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The sesquicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s funeral

Posted on Wednesday, July 1, 2015 at 2:35 pm

A reenactment held May 3 with Lincoln’s funeral hearse.

President Abraham Lincoln died at 7:22 a.m., Saturday, April 15, 1865 in Washington, D.C.  The nation mourned.   His embalmed body was carried by train across the North, stopping at 11 cities for grand processions and funerals before arriving in Springfield, Illinois for his burial.  Thousands poured into Springfield to be present at the obsequeies.   One hundred and fifty years later, thousands once more came to Springfield to remember and honor the event.

The vision for the reenactment had begun nine years earlier.  The Lincoln Funeral Coalition had coordinated a massive number of things needful to host a national reenactment in the middle of a capital city.  Various brilliant, visionary craftsmen had worked to recreate the major pieces, the funeral train car, the hearse, and the coffin.  David Kloke, owner of Kloke Construction and Kloke Locomotive Works LLC, along with his team spent more than four years constructing the train car.  The Staab Family Livery of Springfield was responsible for the hearse, in association with Jack G. Feather of Tombstone Hearse Company and Eric Hollenbeck with the Blue Ox School of Veterans.  The coffin was created due to the efforts of The Great Rivers Lincoln Coalition, Mosby Woodwork, the Batesville Casket Co., and Brooks Brothers Ltd.    Nanci Gasiel; my husband, John Masciale, and I joined as Coordinators for Civilian Reenactors about a year and a half ago.  One of our responsibilities was to research the appearance and role of civilians at the various funerals for Lincoln so that they could be accurately interpreted today.

The camps opened officially on Thursday, April 30.  The main camp was established at Lincoln Park, close to Oak Ridge Cemetery, with smaller camps at Benedictine University and Edwards Place.  Many chose to stay in Springfield’s hotels.  Based on documentary evidence that Americans heavily draped their homes with black and white, we encouraged civilian campers to drape their tents, which many did.  Some people went to local stores to purchase black fabric.  As happened 150 years ago, the stores quickly ran out.   For their registration token, all registered participants received a white ribbon that was reproduced from an extant mourning ribbon worn at the Springfield funeral.  As civilian coordinators, we encouraged civilian reenactors to see Springfield, much as people did in 1865.  Nanci Gasiel devoted a massive amount of time to creating a period-style Gazetteer, or travel guide, so that all the participants could have the schedules and maps at their fingertips yet look period appropriate.  Springfield’s museums and cultural organizations did themselves proud commemorating the event, with concerts, special exhibits and programs, scholarly symposia, and dinners.

I think it is important to acknowledge the kindness of the residents of Springfield.  Streets were blocked and travel downtown was difficult.  They were gracious, unstintingly kind, and welcoming.  Reenactors were repeatedly thanked for their participation.  A representative of the Central Baptist Church visited the progressive civilian camp in Lincoln Park to bring candles.  The command staff of the USS Abraham Lincoln shook hands with everyone and thanked them.  Governor Bruce Rauner mingled inconspicuously with the crowds at the gate of Oak Ridge Cemetery (or as inconspicuously as a governor can get) and shook hands, expressing his gratitude.  The Sunday procession was almost four miles in the heat, and people brought out water and Gatorade from their homes, in addition to the three water stations provided by McDonald’s.  When the heat proved too much to a military participant at the funeral service, a Boy Scout held an umbrella over his head to provide shade.

On Friday, Nanci offered a workshop to help people create a period style mourning badge.  Terre Lawson presented a lecture, “Behind the Seams,” in which she explained the construction details of five work dresses from the collection of K. Krewer.  On Saturday, a series of lectures was offered in the juried vendor area at Benedictine University.

Saturday morning, shuttle buses arrived at the camps a little after 7 a.m. to bring participants downtown.  Ultimately, well over 400 civilian reenactors assembled on the platform at the Amtrack station, where Lincoln’s body had returned to Springfield.  The early hour was not the only historic parallel to 1865.  As the crowd increased around the station, we could see people watching from the nearby parking garage, just as our predecessors had watched from the surrounding rooftops.  Period accounts note the small mourning flags carried by many women and children along the train route; we also carried replicas of the paper flags to greet the train. Our research had shown that women did not wear deep mourning to the funeral, and we counted it a major triumph that no one wore widow’s weeds.

Across the tracks from us was the incredible recreation of the funeral train car.  It could not sit on the tracks because of Union Pacific rail rights: in fact, two trains passed us while we waited.  I must express a deep sense of gratitude to all the civilians who denied themselves the use of their cameras during the times we most wanted them, since we knew there would be banks of cameras recording us.  Perhaps the greatest compliment must be when one reenactor overheard a spectator comment that “This must be what it looked like in 1865.”

