If you have not visited the Lincoln Museum in Springfield, Illinois, I would encourage you to do so. It is a wonderful collection of authentic memorabilia and vignettes on Lincoln’s life from boyhood to log splitter to country lawyer to President of the United States. Visually the whole thing is stunning. But even more important is the messaging and the history.
With my family’s involvement in the funeral business, I was particularly interested in the assassination and funeral for Lincoln. We all know the story of his assassination at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865. What is often forgotten is what happened over the next twenty days. I have long maintained that these twenty days had an immeasurable impact on the way our country has dealt with death and grief ever since.
To digress, my father, George Spear, was an avid stamp collector during his glory days. While perusing the various philatelic catalogs, he occasionally went for the miscellaneous items at the tail end of a particular auction. This included sport memorabilia and political collectibles, like campaign buttons and autographs. He would place a bid on various items that had some sort of funeral connection, which is how we ended up with many of the items I will be discussing in upcoming blogs about what is on the walls in the family room next to the chapel at Hansen-Spear.
The largest piece displayed is through the great courtesy of the Lincoln Presidential Library, next to the museum in Springfield. As part of his funeral exhibit in the museum was a large map of the upper United States from that era that showed the remarkable similarity between the routes Lincoln took to Washington upon his election in 1860 to the route his funeral train took returning him to Springfield in April and May of 1865. Theresa and I queried the library about where one could find a copy of that map. The receptionist took a few steps to a shelf immediately behind her, pulled out a relatively small book, and opened up the front which had the trifold map in question. First, how did she know how to lay her hands on that book and what was that book doing right there to begin with, this being a huge Presidential Library! Wow!
I fully expected a negative response when I asked if there was any way to get some sort of copy of the map. Instead, her answer was, “Well, our photographer is gone today, but he can take a picture of it and mail it to you on a disk.” Wow number two! Several days later the disk arrive by mail with an invoice for $5.00! The craziness kept on coming.
I took the disk to Tim Helgoth at Priority One who produced a 40” by 72” poster. One of the most interesting items on the map is that each place the train stopped for a grieving nation to pay its respects is noted, as well as the locations of the ten actual funeral ceremonies held as the train made its way back to Springfield. We then took photos from the book Twenty Days by Dorothy Meserve Kunhardt and Philip B Kunhardt of each of the actual funeral gatherings and placed them near the city where it was held. Only Albany, New York did not have a suitable photo. The narrative in the book is a great telling of the mightiest outpouring of grief the world have ever seen. The one known picture of Lincoln in death was taken while lying in state in the New York City Hall rotunda. The plates were ordered to be destroyed by the Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, even though it was not offensive. The actual print was secured by Stanton, put away, and ultimately only came to light in 1952.
The train cortege to Springfield began on April 21, 1865, following the great funeral procession and the lying is state in the Capitol in Washington, DC. Along the way the casket was opened for viewing at several of the stopping points. The final Stop was the Capitol in Springfield where Lincoln was viewed in the House of Representatives room on a large platform that had replaced the Speaker’s desk. This was the room in which Lincoln gave his famous “house divided against itself’ speech.” Millions of people went to pay homage to this great President at all hours of the day and night, some traveling to one of the major cities where a service was held, others just going to a small town through which the train passed or maybe just to a nearby railroad crossing to quietly mourn as the nine car train slowly made its way home. Probably the only other two events in history like this that affected so many were the funerals of John F. Kennedy and Princess Diana.
On May 4, 1865, General John Hooker, once the commander of The Army of the Potomac, led the funeral procession, “the largest marching spectacle the West had ever seen…” from the Capitol to Oak Ridge Cemetery where Lincoln was carried from the horse drawn hearse and placed in a tomb next to a small coffin that held the body of his son, Willie, which was brought on the same train West from Washington where he had died in 1862. Following a number of speeches and hymns, the gate to the tomb was locked.
There are several items of significance that Dad had which we now proudly display at Hansen-Spear. Over the next few weeks I hope to give you a glimpse of some of the Lincoln history that is right here in Quincy, Illinois.