Last week, I started a two-part series about the historic funeral procession of President Abraham Lincoln, starting with the funeral at the White House and his funeral train’s procession (and stops) in Maryland, New Jersey and New York. Today, I’ll cover the rest of the journey through Ohio, Indiana and Illinois to his final resting place in Oak Ridge Cemetery.
Early on Friday, April 28, the Lincoln Special rumbled into the Euclid Street Station in Cleveland. Unlike previous stops, Lincoln’s coffin was not conveyed to a courthouse or auditorium for viewing but to an outdoor pagoda in Cleveland’s public park in Monument Square built just for the event.
Lincoln biographer Carl Sandburg explained, “At Cleveland, the Committee…decided no available building would accommodate the crowds, where the Committee on Arrangements had a pagoda put up in the city park, with open sides through which two columns could pass the coffin.”
Despite constant rain, over 100,000 mourners passed by Lincoln’s coffin in a period of about 15 hours. Late that evening, the Lincoln Special departed for Columbus (a 135-mile journey). Along the way, at every depot large bonfires were lit to light the way. Thousands gathered in the rain, hoping to catch sight of the passing funeral train.
Lincoln’s train arrived in Columbus on Saturday morning, April 29. A 17-foot long hearse carried his coffin to the State Capitol building. All along the way, thousands of mourners lined the streets, with houses and businesses draped in black.
At the West Gate of the Statehouse, an arch loomed over the large gate posts. At the arch’s center were the words: “Ohio Mourns”. Statehouse columns were wrapped in black cloth. Above the columns on the cornice a sign hung with a quote from Lincoln’s last inaugural address: “With malice to none. With charity for all.”
Once there, eight members of the Veteran Guard carried the coffin into the rotunda on their shoulders. The Columbus catafalque differed from the others in that it lacked elaborate columns and canopies, but was a simple low moss and flower-covered dais.
According to the website “Touring Ohio”, the dais was covered with lilacs. While it was an attractive site, the flowers also served as a much-needed olfactory buffer. The site states, “Although Lincoln’s body had been embalmed before leaving Washington D.C., the process was not yet perfected and his body had already begun to deteriorate badly giving off a putrid odor that had to be masked by the floral arrangements.”
Two sets of lines formed on High Street, one stretching north to Long Street and another south to Rich Street. About 8,000 people an hour walked past the casket. During the afternoon on the east side of the Capitol Building, state and local dignitaries, and military generals spoke about Lincoln’s contributions. Major General George Hooker, who would later lead the Springfield procession, was the featured speaker.
At 6 p.m., the Capitol doors were closed. A bugle sounded the assembly and the soldiers reformed for the final escort back to Union Station following the same route in reverse. A few hours later, the train departed Columbus and headed for Indianapolis (187 miles away).
After arriving in Indianapolis at 7 a.m. on Sunday, April 30, Lincoln’s coffin was carried to the Indiana State House in a hearse topped by a silver-gilt eagle. Because the rain was so heavy, the planned procession was canceled and the day was devoted to viewing.
The first mourners were 5,000 children, all members of various Sunday schools. Bringing up the rear were hundreds of African-Americans, clutching copies of the Emancipation Proclamation. By the time those final mourners had paid their respects, an estimated 100,000 people had visited Lincoln’s casket.
During the night, the Lincoln Special departed for Chicago. In Michigan City, Ill., on the morning of Monday, May 1, the funeral train stopped at 8:25 A.M. under a 35-foot memorial arch over the tracks. That’s when something totally unplanned happened.
Officials in charge of the funeral train decided to open the coffin to display the remains, breaking the rule that said the coffin would be opened only in the cities holding official funerals. Residents were allowed to enter to pay their last respects.
The justification for this impromptu funeral was that Lincoln’s train was forced to wait an hour in Michigan City for the arrival (by special train) of a committee of officials from Chicago that were to escort it into the city.
The funeral train reached Chicago by 11 a.m. and did not go the full distance to the Union Depot, stopping on a trestle that carried the tracks out into Lake Michigan for some distance. The train remained still, with only its bell tolling its arrival.