Shortly after 9 a.m. the Veterans Reserve Corp carefully removed the flag-draped coffin from the train car.  Silence reigned, all eyes strained towards the sight.  The coffin was carried behind the train, where a slight-of-hand was performed.  The replica coffin was three inches too wide for the train door, so the train builders substituted their own scale coffin.  Out of sight, the flag, made by Annin Flag, the company that made the flag that covered Lincoln’s coffin in Springfield, was transferred to the reproduction coffin.  Bearing it on their shoulders, the VRC solemnly and slowly carried the coffin to the waiting hearse.  They were followed by the honorary pallbearers, each wearing a ceremonial white sash across his chest.  A number of the pallbearers were direct descendants of the original Springfield pallbearers.

The procession set off toward the stage across from the Old State Capitol.  Military, the 5th Michigan Regiment Band, the hearse, drawn by six black caparisoned horses, and accompanied by the pallbearers, horse-drawn carriages carrying those portraying the family, Masons in historic regalia, and the civilians all walked slowly and mournfully in silence.  The coffin was removed from the hearse and set on a platform for viewing.

At the conclusion of the modern ceremony, the closed coffin was available for viewing.  Only a month before, Carla Sofka had discovered the journal of Lt William Reid, who served as an honor guard at Lincoln’s Springfield funeral.  He mentioned handing out evergreen sprigs to those who had come to view the president’s remains.  Thanks to her research, each person who paid their respects received a sprig of evergreen and a small funeral card.  Crowds of spectators and reenactors lingered in the area of the coffin and the hearse long into the afternoon.

Sunday morning was clear and hot, another historic parallel.  Some of the downtown churches held period worship services.  They, along with some businesses, historic sites, and private homes dressed their edifices with mourning drapery.  As the funeral procession stepped off, slowly, mournfully, and in silence, church bells began to toll, some of them the very bells that had marked the president’s funeral years ago.    Many civilian reenactors said their most meaningful moment was passing Lincoln’s draped home as the bells rang sadly.  The Sunday procession included an 1859 fire pumper and a riderless draped horse portraying Old Bob, Lincoln’s Springfield horse.  The horse was the same ridden by Daniel Day Lewis in the movie Lincoln.  Waiting at the Lincoln home, although not visible to the procession because of the pressing crowds, was a dog portraying Fido, the Lincoln’s dog, and a young boy portraying John Roll, to whom the Lincolns gave the dog when they left for Washington.  Muffled drums and hymns played by the bands sounded in the military, as they marched slowly with reverse arms.

It is nearly impossible to describe the effect of the recreated hearse as it was drawn by its team. Photographs and even videos do not begin to capture the constant shimmering motion of the black ostrich plumes surmounting the hearse and the way they drew the eye.  At some undefinable point, the hearse and the procession gathered emotional power beyond all of our expectations and the moments became somewhat transcendent.  People lining the entire four-mile route were silent, and rose as the hearse approached.  Men removed their hats, women and children put their hands over their hearts.  Veterans groups, waiting to honor Lincoln, among them two Tuskegee airmen, saluted.  Many, spectators and reenactors alike, cried, some with tears running down their cheeks.

The funeral service at Oak Ridge Cemetery was a recreation of that of 1865. It concluded with cannonade and the Doxology.  Prior to the service, we had been informed that the coffin would remain in the hearse, but we were delighted to see it removed from the hearse and given place of honor in front of the stage.  We were overwhelmed at the conclusion to find the coffin would be placed in the actual vault.

The VRC carried the coffin, with the pallbearers following, and placed it in the vault.  The pallbearers then took a place of honor on either side of the door.  Ted Henry, portraying General Hooker, approached the receiving vault, saluted the coffin, and slammed the doors shut.  There was not a dry eye in that area.  As the VRC stood guard, spectators and civilian reenactors tearfully approached to pay their final respects.  Just before she laid a boxwood sprig at the vault, I met Yulanda Burgess of Detroit, whose great-great grandfather, Armstead Burgess, was a member of the 6th Regiment, U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery, who took part in the Battle of Fort Pillow.  John and I met an elderly man from Georgia who came because his great-great grandmother had been in Springfield for the funeral.  He brought the transcription of her oral testimony to the Lincoln Library.  Someone told us of a young girl from England, who was overjoyed to be present; the trip was her Christmas present. Many of the registered civilian participants were not reenactors but teachers and life-long admirers of Abraham Lincoln.  All came to honor Lincoln’s memory and his legacy.

Now, at the end, many of us will cherish our mourning badges and carefully preserve our evergreen sprigs.  I, for one, am overwhelmed by the honor to have worked on this event, and I apologize to all whom I should have recognized and thanked.  Ultimately, I believe we did Abraham Lincoln proud and honored his legacy.

Elaine Masciale is a resident of Illinois and has been reenacting since 2003.  She was one of the civilian coordinators for the 2015 Lincoln Funeral in Springfield.  In addition to national mourning, her main areas of research are antebellum music, dance, and soldier’s aid societies. In conjunction  with her husband, John,she has compiled and published a book of period music.  Elaine can be reached at  Photographs courtesy of Mary Brown and Elaine Masciale.

-By Elaine Masciale

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