Palmer, managers of the Booth Theater in New York, to transport the celebrated Lawrence Barrett and a distinguished supporting cast in time for the opening night of Henry V at McCullough's California Theater in San Francisco. The project instantly caught the fancy of the public and fantastic newspaper coverage was accorded the train's departure . . . over the rails of the Pennsylvania [and then] the Chicago & North Western--Union Pacific-Central Pacific route to California. The actors rode in ornate splendor aboard the Pullman Palace Hotel Car, Marlborough, while a commissary car carried appropriate food and drink and the scenery rode in a conventional baggage car. All across the continent, the train's passing was the occasion for the wildest excitement and at Reno, nearing the end of its run, its approach was greeted with an exclamatory display of rockets and other artifices de feu. The run over the Central Pacific from Ogden to Oakland, a relay of 875 miles, including the High Sierra crossing, was accomplished by a single engine and a single engineer, Hank Small, at the driver's side. No. 149, a sleek 4-4-0, achieved immortality overnight. The sooty actors, weary but triumphant, were met at San Francisco by Warren Leland, the manager of the eye-popping Palace Hotel and taken to a breakfast of grilled, salmon, cucumber salad, filet of Beef Bearnaise, cutlets of Minden lamb, escalloped veal, partridges sautéed in champagne, grilled Mallard duck, asparagus, strawberries and three kinds of eggs, shirred, with mushrooms, and rum omelets. . .."
On the evening of June 4th, Jarret & Palmer's Henry V opened on schedule in San Francisco to a sold-out house.
Extremely scarce. At the time of this listing, no other Lightning Express items are for sale in the trade. OCLC shows no institutions holding first-hand accounts of the Lightning Express, nor any items or mail carried by it. Materials related to the Lightning Express--broadsides, tickets, passes, stereoviews, and especially carried mail--only infrequently appear at auction, and they are quite expensive when they do, generally bring prices between $3,000 and $12,000.