The ghost of the Lady Bird Special pulled into the Capitol Hilton for a nostalgic campaign whistlestop last night. Abroad were many of those people who brought you the Great Society.
One bore the same name as the train that travelled 1682 miles, made 67 stops and helped win four out of eight southern states for the Johnson-Humphrey ticket in 1964.
"I'm having the most fun of anybody here," said Lady Bird Johnson. waving to some 750 of Lyndon Baines Johnson's closest political friends.
Another was Muriel Humphrey.
"My emotions overwhelm me," she said, recalling the night Johnson chose her late husband as his running mate and later how LBJ put him on horse-back at the ranch.
Rep. Phillip Burton (D-Calif.), who was elected to Congress that same year in a special election, took one look at the crowded room decorated with red, white and blue balloons, bunting and the handpainted mural of the now-legendary train, and announced "The Democrats are back in town again."
Certainly some Democrats were back in town, re-traveling the route that became what Liz Carpenter has called "a salvage operation" for LBJ after the controversial Civil Rights Act of 1964.
"It fell to Lady Bird to say, "we love you but you get to move along into the 20th century,' "Carpenter said last night.
Remembering the Lady Bird Special opened the turnstiles of White House and campaign memories:
"Lyndon Johnson's favorite story," said Leonrd Marks, who organized the party in the name of Friends of the LBJ Library, "was about the speech he made in Culpeper (Va.). 'What have the Republicans done for Culpeper?' LBJ asked the crowd, and one old man answered him, saying, "Nobody's done anything for Culpeper.'"
Last night, as an act of remembrance, they hung up a whistlestop sign that said "Culpeper."
Marianne Means, the Hearst Newspapers columnist, remembered LBJ's rousing plea that capped the trip when he met the train in New Orleans.
"An electric moment," said Rep. Lindy Boggs (D-La.), who remembered that LBJ's 1960 visit to New Orleans had been equally memorable.
"They held an out-of-season Mardi Gras parade for him -- the only time in history."
The passenger list from the Lady Bird Special included names of many in last night's crowd: Boggs, Betty Talmadge, Scooter Miller, Bess Abell, Lynda Johnson Robb, Luci Johnson Nugent.
"I traveled every weekend that fall," said Nugent who added she has "phased out of public life" in recent years, but has "a delightfully fragmented professional life" as an adviser, editor and lobbyist since her recent divorce from Pat Nugent.
Many in the throng were straight out of the 1964-68 White House directory:
Chief of Protocol Abelardo Valdez, then a 2nd lieutenant in the Army and White House social aide. "It was a turning point in my life. I decided to change from engineering and go into international relations."
Virginia LT. Gov. Charles S. Robb, then a captain in the marine corps and a White House social aide who married the commander-in-chief's daughter. "It was one of those situations when I was expected to entertain the ladies, including the boss's daughters."
Undersecretary of Defense Robert Komer, then a member of the, National Security Council: "For a traumatic six weeks I was the director, the Brzezinski. I went ape. They gave me 14 new clearances I didn't know existed."
Mondale aide Bess Abell, then White House social secretary: "When it came to buying state gifts, LBJ said, "Spend imagination, not the taxpayers' money." So we bought a ballot box for the prime minister of Ireland."
Dallas contractor Warren G. Woodward, and his wife Mary Ellen, then Lynda Bird's chaperones: "We got her through the George Hamilton days, through all her romances."
Los Angeles Times publisher Tom Johnson, then a White House press aide: "I remember Cliff Alexander when he didn't have gray hair."
Secretary of the Army Cliff Alexander, than a guy with "lots of titles," among them chairman of the Equal Opportunity Employment Council: "I knew Tom Johnson when he didn't run a newspaper or have several television stations."
Martha Darling, now the legislative assistant to Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) but in 1964 a non-voting schoolgirl, said it was "the last easy election."
Lynda Robb said, "We all grew up."
Like several others last night -- Clark Clifford, Joe Califano, Patricia Harris, Stuart Eizenstat, among them -- Lynda Robb grew up to work in the Carter White House, she as chairwoman of the president's advisory committee on women.
Some people even called it a Carter crowd, the kind of people who, when all the ruckus fades, will send Jimmy Carter back to the White House.
"I've known a lot of these people a long time," said Rep. Jack Brooks (D-Texas), "amd they don't believe in running against an incumbent Democrat."
Some people called it a Connally crowd.
"He's not any dirtier than anybody, else," said Washington attorney Ron Patterson, "I'm sick and tired of moralists."
Some people said it wasn't a Connally crowd.
I didn't smell 'em," said one Texan.
Some people said it was a Kennedy crowd.
"A lot of people have been saying their ABCs -- anybody but Carter -- for a long time," said Ellen Marcus, longtime party regular.