Soon after, Lincoln’s casket was taken to a platform which rested underneath a grand arch. According to Geoff Elliott, the Gothic structure cost the city $15,000 along with the decorations in the Cook County courthouse (where Lincoln would lay in state). That amount was half of what Washington paid for the President’s entire funeral, indicating Chicago’s desire to equal New York City and Philadelphia in their efforts to show their respect for the fallen President.
J.C. Power wrote of the procession to the Cook County courthouse that followed:
It was a wilderness of banners and flags, with their mottoes and inscriptions. The estimated number of persons in line was 37,000, and there were three times as many more who witnessed the procession by crowding into the streets bordering on the line of march, making about 150,000 who were on the streets of Chicago that day, to add their tribute of respect to the memory of Abraham Lincoln.
The courthouse opened to the public at 6 p.m. Once inside, mourners saw a mix of patriotic fervor and somber mourning as they passed by the president’s casket. Thousands of mourners paid their respects through the night and during the next day.
On Tuesday, May 2 at 8 p.m., a hearse carried the coffin to the depot of the St. Louis and Alton Railroad. The Lincoln Special was ready to go to its last stop, Springfield, which was 184 miles away.
Civil War veteran William S. Porter was a brakeman assigned to work on the funeral train. He wrote about what he saw on the journey from Chicago to Springfield:
There were large crowds of people, congregated – stern, grim visaged men, tear eye-dimmed women and children – all silent, but with an anxious expectant look as of some impending disaster. It was that way all along the line. There were throngs of people in all the smaller towns, also at the country road crossing could be seen a group of people waiting to see the arrival and passage of this train, the remembrance of which was to become an epoch in their lives.
The Lincoln Special arrived in Springfield on Wednesday, May 3. Lincoln would lie in state in the State House’s Hall of Representatives. It was the same room in which he gave his famous “House Divided” speech. Unfortunately, Lincoln’s face had become further discolored, so undertaker Thomas Lynch had to use rouge chalk and amber to restore the face to a near normal color.
Shortly after 10 a.m., the doors were opened to the long line of mourners. Additionally, hundreds of people gathered around Lincoln’s home where his horse, Old Bob, now 16 years old, had been brought back for the day.
Lincoln’s law partner William Herndon wrote:
All day long and through the night a stream of people filed reverently by the catafalque. Some of them were his colleagues at the bar; some his old friends from New Salem; some crippled soldiers fresh from the battlefields of the war; and some were little children who, scarce realizing the impressiveness of the scene, were destined to live and tell their children yet to be born the sad story of Lincoln’s death.
On the morning of Wednesday, May 4, the sun dawned bright and hot for Lincoln’s final funeral. At 10 a.m., the State House doors were closed, and his body was prepared for burial by the undertaker and embalmer. An elegant hearse (finished in gold, silver and crystal) lent to Springfield by the city of St. Louis carried the President’s coffin.
Led by Major General Hooker, the procession took a a zigzag route from the State House, past Lincoln’s home, past the Governor’s Mansion and onto the country road leading to Oak Ridge Cemetery where he would be buried. The hearse was followed immediately by Old Bob wearing a mourning blanket. Lincoln’s only two blood relatives in attendance that day were his sons, Robert and Thomas (Tad). Mrs. Lincoln was still in mourning in the White House.
Upon arrival at the cemetery, the coffin was laid upon a marble slab inside the receiving vault where it would temporarily stay since it would take three years to complete the President’s tomb. Willie’s coffin was placed beside his father’s. Bishop Matthew Simpson gave the funeral oration and Dr. Phineas Densmore Gurley read the benediction. Mourners then watched as the iron gates and heavy wooden doors of the tomb were closed and locked.
Unfortunately, Lincoln’s remains would be moved around several times after this but that story deserves its own blog post. The long journey was finally over, having moved through seven states over 14 long days.
Never had such a funeral procession been attempted and it never would again.
For additional information and photographs of Lincoln’s historic funeral procession, see the book Twenty Days by Dorothy Meserve Kunhardt and Philip B. Kunhardt, Jr.