To rail passengers, Pullman was a savior, but to his employees, Pullman was a devil. And when the millionaire died, many of those employees wanted to make sure he stayed
George Pullman made his fortune creating the popular Pullman sleeper car to allow rail passengers a comfortable way to travel by train.
His sleeper cars had wood paneling and carpeted floors. They beds were soft and comfortable, each car had a washroom and was well ventilated. It was a far cry from the cramped, unventilated berths travelers dealt with before the Pullman car.
Later Pullman would add restaurant cars and parlors cars. Pullman cars soon became the dominant train cars on American railroads.
A Company Town
Pullman bought 4000 acres near Lake Calumet in 1880 and created a company town for his employees. Though attractive and well designed, it was still controlled by Pullman. He controlled the press and meetings. What he didn’t approve of was not allowed in the town.
The Strike Breaker
Pullman’s business slacked off in 1894. He cut jobs and for the employees that remained, he reduced working hours and wages. However, the costs within the company town weren’t reduced, which made life excessively hard for his employees.
This led to a strike so violent that federal troops had to be sent in to get things under control.
The government found that Pullman’s policies were largely to blame for the strike. His company town was called “un-American” and the Pullman Company was forced to sell it off in 1898.
A Hated Man
“During the last two years of his life, George Pullman had the dubious distinction of being one of the most despised men in America,” Thomas Craughwell wrote in Stealing Lincoln’s Body (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007: pg. 193).
People threatened to kill him and at least two attempts were made on his life. One attempt was a pipe bomb that was mailed to Pullman.
A Proper Burial
Pullman died of a heart attack on October 18, 1897. However, having lived the close of his life in fear, he had prepared to die in fear as well. He left written instructions for how he should be buried.
Pullman feared his angry employees would rob his grave and desecrate his body.
He ordered that he be buried in a lead-lined casket, which would be wrapped in tar paper and coated with asphalt an inch thick. His grave was to be 13 feet long, 9 feet wide and 8 feet deep. An 18-inch concrete slab lined the bottom.
Once the casket was in the grave a steel cage made of T rails would be placed around the casket. Then the entire thing would be buried in cement. (Liston Edgington Leyendecker, Palace Car Prince: A Biography of George Mortimer Pullman, Niwot: University Press of Colorado, 1992, pg. 258).
A writer of the time said of Pullman’s arrangements, “It is clear the family in their bereavement was making sure the sonofabitch wasn’t going to get up and come back.”